TALLAHASSEE -- Gov. Rick Scott says he wont start looking for a new lieutenant governor until the legislative session ends in May, but the guessing game already is raging over a decision that an unpopular leader must get right.
Suddenly, a job that gets little respect could actually matter. The departure of Jennifer Carroll gives Scott a surprise opportunity to pick a running mate who amplifies his emphasis on education and who, unlike Carroll, wont have to apologize for making inappropriate remarks or face questions about past ties to a suspect veterans charity.
For Scott, finding a perfect partner wont be easy: Only one-third of Floridians, 32 percent, say he deserves to be re-elected, according to a new Quinnipiac University poll.
When the search begins, Scotts criteria will include a hard worker with a proven commitment to public education and unquestioned integrity.
They dont have to be as pure as the driven snow, but it would be nice if they were like Caesars wife above reproach, said John Mac Stipanovich, who oversaw the selection of two running mates for former Republican Gov. Bob Martinez. The first requirement of a lieutenant governor is not rocket science: Dont get the governor in trouble.
Scott plans to launch the search in May. The timing means that whoever is chosen will quickly hit the campaign trail on Scotts behalf, and Carrolls problems make it more likely that the next No. 2 will undergo an intense vetting to avoid future embarrassments.
With Scott focused laser-like on education, and with Republicans having turned off many Hispanics, the most logical choice is a Hispanic with an education background preferably from a large, urban county with lots of voters.
Sen. Anitere Flores, R-Miami, 36, a mother of two young children who has stressed education in the Legislature, appears to fit the bill. But she sounds less than enthusiastic about the possibility.
Im flattered to have my name out there, but Im really happy in the Senate, Flores said.
Another prospect is Raquel Regalado, 38, a member of the Miami-Dade School Board and the daughter of Miami Mayor Tomas Regalado.
Obviously, Id be honored to be considered, but I havent received anything official from the governors office, Regalado said.
A Republican and native of Miami, Regalado was not a fan of Scott in 2010: She supported Scotts Democratic opponent for governor, Alex Sink.
I was one of the few Republicans who supported Alex Sink, Regalado said. Alex had a clear education platform at that time, and Rick Scott did not. She also recalled her concern when Scott in 2011 proposed an education budget that would have cut school spending statewide by 10 percent.
Regalado comes from what she calls a media family, and her father is a former radio talk show host in Miami. She writes columns for El Nuevo Herald and the Huffington Post and hosts a daily radio program on local politics on WWFE 670-AM, La Poderosa (The Powerful).
The single parent of a special needs child, Regalado has a daughter with autism. She supports Scotts proposal to give every teacher a $2,500 across-the-board pay raise and said Scott is rightly postponing the search for a lieutenant governor so he can focus on his priorities in the Legislature.
Regalado, who served as finance chairman for her fathers 2009 mayoral campaign, agreed last year to pay a $5,000 fine for campaign finance reporting violations. Miami-Dade prosecutors and the Florida Department of Law Enforcement said the mistakes were sloppy bookkeeping, but its a red flag that would attract the attention of Scotts advisers during the vetting process.
Other names surfacing in speculation include Rep. Dana Young, R-Tampa, an attorney and deputy House majority leader; Rep. Marti Coley, R-Marianna, a career educator who has taught English classes at Chipola College for 16 years and has been supportive of state workers; Pam Stewart, Florida K-12 chancellor; and Senate Majority Leader Lisbeth Benacquisto, R-Fort Myers.
I love being a state senator, Benacquisto said.
Scott could choose a man for the post, and GOP strategist Stipanovich said gender no longer matters in a state where two women have served as lieutenant governor and several have run for governor.
Weve passed that milestone, Stipanovich said.
Sen. Bill Galvano, R-Bradenton, who chairs the education budget-writing committee, said he was not interested. Rep. Doug Holder, R-Sarasota, a small business owner, will be termed out of the House in 2014. Scott is fond of Rep. Jimmy Patronis, R-Panama City, a restaurateur from a well-known Panhandle family, but he comes from a region where Scott performed well in 2010.
Republican strategist Rick Wilson suggested Scott ignore the advice of political consultants who will suggest he try to fit a running mate into a series of demographic or geographic boxes.
He should select someone who brings competence, integrity and a sense of direction, Wilson said. Hes made it very clear hes going to invest heavily in education in the coming year.
The search is expected to be overseen by Scotts top adviser, chief of staff Adam Hollingsworth, but Scott said that decision has not yet been made.
I havent even started on that, Scott said. Im focused on the session and making sure teachers get a $2,500 pay raise in case you havent remembered.