Ruth: Lieutenant is a major waste of resources

Protecting former Lt. Gov. Jennifer Carroll, right, cost Florida taxpayers $300,000.
Protecting former Lt. Gov. Jennifer Carroll, right, cost Florida taxpayers $300,000.
Published April 15, 2013

At $124,851 a year, Florida's lieutenant governor has to be the most expensive professional ribbon-cutter in the state.

My goldendoodle Gracie, who stares out a window all day long occasionally barking at a falling leaf, has a more demanding workload.

But the fact that former Lt. Gov. Jennifer Carroll made Maynard G. Krebs seem like a burning-the-midnight oil workaholic didn't prevent Gov. Rick Scott's No. 2 from racking up $300,000 in Florida Highway Patrol security costs. And that was probably just the No-Doz expenditure.

From 2011, when she was sworn in as Florida's official potted plant, until resigning last month in the wake of disclosures linking the lieutenant governor to a dubious Internet cafe operation, Allied Veterans of the World, it cost taxpayers nearly $300,000 to protect Jennifer Carroll from … what? Sneaking a second helping of crab cakes from a tea party book-burning party of Rachel Maddow's Drift?

Indeed, the itinerary of the chancellor of Travelocity became so hectic going hither and yon to pose for photo-ops, dedicate stuff and deliver speeches that eventually Scott's office was forced to put her on a budget before she could order room service again.

When it became clear she was spending more time on the road than Charles Kuralt, the FHP started assigning lower-ranking troopers to guard Carroll to save money.

In the two years of Jennifer Carroll's Flying Dutchman tenure, the lieutenant governor traveled to Washington several times and criss-crossed the state.

But perhaps the oddest trips were Carroll's sojourns to the National Lieutenant Governor's Association convention. These people actually have their own club?

One can only fathom the riveting seminars to be found at the National Lieutenant Governor's Association confab: "The New York Times Crossword Puzzle — Pen or Pencil? Discuss." "Filling the Work Week: Netflix's House of Cards — All 13 Episodes at Once? Or Not?" "How to Take the Governor's Pulse Unnoticed," and the ever popular "So Many Bonus Miles, So Much Time."

The $300,000 spent making sure Carroll was protected 24/7 from having to do anything that might be confused with governance doesn't include the total travel costs associated with Lt. Gov. Wheels Up, which would probably short-circuit IBM's Watson supercomputer.

And thus once again, we are confronted with the question: Why do we even need a lieutenant governor if all the job involves is … well, waving at people?

To be fair, Scott did finally give Carroll a homework assignment overseeing his cook-the-books "Stand Your Ground Task Force." But since the majority of the committee members all had images of the NRA's Marion Hammer tattooed to their tuchus, it was hardly a surprise that despite a few errant dead bodies everybody concluded "stand your ground" is just marvelous.

It's not entirely Carroll's fault the lieutenant governor's post on her watch had less influence on governing the state than Scott's barber. Scott could have given her something to do besides viewing sculptures, glad-handing and delivering canned speeches.

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Other lieutenant governors such as Buddy MacKay under Lawton Chiles, along with Frank Brogan and later Toni Jennings under Jeb Bush, did play important roles in crafting policies and working with the Florida Legislature.

Scott seems to have preferred the Charlie Crist model, whose own Lt. Gov. Jeff Kottkamp had more spare time on his hands than the Unabomber. Even worse, in Kottkamp's time in office he had access to a state airplane, which was like asking John Dillinger to look after the bank vault.

Since Carroll departed Tallahassee, not that anyone really noticed, Scott has essentially shut down the office while he contemplates a successor, which would have to feel a bit like succeeding To Whom It May Concern.

Scott has been very coy about filling Carroll's aisle seat. But it is a reasonable guess that whoever lands the job will find his or her wings clipped and the FHP's answer to Inspector Clouseau assigned to provide security.

Mel Martinez might be a good pick. He gave up his U.S. Senate seat before his first term ended when he discovered the job involved flying to Washington. That's what we need: a lieutenant governor with agoraphobia.