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Lt. Gov. Kottkamp perseveres as time in limbo as No. 2 nears end

TALLAHASSEE

Even in the best of times, being lieutenant governor can be a lonely existence.

And these can't possibly be the best of times for Jeff Kottkamp. It's a vivid reminder of how quickly a politician's fortunes can turn sour in Florida.

Kottkamp is a lame duck and not of his own choosing, because Gov. Charlie Crist opted to run for a U.S. Senate seat.

Kottkamp ran for attorney general and lost the Republican nomination to Pam Bondi, so he must soldier on having been repudiated by the voters in his own party. That can't be fun.

Then there's the fact that Kottkamp isn't even on speaking terms with Crist any longer. When Kottkamp makes an appearance, he's not there standing in for Crist — he's there on his own, as if he's an island unto himself.

"Life goes on," Kottkamp says.

There's a lesson here for Rod Smith and Jennifer Carroll, one of whom will be the next lieutenant governor: They should demand specific, defined, substantive responsibilities.

Kottkamp oversees the state Office of Drug Control and Space Florida, and that's about it.

The Crist-Kottkamp "team" was a dream when the erstwhile Republican governor's poll numbers were in the high 60s, but at this point it's pure fiction.

When you're lieutenant governor in Florida, there's no job description. No major responsibilities.

Public appearances are strictly second tier, such as Wednesday's Citrus County Economic Development luncheon in the city of Hernando that Kottkamp attended. A state trooper escort drove him there.

Then there was his visit Tuesday to Maclay Gardens, a picturesque park in Tallahassee, where Kottkamp read the children's book The Snowy Day to an attentive group of second-graders from Gilchrist Elementary School.

"After breakfast, he put on his snowsuit and ran outside," Kottkamp read as he sat in a wooden rocking chair. "The snow was piled up very high."

To his credit, Kottkamp isn't feeling sorry for himself. He says that would be unfair to his 18 million constituents.

"I've got work to do," he says. "Yesterday I met with a group trying to potentially bring 400 jobs to Charlotte County. … I want to sprint to the finish line and try to do everything we can to keep growing and expanding this economy."

If there is one glimmer of good news for Kottkamp, it's the remote possibility that he could actually be governor for a fleeting moment, the way Lt. Gov. Wayne Mixson of Marianna was for three days in 1987.

The next governor — Rick Scott or Alex Sink — will take the oath of office at noon Jan. 4. If Crist wins the Senate race, he may be sworn in as early as Jan. 3, although a Senate spokesman says the date has not yet been determined.

Despite his estrangement from Crist, Kottkamp says it's dangerous to count the governor out even as a repackaged independent candidate.

But if the timing works out, Kottkamp could be governor for a day — a fitting reward for his stoic demeanor in his last months in office.

"I'm really honestly focused on trying to finish this job strong," Kottkamp says.

Steve Bousquet can be reached at bousquet@sptimes.com or (850) 224-7263.

Lt. Gov. Kottkamp perseveres as time in limbo as No. 2 nears end 09/10/10 [Last modified: Friday, September 10, 2010 11:36pm]

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