MIAMI (AP) - Florida Gov. Rick Scott on Tuesday tapped a former legislator and Miami-Dade politician as lieutenant governor and his running mate for 2014.
Ending a guessing game that stretched on for nearly 10 months, Scott named Miami-Dade Property Appraiser Carlos Lopez-Cantera to the post. He starts the job Feb. 3.
Scott defended the time it took to finally settle on a lieutenant governor, saying that "what I worked on was trying to build a team."
"I took the right amount of time to find the right person," Scott said.
Lopez-Cantera, a Miami Republican and an ally of U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, called the appointment an "honor."
"It's just an opportunity that could not be ignored or denied because I'll be representing the entire state," Lopez-Cantera told The Associated Press.
Lopez-Cantera, 40, served eight years in the Florida Legislature, rising to the position of House Majority Leader from 2010 to 2012. He was elected property appraiser in 2012.
Former Lt. Gov. Jennifer Carroll abruptly resigned in March 2012 after she was interviewed by law-enforcement authorities about work she once did for a charity that prosecutors have said was a front for a widespread gambling ring. She has not been accused of any wrongdoing and later said she was forced to resign by the Scott administration.
Scott is filling the spot of lieutenant governor a week after he was sued by a Tallahassee lobbyist and political activist for leaving the position vacant since March. Barbara DeVane, who filed the suit with the Florida Supreme Court, contended Scott was breaking a state law that requires him to appoint a lieutenant governor.
Scott's decision to turn to Lopez-Cantera gives his re-election campaign for 2014 an up-and-coming young Hispanic politician as a running mate who can potentially help the governor in Miami-Dade County. Scott has taken positions putting him at odds with some Hispanics, including a decision last year to veto bill that would have allowed some young immigrants living in the U.S. illegally to apply for a temporary driver's license. The bill was passed overwhelmingly by the Republican-controlled Legislature.
Lopez-Cantera was born in Madrid, Spain, and raised in Miami. Lopez-Cantera, a real estate agent before his election as property appraiser, worked on property tax issues while in the Legislature.
He said that the Scott administration first reached out to him about the position in mid-December and that both he and his wife met recently with Scott and First Lady Ann Scott to discuss joining the governor in Tallahassee.
Lopez-Cantera downplayed his heritage, saying he didn't want to be defined by that, but joked that "there will be a little more Cuban coffee in the governor's office."
The new lieutenant governor said Scott never mentioned needing his help in reaching the crucial Miami Hispanic demographic in the upcoming election. "We talked about policy issues," Lopez-Cantera said.
During his time in the Legislature, Lopez-Cantera did disagree with Scott. When Scott criticized the level of education funding in the state budget in 2011, Lopez-Cantera called the governor's comments a "mischaracterization." He pointed out that legislators set aside more money for schools than Scott himself had recommended.
But Lopez-Cantera downplayed any past disagreements with Scott and said he shares the governor's position on items such as tax cuts and education.
"No two people are going to be exactly the same on everything," Lopez-Cantera said. "We have the same vision in terms of where this state needs to go."
Scott credited what he called Lopez-Cantera's experience in cutting taxes and government regulations as some of the reasons he chose him.
"He gets things done," said Scott, noting Lopez-Cantera's strong relationships in the Legislature. "People like working with him."
In a statement, Rubio praised the selection of Lopez-Cantera.
"Carlos is a great friend and a phenomenal choice to be Florida's lieutenant governor," said Rubio, whose wife attended the announcement. "I've known Carlos for three decades and have cherished his friendship and wise counsel. ... Rick Scott has made a great decision for Florida and is lucky to have Carlos on his team."
Florida Democrats, eager to retake the governor's mansion, didn't wait for the official announcement to criticize the selection. Allison Tant, the chairwoman of the Florida Democratic Party, put out a statement late Monday calling Lopez-Cantera a "poster child for what is wrong with Tallahassee today."
Tant called him an "ultra-partisan career politician who spent his time in Tallahassee putting big corporations and wealthy special interests ahead of middle class families." She his selection was more about "scoring political points."
Gary Fineout reported from Tallahassee.
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