Jennifer Carroll’s resignation shakes Capitol

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Lieutenant Governor Jennifer Carroll’s resignation in the wake of an illegal gambling probe sent shockwaves through the Capitol on Wednesday, potentially ending the career of a rising political star and confronting Governor Rick Scott with one of the most sensitive personnel decisions of his administration.

It was the end of a tumultuous two years for Carroll, the highest-ranking black elected official in state history, who has not been charged with any wrongdoing in the investigation. Law enforcement officials, though, said more indictments were possible in the ongoing probe.

Carroll had earlier raised hackles with some of her comments; after criminal charges against an employee led to allegations last year that Carroll was caught in a compromising position with another female aide, Carroll suggested she was too attractive to be gay. She later apologized.

Still, the lieutenant governor had been a darling of social conservatives, and her selection as Scott’s running mate was a gesture from the former health-care executive who was known mostly for his economic conservatism.

And Carroll was often seen as a desperately needed female, minority voice in a Republican Party whose strongest voices are largely white and frequently male. In 2012, she was named a member of TheGrio’s 100, a list of prominent political, cultural and business figures put together by a website focused on black issues.

On Wednesday, Scott stood on a sun-drenched corner of the Capitol grounds and spoke about Carroll’s departure, which was handled quietly late Tuesday and became public the next day.

“I will not elaborate on the details of her resignation further, other than to say that she resigned and she did the right thing for the state and for her family,” Scott said.

A company Carroll co-owned during her time in the Legislature, 3N & JC Corporation, provided consulting services for Allied Veterans of the World, the entity at the center of the investigation. 

In a statement issued through unofficial channels, Carroll said she did not believe she or her company are “targets” in the ongoing investigation.

“My decision yesterday to resign as Lieutenant Governor represents my unwavering commitment to the great state of Florida,” Carroll said in the lengthy statement. “I simply refuse to allow the allegations facing a former client of my public relations firm to undermine the important work of the Governor and his administration.”

Attention immediately pivoted to who might replace Carroll. Speculation surrounded members of the Cabinet, including Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam and Attorney General Pam Bondi. It wasn’t clear whether either of those officials, both of whom have been rumored as potential primary challengers for Scott in 2014, would be interested in the position.

“I’m very happy being attorney general,” Bondi said at a press conference about the investigation. “I’m sure the governor will make a great choice.”

Scott said he wouldn’t pick a replacement until after the 2013 legislative session ends in early May.

“I think, whenever you pick a lieutenant governor, you want somebody that can do the job, somebody that can do the right things for the state of Florida,” he said.

Some legislators were also mentioned, including Sen. Anitere Flores, R-Miami, whose supporters quickly started a hashtag on Twitter to boost her chances. A legislative choice could help Scott, an outsider, work with lawmakers on his election-year agenda in 2014.

“A lieutenant governor can be helpful in this process, here,” said Sen. John Thrasher, a St. Augustine Republican and former chairman of the state GOP. “I certainly think that that’s appropriate, to look at somebody that might have some experience in this process, somebody that has an identity from the standpoint of the entire state, if you can find somebody like that.”

The selection could also have a political impact on Scott’s bid for re-election in 2014.

“The governor now has a chance to pick, frankly, somebody that he believes can help him in the campaign,” Thrasher said. “So I think it will be benefit to him, frankly, down the road.”

Like most lawmakers, though, Thrasher stressed the final decision was Scott’s to make.

Legislative leaders also shrugged off the thought that the open position could give Scott more sway over representatives or senators who might want to be considered.

“I don’t think it has any more leverage over lawmakers than him having the veto pen [over] every bill and every appropriation that goes in the budget,” said House Speaker Will Weatherford, R-Wesley Chapel.

As for Scott, the governor promised to remain fixed on his long-running message of creating jobs.

“That’s what I want to focus on,” he said. “That’s what I’m going to go back to focusing on.”

Via Brandon Larrabee of the News Service of Florida.

Peter Schorsch is the President of Extensive Enterprises and is the publisher of some of Florida’s most influential new media websites, including SaintPetersBlog.com, FloridaPolitics.com, ContextFlorida.com, and Sunburn, the morning read of what’s hot in Florida politics. SaintPetersBlog has for three years running been ranked by the Washington Post as the best state-based blog in Florida. In addition to his publishing efforts, Peter is a political consultant to several of the state’s largest governmental affairs and public relations firms. Peter lives in St. Petersburg with his wife, Michelle, and their daughter, Ella.