TALLAHASSEE — Gov. Rick Scott is considering four people as possible picks for lieutenant governor: a pair of longtime Tampa Bay politicians, a sheriff and a superintendent of schools.
It's probably no coincidence that two people on Scott's short list are from Hillsborough, a pivotal swing county in statewide elections. Scott's main rival for re-election, Democrat Charlie Crist of St. Petersburg, is also from Tampa Bay.
Scott's office has started vetting state Sen. Tom Lee, R-Brandon, and Hillsborough County Commissioner Sandy Murman, the only woman on a short list of candidates for the No. 2 job.
Others being considered are Sheriff Don Eslinger of Seminole County near Orlando, and Joseph Joyner, the appointed school superintendent in St. Johns County.
The lieutenant governor's office has been empty since March 12, when Jennifer Carroll abruptly resigned after it was revealed that she did marketing work for a veterans' charity that was at the center of an investigation of illegal gambling in Internet cafes.
Carroll's aides were dismissed, and Scott has said little about the search for a replacement.
"I'm still reviewing it," Scott said last week. "There's a lot of great people around the state that could be great lieutenant governors. We're still going through the process."
Each of the four people under consideration could help Scott in different ways as he seeks a second term next November. But none is well known by voters and only Lee has had any experience under the microscope of statewide politics, and was not successful.
No one on the short list would speak to the Times/Herald on Monday.
Lee, 51, a former Senate president who aspires to hold that job again, is a seasoned lawmaker and capable fundraiser with a pro-business voting record. He lost his only statewide race to Alex Sink for chief financial officer in 2006. Lee could smooth out the rough patches between Scott and the Legislature.
Murman, 63, is a former Democrat who served in the state House from 1996 to 2004 and is known for her advocacy of children. Elected county commissioner as a Republican in 2010, she has been seen at Scott events in Tampa, including his grass roots visit to Arco-Iris, a West Tampa restaurant, in September.
Eslinger, 56, has held office since 1991 as a media-savvy sheriff of a county in the heart of the I-4 corridor. His agency led a prolonged criminal investigation of Internet cafes that led to the conviction last month of a Jacksonville lawyer who ran veterans' charities as fronts for illegal gambling, and Scott signed a law outlawing Internet cafes last spring.
Joyner, 58, of St. Augustine, is the most obscure member on the short list. He has been the appointed superintendent of St. Johns County schools since 2003. Joyner has been supportive of the Common Core standards that Scott has distanced himself from, and St. Johns' students have had the highest FCAT scores in the state for the past five years.
It was unclear Monday how long the vetting will last or when an appointment would be made.
Scott's office declined to discuss any names or the process.
"I can't comment," said Scott spokeswoman Melissa Sellers. "We'll take the right time to find the right person."
In the past, Scott chief of staff Adam Hollingsworth has said that a selection would not be based on political calculations such as race, gender and geography. Rather, Hollingsworth said, Scott will find "a steward of the governor's vision and character." The next lieutenant governor is expected to finish out Scott's first term as well as campaign for a second.
If Murman or Lee is the pick, it would create a vacancy that must be filled by the voters.
Despite the intense speculation about the vacancy, the job of lieutenant governor is largely seen as a ticket to obscurity. But if Scott misfires and picks a running mate who's controversial, it could hurt him politically.
Absent from Scott's list is John Thrasher, 69, an influential state senator from St. Augustine and a former lobbyist whose name has figured in much speculation. He is seeking re-election to the Senate.
Contact Steve Bousquet at [email protected] or (850) 224-7263.