Miami Herald editorial: FL Gov. Scott makes a smart selection for No. 2

January 16, 2014 

Give Gov. Rick Scott credit for making a smart and politically savvy decision in selecting Miami-Dade Property Appraiser Carlos Lopez-Cantera to become Florida's next lieutenant governor.

The 40-year-old onetime House majority leader is a seasoned legislator with proven administrative skill. He brings youth, energy and diversity to Mr. Scott's team and Florida's Cabinet.

Now that Mr. Scott has made the choice, we hope Mr. Lopez-Cantera manages to avoid the usual fate of pols who fill the state's No. 2 position in Tallahassee. Assigned few constitutional duties of any import, they're stashed away in a back office and generally ignored by other state leaders and the news media, to be seen only at occasional ceremonial events and ribbon-cuttings.

Unless, of course, they manage to stumble into a scandal like Mr. Lopez-Cantera's unwise predecessor, Jennifer Carroll, whose poor judgment made her an embarrassment to Mr. Scott and the state in general. She finally resigned her post in March after the disclosure of her affiliation with a company connected to Internet cafes considered a front for gambling.

Unlike Ms. Carroll, a state legislator whom Mr. Scott essentially plucked from political obscurity prior to the 2010 election, Mr. Lopez-Cantera brings significant credentials and years of experience in state government to the job. He can provide good political counsel and effective legislative advice to Mr. Scott -- if the governor is willing to listen.

Much has been made of the fact that Mr. Lopez-Cantera is the first Hispanic to hold the position since voters reestablished it in 1968. That's a definite political plus in terms of sending a message about inclusion. But it won't matter much unless Mr. Lopez-Cantera has some policy input on issues relevant to the state's fastest growing demographic group.

Gov. Scott's veto last year of a bill that would have allowed access to driver's licenses for some undocumented immigrants brought to this country as children did not exactly endear him to Hispanics. Putting Mr. Lopez-Cantera on his team won't count for much on election day if Mr. Scott's record on Hispanic issues doesn't improve.

More important than ethnicity is that Mr. Lopez-Cantera brings to Tallhassee a South Florida perspective often lacking in the state capital. He understands the particular needs and problems of South Florida, with its huge population, urban dynamics and unique natural environment -- not to mention a distinctly different culture. That is where Mr. Lopez-Cantera may have his biggest impact.

There is a downside to the govenor's pick of Mr. Lopez-Cantera, of course. Tallahassee's gain is Miami-Dade County's loss. During his relatively brief tenure as property appraiser -- little more than one year -- he made good on a promise to make the office more open to the public and customer-friendly.

He made it easier to contest property valuations, allowed homestead exemptions to be filed online and revamped the front office so that the visitors with questions and concerns could speak to staff more readily -- among other innovations.

Just as important, combating property tax fraud became a major priority in 2013. By deploying police officers from nine local municipalities to bolster investigations into homestead fraud -- a scandal of long standing -- the county reaped millions of dollars in fines and violations. His successor should continue these smart policies and build on them.

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