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Will Gov. Rick Scott leave office early to become Sen. Scott? He won’t say

Lt. Gov. Carlos Lopez-Cantera has a chance to make history - but only if Scott resigns by Jan. 3.
President Donald Trump talks with Republican candidate for governor Ron DeSantis, left, and Florida Gov. Rick Scott, right, after arriving on Air Force One at Southwest Florida International Airport in Fort Myers, Fla., Wednesday, Oct. 31, 2018.
Susan Walsh AP
President Donald Trump talks with Republican candidate for governor Ron DeSantis, left, and Florida Gov. Rick Scott, right, after arriving on Air Force One at Southwest Florida International Airport in Fort Myers, Fla., Wednesday, Oct. 31, 2018. Susan Walsh AP
Published Nov. 29, 2018|Updated Dec. 13, 2018

TALLAHASSEE — Will he or won't he resign early as governor? Rick Scott isn't saying.

Gov. Scott is scheduled to become Senator Rick Scott five days before his term as governor will end.

It's a quirk in the calendar. Under the U.S. Constitution, new senators are sworn in Jan. 3. Under the Florida Constitution, the new governor, Ron DeSantis, will be sworn in the first Tuesday after the first Monday in January, which is Jan. 8.

That five-day gap could only be filled by Lt. Gov. Carlos Lopez-Cantera, who has occupied the obscure post since 2014, after the position had been vacant for nearly a year.

Scott has given Lopez-Cantera almost nothing to do for four years.

But the governor can quit early and give the lieutenant governor the perk of a lifetime, if only for a few days when people are mostly breaking New Year's resolutions and watching college football bowl games.

Lopez-Cantera would get a portrait on the wall of the Capitol. For the rest of his life, people will refer to him as "Governor."

But Scott, who as governor has rarely given very much advance notice of anything, has provided no indication of his plans.

Some wonder if he won't resign early at all, so that he can say he finished the job that voters awarded him eight years ago.

Scott's office declined to comment Thursday. His Senate campaign manager, Jackie Schutz Zeckman, who will run his Senate office, did not respond to a request for comment.

A spokesman for Scott's campaign, Chris Hartline, said he hoped to have some clarity "in the next day or two."

Scott's coyness leaves Lopez-Cantera in the dark as to whether he'll ever get to occupy the big office.

Scott is one of seven new Republican senators elected this month to new six-year terms. A delay in the timing of a swearing-in ceremony could affect their seniority, a key factor in deciding committee assignments, office space and the seating chart on the Senate floor.

"It's very important to all kinds of things," said U.S. Senate historian Daniel Holt.

Holt said that if Scott were to delay his own swearing-in, it wouldn't be the first time.

Holt said Mark Hatfield of Oregon and Jay Rockefeller of West Virginia both delayed their swearing-in ceremonies to finish terms as governors — Hatfield until Jan. 10, 1967, and Rockfeller until Jan. 15, 1985.

Asked whether Scott could postpone his own swearing-in, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell's office said Thursday that all new and newly re-elected senators will be sworn in on Jan. 3. Vice President Mike Pence will administer the oath of office.

Most Florida officeholders who seek another office are required by law to put their resignation in writing under the state's resign-to-run law. That law prohibits anyone from holding two public offices at the same time.

But as a state official running for a federal office, Scott was not required to sign such a letter.

"If we had a resign-to-run letter, it would be clear," said attorney and election-law expert Mark Herron.

One plausible reason Scott might remain as governor until the last possible minute was eliminated recently when the Florida Supreme Court ruled that the incoming governor has the sole power to appoint three new justices to the state's highest court.  Age limits of 70 are forcing three of the seven justices — Barbara Pariente, R. Fred Lewis and Peggy Quince — to retire at midnight Jan. 8, the same day Scott is scheduled to leave the governor's office.

If Scott resigns early, it will recall memories of the last time it happened in Florida, back in 1987.

Two-term Gov. Bob Graham was newly elected to the Senate and resigned as governor on Jan. 3, 1987.

Lt. Gov. Wayne Mixson, a popular legislator and country farmer from the Panhandle town of Marianna, became the state's 39th governor and held the office for three days until Bob Martinez was sworn in as governor.

Mixson ordered special stationery for the occasion (paid for by supporters, not taxpayers), spent three nights in the Governor's Mansion and hosted a reception at Florida's historic Old Capitol.

What Mixson did not do was make any momentous decisions. He said he would serve in "merely a custodial role" for three days, and he did.

Mixson, who's 96 and living in Tallahassee, still happily answers to the title of governor.

The specialty license tag on his gold Lexus sedan says "1 AND 2" because he held both positions.

Miami Herald staff writer David Smiley and McClatchy reporter Lesley Clark in Washington contributed to this report.


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