Saturday, January 20, 2018
Politics

Is John Thrasher the lieutenant governor in waiting?

For nearly eight months, Florida has survived without a lieutenant governor.

Cobwebs must be growing in the deserted office as speculation rages about whom Gov. Rick Scott might pick to replace Jennifer Carroll.

Some wonder if Scott might make the announcement later this week, just before he leaves for a weeklong trade mission in Japan. The thinking is, Scott could steal some thunder from Charlie Crist's planned announcement as a Democratic candidate for governor next Monday.

Don't bet on that, Scott's people are saying.

Still, the talk of Tallahassee is John Thrasher, 69, a state senator from St. Augustine — also a lawyer, former lobbyist, former House speaker and decorated veteran of the Vietnam War.

"It's all news to me," Thrasher said in an interview Monday. "I've not been contacted by anybody." Asked if he would accept the job if offered, he said: "I'm not going to speculate on that. I'm happy being a senator."

As chairman of the Senate Rules Committee, Thrasher steers the agenda and is in on every big deal, but it's an open question whether he would have as much power in 2015, when Andy Gardiner takes over as Senate president.

Then again, as lieutenant governor, he'd be cutting ribbons and passing out proclamations, holding down a job few take seriously.

"He's overqualified," tweeted lobbyist and GOP strategist Mac Stipanovich.

Thrasher is close to the man running the search. Adam Hollingsworth, Scott's chief of staff, says that no decision is imminent and that the goal is to find a "steward of the governor's vision and character," not a ticket-balancer for gender or geographical reasons.

That sounds like Thrasher.

He'd be loyal to Scott and is an astute politician, but as an older, rich white guy, he would not expand Scott's base.

Thrasher is the consummate insider, having used the speaker's post to launch a career as a lobbyist for Southern Strategy Group that saw his net worth climb to nearly $7 million. He also has been fined and reprimanded for two ethics violations that involved lobbying, and he spent $6 million on a major overhaul of the House chamber.

More recently, Thrasher swooped in to wrest control of the state Republican Party from free-spending Jim Greer, the Crist protege now doing time in state prison.

Not only would Thrasher be a safe pick who would reassure the Republican establishment, but few legislators are more openly contemptuous of Crist. Thrasher would be ideal in the role of running mate as hatchet man.

Thrasher also sponsored Senate Bill 6, a bill that tied teacher pay to performance, which Crist gleefully vetoed in 2010. For Scott, naming Thrasher as his No. 2 would greatly undermine efforts to come across as pro-teacher in an election year.

Then again, Scott could wait until next spring, after the 2014 legislative session, and try to recruit somebody youthful and photogenic like, say, Will Weatherford, who by then will be a lame-duck House speaker.

There's no way to tell.

The guessing game goes on about the one job that the "jobs governor" is in no rush to fill.

Steve Bousquet can be reached at [email protected] or (850) 224-7263.

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