Founding Father John Adams, upon his election as George Washington’s vice president, wrote to a friend, “My country has in its wisdom contrived for me the most insignificant office that ever the invention of man contrived or his imagination conceived.”
He could just as easily have been talking about the job of Florida’s lieutenant governor. The post has been vacant since March 2013, when Lt. Gov. Jennifer Carroll resigned over a scandal involving her consulting company and a company under investigation for gambling racketeering. On Monday, eight months after the job became open a second would-be appointee declined to take it.
“Cobwebs must be growing in the deserted office as speculation rages about whom Gov. Rick Scott might pick to replace Jennifer Carroll,” quipped Tampa Bay Times columnist Steve Bousquet, in an Oct. 28 article about conjecture that Senate Budget Committee Chairman John Thrasher would be tapped for the post.
Bousquet could have been channeling Adams in describing the lieutenant governor’s duties: “As lieutenant governor, he’d be cutting ribbons and passing out proclamations, holding down a job few take seriously.”
At least the vice president technically presides over the U.S. Senate (a job Veeps seldom perform) and breaks ties (which happens only slightly more often).
The position of lieutenant governor is prescribed in the state constitution and the officeholder succeeds the governor in the case of death, impeachment, resignation or incapacitation. Former Lt. Gov. Jeff Kottkamp briefly served as governor in 2008 while then-Gov. Charlie Crist underwent knee surgery. Former Lt. Gov. Buddy McKay ascended to governor for 23 days in 1998 upon the death of Gov. Lawton Chiles.
But Florida doesn’t really need a lieutenant governor, as the eight-month vacancy demonstrates. In fact, the position didn’t exist between 1889, when it was abolished, and 1968, when it was reinstated with the adoption of a new state constitution. The position pays about $125,000, has no official duties and is considered a dead-end political job despite its proximity to power. None of the state’s 18 lieutenant governors were subsequently elected governor.
Today, it seems, nobody wants the job. This week, Seminole County Sheriff Don Eslinger declined Scott’s offer to be considered. Last week, St. Johns County Superintendent of Schools Joseph Joyner also passed. Thrasher told reporters nobody had asked him about it. According to the Miami Herald’s political blog, Naked Politics, the only two known candidates being considered are Sen. Tom Lee of Brandon and Hillsborough County Commissioner Sandy Murman.
Scott’s failure to replace Carroll has attracted little criticism, largely because the constitution provides no concrete timetable for filling the vacancy, although it does say the governor “shall fill by appointment any vacancy” and that the state “shall have a lieutenant governor.” The state will have a new lieutenant governor by January 2015 because the constitution requires a governor candidate to have running mates.
The constitution doesn’t say anything about nobody wanting the meaningless job.