With Lt. Gov. Jennifer Carroll resigning her position in the fallout of a federal investigation into an Internet cafe company she represented, speculation has turned to who Gov. Rick Scott will tap to replace her.
Mired in the polls, Scotts choice offers him a chance to politically rebound. While Carroll, the first African-American Republican to serve in the Legislature, made sense for Scott as a running mate in 2010, her chances to be his running mate in 2014 faded after a tumultuous two years.
Democrats have made inroads in Carrolls base in Northeast Florida, but there are other parts of the state where Scott faces more urgent needs to bolster his support. Despite Carroll being his running mate, Scott made little progress in wooing African-American voters. This time he could be looking at adding a Hispanic to the ticket.
Some Republicans -- including House Speaker Will Weatherford, R-Wesley Chapel -- have already shut the door on the possibility of replacing Carroll; others, including the three state Cabinet officials, would see it as a demotion. While conservatives are playing up former U.S. Rep. Allen Wests chances, that seems a very unlikely pick from Scott. Here are some of the names being kicked around in Tallahassee as Carrolls replacement:
Hailing from Central Florida, former Congresswoman Sandy Adams would help Scott in that region. Adams has a compelling personal story. Besides being in law enforcement herself, she lost her husband, also a police officer, in the line of duty. As a leader in the Florida House, Adams is well known in Tallahassee and showed strong political skills in 2010 when she won a seat in Congress. But Adams was utterly routed by U.S. Rep. John Mica in a bloody primary that pitted two congressional Republicans against each other.
Despite first taking her Senate seat in 2011, Lizbeth Benacquisto, R-Fort Myers, has moved quickly up into leadership, serving as majority leader. The charismatic Benacquisto would help Scott with women and would help the governor in Southwest Florida if that's the help he needs in 2014. It probably is not. She has only been on the state political stage for two years after serving on the Wellington City Council. While well-regarded in Tallahassee, Benacquisto remains largely unknown to most of the state.
A favorite of the business community, Ellyn Bogdanoff served in both chambers of the Legislature before losing to fellow Sen. Maria Sachs, D-Delray Beach, in 2012. Bogdanoff would certainly help the governor in South Florida and with women, even coming off a political loss. But with Scott looking to build bridges to teachers, Bogdanoffs record on education could scare the governor away. Nevertheless, political consultant Randy Nielsen of Public Concepts says, Ellyn Bogdanoff is someone Governor Scott should seriously consider. Shes socially moderate, from South Florida, and is well-thought-of as a small-business woman and legislator.
Speaker Pro Tempore Marti Coley, R-Marianna, faces term limits in 2014 and makes some sense as an understudy for Scott. Popular with the Florida House and the business community, Coley is a teacher and could help the governors efforts on education, including his support for teacher pay raises. Still, Coley is from the Panhandle, an area where Republicans generally do well. While Coley could make some inroads for Scott on education, she does not make much sense as a running mate in 2014.
If Scott wants to pick a lieutenant governor who would hurt former Gov. Charlie Crist, his most likely Democratic opponent in 2014, he could choose Rep. Mike Fasano, R-New Port Richey. Fasano -- who serves election-critical Pinellas County -- is widely respected for his nearly 20 years in both chambers of the Legislature and he is a leading policy expert and champion of consumer affairs. The Tallahassee Press Corps like and respect him. He also has a gubernatorial posture and certainly could do the job if for any reason Scott was unable to. Still, conservatives and the business community are not fans of Fasano and this pick could lead to grumblings that Scott is straying too much to the center.
Sen. Anitere Flores, R-Miami, is a rising star for Republicans. After serving in the Florida House, Flores easily moved over into the Senate. Flores is fairly charismatic and ranked as one of the Mitt Romney campaigns leading surrogates in Florida. Flores Cuban heritage should help Scott with Hispanics and she comes from pivotal Miami-Dade. But, despite her efforts for Romney, Flores is not well-known outside her district. All in all, a safe pick that should help Scott to some extent with women, Hispanics and Miami-Dade.Alia Faraj-Johnson, political consultant at Sachs Media Group, says Anitere Flores "would be an excellent pick. She is a well-respected leader who appeals to a broad range of Floridians. She has been very effective and is extremely qualified."
A veteran of the Florida House, Rep. Gayle Harrell, R-Port St. Lucie, is one of the sharper Republicans in the Legislature. She clearly wants to move up the political ladder and her name has generated some buzz as a possible candidate to challenge Democrat freshman U.S. Rep. Patrick Murphy. Harrell is a real fighter. While she will help Scott in Martin and St. Lucie counties, she probably does not bring enough to the table as a running mate to be a gamechanger for 2014. Look for Harrell to run for Congress.
Sen. Jack Latvala, R-St. Petersburg, is a veteran of the Florida Senate who rose to be majority leader. Picking Latvala would hurt Crist in Pinellas County and bolster Scotts chances in the region. Latvala's Senate presidency aspirations were mortally wounded in the 2012 elections, but he remains the leader of the Senate moderates and is a favorite of the Tampa Bay Times and other liberal, mainstream journalists. Certainly he has the experience to serve in the position. Conservatives neverthless will not be happy if Scott picks Latvala.
Rep. Dana Young, R-Tampa, is a dark horse contender to be lieutenant governor but she makes a lot of sense for Scott. With House Republicans up in arms about his support for Medicaid expansion, Scott could make a peace offering by naming Young, a key ally of Weatherford, to be lieutenant governor. Still, Young is new to politics despite coming from a political family. She was first elected in 2010 and remains largely unknown outside her district. If Scott wants to score points in the House and bolster his support in Tampa Bay, an area he needs to do well in come 2014, Young could wind up with the position.
Tallahassee political writer Jeff Henderson wrote this analysis piece exclusively for Sunshine State News. Nancy Smith, email@example.com and (850) 727-0859, contributed to the story.