Carlos Lopez-Cantera, a former Miami-Dade state lawmaker and currently the county’s property appraiser, was introduced Tuesday by Gov. Rick Scott as his lieutenant governor and running mate for this fall’s election.
Lopez-Cantera, 40, becomes the first Hispanic lieutenant governor in Florida history. He fills a post vacant since the resignation 10 months ago of Scott’s first running mate, Jennifer Carroll, who was forced out for having worked for an internet gambling charity accused of criminal wrongdoing.
“I am confident that we took the right amount of time to find the right person to serve as Florida’s Lieutenant Governor. Carlos’ leadership experience will make him a vital part of ensuring the passage of our $500 million tax cut package this year,” Scott said. “And his business experience and expertise in cutting taxes and government regulations will support small business growth and success.”
Lopez-Cantera said he was honored by being Scott’s choice. He also echoed the themes of Scott’s re-election campaign.
“I look forward to leveraging my experience with small businesses and government tax reform to help further Gov. Scott’s mission of economic growth and job creation,” Lopez-Cantera said.
The announcement was made at the Miami headquarters of the Department of Children and Families, where Scott also announced he will seek $31 million dollars more in DCF funding in the coming legislative session. The two men spoke to a room crowded with DCF employees and the media. Lopez-Cantera was flanked by his wife, Renee, and his two daughters, Sabrina, 6, and Sofia, 10 months.
Lopez-Cantera praised Scott for turning around the Florida economy and told that crowd that if voters could have the kind of conversations he has had with Scott “there would be no question about the landslide we are going to have in November.”
Scott was asked more than once about the importance to the GOP ticket of a Hispanic running mate, but refused to frame the appointment that way. Scott instead praised Lopez-Cantera’s work in the legislature and also his experience as a small business owner.
“I chose him because he’s good,” Scott said.
Scott and Lopez-Cantera said their main goal is to achieve tax cuts of $500 million in the coming legislative session.
Lopez-Cantera, like Scott, tried to stay away from the question of his heritage and if that might have played a strong role in his being named, but he did allow himself one aside.
“I think there will be a bit more Cuban coffee in the governor’s office,” he said.
The political importance of his selection to Scott, trailing in the polls among Hispanic voters to rival, Democrat Charlie Crist, was made quickly apparent.
“Gov. Scott continues to demonstrate his commitment to the Hispanic community of Florida by selecting a proven leader from Miami-Dade County,” said Nelson Diaz, the county’s Republican chairman.
Lopez-Cantera was elected property appraiser in 2012 after serving eight years in the state House, the last two years as majority leader. Born in Spain, Lopez-Cantera initially rose in influence in the House under former Speaker Marco Rubio, R-West Miami, now a U.S. senator.
Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam was among the first Republicans to weigh in with praise for Scott’s selection. Putnam looked back on Lopez-Cantera’s years in the state House and said they refelected a candidate ready for one of the state’s top jobs — although it comes with no specific duties.
“As a state legislator, he was a driving force in reducing taxes on businesses and consumers,” Putnam said of Lopez-Cantera. “He was a principled conservative who served Florida well during some of the greatest challenges our state has faced.”
Putnam said the new lieutenant governor, “is an outstanding leader in our state who will bring energy, passion and wise counsel to the governor’s office.”
Florida Dempocrats saw Lopez-Cantera differently.
“Carlos Lopez-Cantera is the poster child for what is wrong with Tallahassee today, an ultra-partisan career politician who spent his time in Tallahassee putting big corporations and wealthy special interests ahead of middle class families,” said Florida Democratic Party Chair Allison Tant.
A Quinnipiac University poll in November showed Scott trailing Democrat Charlie Crist, the former Republican governor, by 7 percentage points among all voters — but down 15 percentage points to Crist among Hispanic voters.
Lopez-Cantera’s predecessor, Carroll, was the first black to serve in that role. But she was forced out of the administration last March for having earlier worked as a consultant to a charity operating internet cafes criminally accused of skimming cash. The Legislature soon after outlawed internet cafes and many of the leading figures in the investigation have been convicted or pleaded guilty to running a wide-ranging criminal enterprise.
Since then, a host of possible replacements have been mentioned — some by the governor’s office, which acknowledged having prepared a short-list. Still, many of those cited by the governor’s office quickly took themselves out of the running.
Among them were Orange County schools Superintendent Barbara Jenkins, St. Johns County schools Superintendent Joseph Joyner and Seminole County Sheriff Donald Eslinger. Sen. Tom Lee, R-Brandon, and Hillsborough County Commissioner Sandra Murman have been interviewed by the governor’s representatives, and Sen. John Thrasher, R-St. Augustine, also loomed last fall as a possible lieutenant governor choice.
Scott, though, showed few signs of being hurried with his choice. Last week, Tallahassee Democratic activist Barbara DeVane filed a lawsuit in the Florida Supreme Court maintaining that Scott is breaking state law by not having a lieutenant governor.
The lawsuit was prepared by Crist supporter and veteran trial lawyer Don Hinkle. The Supreme Court had not yet taken up the matter but Scott’s desire to avoid a legal confrontation may have played some role in hastening the selection.
– John Lantigua, reporting from Miami, contributed.