TALLAHASSEE — Gov. Rick Scott's office Wednesday dismissed reports that his search for a new lieutenant governor centers on an Orlando school official who has been a dinner guest of the Republican governor but is a registered Democrat.
The Orlando Sentinel reported that Orange County superintendent Barbara Jenkins is being considered as Scott's new No. 2, which would likely also make her his running mate in Scott's upcoming re-election campaign.
"Speculation about a new LG is just that," said Scott's spokeswoman, Melissa Sellers. "We are still reviewing the bills that came out of the legislative session and have not started the LG process."
Jenkins declined to comment through spokeswoman Katherine Marsh, who said: "She has nothing to offer on this topic at this time."
The Sentinel quoted Orange County School Board chairman Bill Sublette as saying Jenkins was interested in the job and that board members have discussed the possibility that she might leave.
"I can't talk about it," Jenkins told the newspaper at a meeting Tuesday night.
Jenkins has emerged as one of Scott's favorite education leaders at a time when he has made public education the cornerstone of his agenda. She has been with Scott in Tallahassee four times in the past few months.
She attended one of Scott's leadership dinners at the Governor's Mansion, took part in a roundtable discussion with other superintendents, spoke at an education bill-signing ceremony and attended Scott's State of the State address March 5 at the Capitol, where he praised her.
"Barbara," Scott said, according to the speech text, "would you please stand so we can honor your commitment to the teachers in your district and your dedication to student achievement."
Jenkins, 52, of Windermere is a career educator and an African-American who runs the nation's 11th largest public school system.
A native of Winter Park, she also could help Scott with women voters and in the I-4 corridor that's considered crucial in statewide elections.
But she has no political experience. In Orange, as in most urban counties in Florida, the superintendent is appointed, not elected.
Jenkins was also a registered Democrat on Wednesday, according to the Orange County Supervisor of Elections Office.
She likely would have to switch parties quickly because the state Constitution requires that candidates for governor and lieutenant governor form "joint candidacies" so voters cast a single vote for them.
Under a law the Legislature changed in 2011, candidates cannot switch parties less than one year before the deadline to file qualifying papers to run (the old law was six months).
For Jenkins, that means she could be forced to switch to the Republican Party no later than next Thursday, June 20.
However, the Department of State, which oversees election laws, said the Constitution does not prohibit the governor and lieutenant governor from being in different parties.
Scott, a Republican, has alienated some members of his party's base by embracing an expansion of Medicaid. He risks further alienating them by considering a Democrat as a running mate. In a speech last month, Scott said he has "not met one Floridian that should be anything but a Republican."
Jenkins, meanwhile, would have to take a steep pay cut to join Scott's team. Her salary as superintendent is $230,000, nearly twice the $120,000 salary of the lieutenant governor.
The office has been vacant since March 12, when Jennifer Carroll resigned after being questioned by law enforcement agents as part of a broader investigation of a Jacksonville-area veterans group that authorities said was a front for an illegal gambling ring of Internet cafes.
Other names circulating as possible replacements include Sen. Anitere Flores, R-Miami; Rep. Dana Young, R-Tampa; Rep. Doug Holder, R-Sarasota; and Raquel Regalado, a member of the Miami-Dade school board.