Carlos Lopez-Cantera, introduced Tuesday morning as Florida Gov. Rick Scott’s new lieutenant governor, said in an interview with the Herald/Times that he wanted the job “to get back in the game” of Tallahassee politics.
“I feel excited. This is great. It’s a great opportunity,” said Lopez-Cantera, a seasoned lawmaker and deal-maker who has been the Miami-Dade property appraiser since 2012.
Scott ended a 10-month guessing game by choosing Lopez-Cantera, 40, who served in the state House for eight years before winning the appraiser’s position in a nonpartisan county-wide election.
Lopez-Cantera will be the state’s first Hispanic lieutenant governor and the first person from Miami-Dade to hold the position since it was re-established by voters in 1968. He replaces Jennifer Carroll, who resigned last March.
Bilingual and media savvy, Lopez-Cantera brings youth and diversity to Scott’s ticket. The question is whether he brings a “wow” factor in his new partnership with a governor who continues to struggle to gain favor with voters.
Lopez-Cantera will serve as a bridge to Hispanics, who make up the fastest-growing segment of the Florida electorate. He can spread Scott’s jobs message in Spanish language media.
“I’ve always done Spanish language media, so that won’t be something new,” he said. “It’s not a prerequisite for the job, but I certainly have no problem doing it.”
In his first interviews shortly before his appointment was announced in Miami, Lopez-Cantera said he took the job with assurances that he would have input on policy decisions and not be a ceremonial officeholder or a ribbon-cutter.
He would not address specific policy issues, such as Scott’s controversial veto last year of a bill that would have allowed undocumented immigrants with temporary legal status in the United States to get Florida driver’s licenses.
“I haven’t had a lot of time to digest individual policy issues,” he said. “Today’s really about the announcement.”
Lopez-Cantera also sidestepped a question about how tough an opponent Charlie Crist will be. Crist, a former Republican governor turned Democrat, is likely to be Scott’s November opponent.
Lopez-Cantera said Scott’s re-election will be a “no-brainer” because of Florida’s steadily improving economy.
Lopez-Cantera said his wife, Renee, and 6-year-old daughter, Sabrina, both supported him taking the job.
“It was easy when the governor asked if I was willing to be his partner, because the most important people in my life had given me their permission,” he said.
Another factor was the approval of Scott’s wife, First Lady Ann Scott. The Scotts met Lopez-Cantera and his wife and the two couples hit it off.
Florida Democrats criticized the appointment. Party chairwoman Allison Tant called Lopez-Cantera an “ultra-partisan career politician” whose track record as a lawmaker favored corporations and special interests ahead of families.
He said it didn’t bother him that he was not Scott’s first choice for the position and said he was not familiar with the process Scott and his chief of staff, Adam Hollingsworth, used to select him.
Another finalist for the post, Hillsborough County Commissioner Sandy Murman, said she was disappointed when she learned over the weekend that she wasn’t chosen. She said she wished Scott chose a woman from the I-4 corridor in central Florida, a vital section of the state electorate that’s home to many swing voters.
“Women are about 54 percent of the vote, and I really feel the I-4 corridor is going to be very important,” Murman said. “But I absolutely respect his decision and wish him the best. I’ll help him get re-elected.”
Lopez-Cantera will officially take office Feb. 3. He said he needs to spend the next two weeks tying up loose ends in the property appraiser’s office.
Asked about Scott’s chances of winning re-election, Lopez-Cantera said: “I think he’s going to win. I think we’re going to win. I’ve got to get used to saying that.”