After 10 months without a lieutenant governor in Florida, Gov. Rick Scott named Carlos Lopez-Cantera in January as the state’s first Hispanic LG. Lopez-Cantera took office Feb. 3.
A state House representative from Miami-Dade County from 2004 to 2012, Lopez-Cantera served as House majority leader during his final two years. In 2012, he was elected Miami-Dade County property appraiser.
Lopez-Cantera, 40, was born in Spain, but of Cuban decent. His grandparents left Cuba for the U.S. after the rise of Fidel Castro to power.
In a recent interview with Margie Menzel of the News Service of Florida, Lopez-Cantera talked about Hispanics in Florida politics and the importance of the culture in which he was raised.
“I enjoy being able to communicate in Spanish,” he said. “Because some people prefer to hear the message in Spanish.”
However, Lopez-Cantera was careful to emphasize that he does not “pigeon-hole” any particular race when approaching public service.
“I think everyone wants the same thing – opportunity,” he said. “That’s why I like working with Gov. Scott, because he looks at the world the same way.”
As for the role of Hispanics in Florida, the lieutenant governor noted that there has always been a Hispanic influence in Florida.
“The name of the state is Spanish,” he said. “The state was discovered by a Spaniard. But like I said, as far as Hispanics, I’ve never looked at the Hispanic population as one monolithic group that needs to be treated differently.”
With the U.S. embargo of Cuba emerging as a major issue in the gubernatorial campaign, Lopez-Cantera — whose grandfather was a Cuban lawyer that passed the Florida Bar upon emigrating to America – sees it as a matter of freedom and liberty, things that do not exist in Cuba.
“There’s no freedom of the press,” he told Menzel. “We couldn’t do this in Cuba and have a free flow of conversation and ideas and debate. There’s no freedom of expression, there’s no free and democratic elections, and there are continued human-rights violations.”
Lopez-Cantera supports the embargo, saying that America took a stand against Cuba, a Communist nation that is one of four countries on the state-sponsored terror list. He believes that stance represents a nation that “stands for freedom and we don’t agree with Communism.”
“The con about the embargo is that it exists,” he said. “As long as it exists, that means there is no freedom in Cuba.”
Lopez-Cantera noted that his grandfather died with the desire to return to his homeland — but never while the Castro brothers were still in control.
“Like I said, I learned a lot about Cuba and the suffering and what happened there in the late ’50s and early ’60s from my grandfather and my father and my other family members who lived it,” he added.
Once the Communist regime “leaves or expires” — which Lopez-Cantera believes will eventually happen — Cuba will return as a “vibrant island community” and re-establish the relationship with Florida and the United States like it was before the 1950s and 1940s.
When asked about the progressively brutal gubernatorial campaign, Lopez-Cantera said the main difficulty on his family is his increasing time on the road.
“But at the end of the day,” he added, “I’m doing this for my daughters. I care about the state I live in, and I care about the state that they’re going to live in going forward.
“That’s why I enjoy working so much with Gov. Scott, because he has a clear vision of where he wants this state to be.”
Lopez-Cantera discussed Scott’s accomplishments, compared to what he inherited from his predecessor (and current Democratic challenger), former Gov. Charlie Crist. He talked of Crist’s $3.5 billion shortfall, 11.1 percent unemployment, and the state losing 832,000 jobs.
“When the state needed leadership the most,” he said, “that’s when Charlie went and ran for the United States Senate and abandoned the position of governor.”
Although Scott’s decisions were not always politically popular, Menzel writes that Lopez-Cantera insists they were the “right decisions for Florida.”
“And that’s why we’ve seen the turnaround that we’ve had,” he said.
He pointed to the governor’s $1.2 billion surplus in the state budget, 580,000 jobs returning to Florida and an unemployment rate that dropped nearly five points.
“I mean, numbers don’t lie; results matter,” said the lieutenant governor. “These results are admirable and envious, especially from other states that aren’t doing as well as we are.”