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A Times Editorial

Florida can do without a lieutenant governor

The last thing the governor of the nation's fourth-largest state needs to be worrying about is whether the staff of his lieutenant governor is secretly recording each other's embarrassing comments. Now the Florida Department of Law Enforcement is investigating the potential breach of law, and Gov. Rick Scott's team has one more distraction. But the real question here should be why does Florida need a lieutenant governor at all?

Florida did without a lieutenant governor for decades after the job — then an individually elected office — was abolished under an 1885 constitutional revision. It was added back as a running mate's position in 1968. The only official duty is to step in if the governor is incapacitated or dies. Yet the cost to taxpayers is far more onerous and includes an executive salary, staff, travel and security.

Only twice since then has Florida ended up with an accidental governor: Lt. Gov. Wayne Mixson, who served for three days when Gov. Bob Graham resigned in 1987 to go to the U.S. Senate, and Lt. Gov. Buddy MacKay, who served less than a month after Gov. Lawton Chiles died in 1998 at the end of his term.

Under Florida law there is already an adequate succession plan if both the governor and lieutenant governor cannot serve. Next up is the attorney general, followed by the chief financial officer and the commissioner of agriculture — all statewide elected officials. Only after that line is exhausted does it get messy: The Legislature then would be required to meet within 15 days in a joint session to appoint a new governor.

Scott, who ran on a pledge to cut government costs, should look just next door and ask the Legislature to put a constitutional amendment on the ballot to do away with the lieutenant governor's job. It need not be personal. Lt. Gov. Jennifer Carroll's office is far from the first such shop to cause unwelcome scrutiny on the governor. But it would be a smart step to smaller government.

Florida can do without a lieutenant governor 09/23/11 [Last modified: Friday, September 23, 2011 8:57pm]
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