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Scott Taps Lopez-Cantera As Lt. Governor, Announces More DCF Funding

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TALLAHASSEE (CBSMiami/NSF) – Ten months after Jennifer Carroll left the job, Gov. Rick Scott has finally selected a replacement lieutenant governor who will also run with him for re-election in November.

Governor Scott selected Miami-Dade Property Appraiser Carlos Lopez-Cantera to be the new number two in the state government.

The move comes 10 months after Carroll abruptly resigned.

“I feel excited. This is great. It’s a great opportunity,” said Lopez-Cantera, a seasoned lawmaker and deal-maker who has been the Miami-Dade property appraiser since 2012.

Lopez-Cantera is the state’s first Hispanic lieutenant governor and the first person from Miami-Dade County to hold the job since it was first established in 1969.

Republicans across Florida have been looking for ways to make inroads into Miami-Dade County and Lopez-Cantera could be a key to unlocking the county’s large Hispanic vote.

The 40-year-old Miami Republican served eight years in the Florida Legislature, rising to the position of House Majority Leader from 2010 to 2012. He was elected property appraiser in 2012.

The state’s Democratic Party said if Scott tapped Lopez-Cantera to boost his support by Hispanic voters, it’s not going to work.

“Carlos Lopez-Cantera is the poster child for what is wrong with Tallahassee today, an ultra-partisan career politician who spent his time in Tallahassee putting big corporations and wealthy special interests ahead of middle class families. By choosing a partisan product of the pay-to-play culture of Tallahassee in Lopez-Cantera as Florida’s Lt. Governor, Rick Scott is proving that he is exactly the type of politician he promised he would never be — more interested in scoring political points than commonsense solutions to the problems facing Florida,” said Florida Democratic Party Chair Allison Tant.

Lopez-Cantera, who was in the real estate business, worked on property tax issues while in the Legislature. He said that the Scott administration first reached out to him about the position in mid-December and that he doesn’t mind if he wasn’t the first choice of Scott’s.

Lopez-Cantera will officially take office on February 3rd.

Scott’s announcement was made at the state’s Department of Children and Families’ Miami office where he also announced that his his 2014-2015 budget includes an additional $31 million for child protection services. The additional dollars would be targeted at protecting at-risk children and families by expanding DCF investigation initiatives.

The funding would go to hiring new case workers in order to reduce caseloads to 10 cases per investigator. Additional investigators will also allow for a paired investigator response to cases with the highest risk for serious child maltreatment. DCF is currently piloting paired investigators for high-risk cases in Miami-Dade and Polk counties.

“Even one child’s death is one death too many,” said Scott.

“We want to thank you governor for recognizing that this is important work,” said DCF interim director Esther Jacobo. “

The additional money would also establish 26 positions to perform preventative “real time” quality assurance reviews on open child protective investigations involving the most vulnerable children. Real time quality assurance is currently being practiced in DCF’s SunCoast Region.

Scott also announced an additional $8 million that will go to sheriffs’ offices that conduct child protective investigative services.

Several DCF workers, who asked that their names not be used, told CBS4’s Gary Nelson they felt the event held at the agency’s Miami office was purely political, an inappropriate mix of the issue of abused and murdered children with a Lt. Governor pick.

Scott brushed aside the criticism when asked about it.

“What you are about in this job is families.  This is the right thing to do for our children,” Scott said.  “Now, it’s a ‘twofer.’  A great day to announce Carlos as our new Lt. Governor.  He’s going to do a great job.”

Political observers think Lopez-Cantera could do a great job of helping to rehabilitate the GOP among Hispanic voters.

“We’ve seen some deterioration from the Cuban vote going away from the Republican Party,” said Fernand Amandi, a Democratic consultant and pollster in Coconut Grove.  “This might be an effort to get some of that back.  So, I think on all accounts it’s a wise move.”

Lopez-Cantera declined to discuss serious ethnic politics at the Tuesday news conference, but he did offer up a quip.

“I think there will be a lot more Cuban coffee in the Governor’s office once I’m up there.”

(TM and © Copyright 2014 CBS Radio Inc. and its relevant subsidiaries. CBS RADIO and EYE Logo TM and Copyright 2014 CBS Broadcasting Inc. Used under license. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Miami Herald and Associated Press contributed to this report.)

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