Rise and Fall of the Lieutenant Governor in Florida

rick-scott

The last few weeks of political discourse in Florida, I must say have amused me. First we had many a Democratic activist making an issue about the failure of Governor Rick Scott picking a Lieutenant Governor after 10 months of the post being vacant. That was followed up by the Governor picking someone for the position whose qualifications seemed more based upon geography and ethnicity than any other factor.  The reality is Scott was correct not to appoint an LG this entire time and those Democrats making a fuss about the matter were simply whining for the sake of trying to score political points. But then the Governor gave his critics fodder and as has so often been the case in his failed tenure as the State’s chief executive he did something strictly for political purposes.

First let’s establish the historical trajectory of an office which not long ago did not exist in Florida and I argue probably should still not exist. While Lawton Chiles and Jeb Bush took the office seriously, using it as an extension of their administrations, most Governors since the inception of the office in the 1968 Constitution have simply not seen the Lt. Gov as a partner in an administration. Quite honestly, nothing is wrong with that.

Prior to the 1994 election, running mates were named BEFORE partisan primaries, meaning that other potential Gubernatorial candidates were not possible selections as LG. In 1970 Reubin Askew did select a running mate with a better statewide pedigree than himself in Secretary of State Tom Adams, but Adams conservatism and ethical lapses meant he was far from valued as a partner by the Governor and was dumped from the ticket for the 1974 reelection campaign. Bob Graham ran twice with Wayne Mixson, a north Florida legislator whose views on issues were far to the right of Graham’s. Mixon’s major contributions to the Graham administration were heading trade delegations and serving for a time as Commerce Secretary. But his influence on the administration’s direction were minimal and his impact electorally was minor.

Bob Martinez ran with State Rep. Bobby Brantley in his first race when he won and then with Allison DeFoor. The 1986 Democratic nominee the liberal Steve Pajcic ran with Frank Mann, a Fort Myers State Senator who switched parties and sought his old seat years later as a Republican.

The post took on added significance and prestige when Lawton Chiles looking to return to public life struck a unique partnership with former Congressman Bubby MacKay who had lost the 1988 US Senate race on absentee ballots to Connie Mack. MacKay, a moderately progressive Democrat served more or less as a co-Governor and valued adviser during the Chiles years.  The role MacKay created as a policy leader served as the model for Jeb Bush in 1998.

After selecting Tom Feeney, a radicalized State House member from the Orlando area in 1994, and seeing him implode against a man the stature of MacKay, Bush selected Secretary of State and former GOP State House leader Sandy Mortham as his Lt. Gov. But Mortham ran into difficulty and was dropped from the ticket for Education Commissioner Frank Brogan.

As Lt. Gov Brogan was effective particularly serving as the Governor’s chief liaison to the legislature where he had cultivated good relations as Education Commissioner. Bush and Brogan were reelected in 2002 but shortly thereafter applied for the Presidency of Florida Atlantic University. Brogan was selected for this post, and Bush picked Toni Jennings, who had served as Senate President for four years as his replacement.

The position seemed to have had some value but when Charlie Crist picked an obscure State Rep. Jeff Kottkamp in 2006 as his running mate, partly to gain support of many of the state’s trial lawyers, the pick seemed decidedly political. That trend has continued since.

Kottkamp is a trial lawyer, and his selection was a cynical political maneuver that worked, disarming the funding of  Democratic nominee Jim Davis at a critical moment in the campaign.   Kottkamp gallivanted across the state with his family on the state dime was the sum of his contributions it seemed to the office.  Unlike MacKay, Brogan or Jennings though Kottkamp didn’t have any official function much of the time when he traveled. As a trivial figure whose travels and functions have reduced the office to splendid insignificance, Kottkamp played little role in the Crist administration’s formulation of policy.

Rick Scott went even further in 2010 picking Jennifer Carroll we must assume for gender and race issues as very little in her record indicated she could effectively serve as Governor. Now Scott has replaced her with  another political pick designed to garner votes in what is sure to be a tough reelection fight.

For those who feel having a Lieutenant Governor in office is critical, it worth remembering that LBJ did not appoint a Vice President for a year after JFK’s assassination and the nation was fine. While the Constitution now specifies succession of a Vice President (This was in place when Spiro Agnew resigned and a year later when Gerald Ford selected Nelson Rockefeller) even that office alternates from massively important (Dick Cheney) to largely insignificant (Dan Quayle) in terms of setting the administration priorities and goals.

The entire discussion over the office is a waste of time in large measure and thankfully it is now over. With this firmly settled, politicos throughout Florida can move on to more important things, which is just about anything.

2 comments

  1. “I must say have assumed me.” You were assumed?

    1. Sorry…amused. Mobile device mistake …also note the formatting was messed up. I have fixed now that i am back on a laptop.

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