By KEITH LAING
THE NEWS SERVICE OF FLORIDA
THE CAPITAL, TALLAHASSEE, Jan. 2, 2011……….Members of the mostly-Democratic black legislative caucus came out in full-force Sunday night to honor Republican Lt. Gov.-elect Jennifer Carroll’s election as the first black second-in-command of the state of Florida.
Pledging to continue reaching across the aisle to work with Carroll – and hoping she gives them an in with an incoming administration they mostly campaigned against – more than 20 members of the Florida Conference of Black State Lawmakers attended a reception for Carroll at the state’s largest historically black college. The result was a rare show of bipartisanship for Carroll, who had been the lone GOP member of the caucus.
“It’s a historic occasion,” state Rep. Alan Williams, D-Tallahassee, said of Carroll’s election, which made her both the first woman to be elected lieutenant governor and the first African-American to ascend to the office. The only other female lieutenant governor, former Senate President Toni Jennings, was appointed by former Gov. Jeb Bush when Frank Brogan resigned in 2003 to become president of Florida Atlantic University.
“Although we disagree on certain issues politically, Jennifer Carroll will be someone who will provide leadership to this administration,” Williams continued. “We’re going to need to have someone we can dialogue with. We have that with the lieutenant governor and we want to form that with the governor.”
Williams added that Scott, who is about to assume his first elected office Tuesday, stands to learn from the eight-year veteran of the Florida Legislature he tapped last fall to be his number two.
Rep. Joe Gibbons, a former chairman of the black caucus, agreed. Gibbons, D-Hallandale Beach, said he thought it was “extremely important to support” Carroll at the event at Florida A&M in her honor Sunday, sounding the same bipartisan themes as Williams.
“It’s not about party now, it’s about people, and Jennifer’s good people,” Gibbons said.
Gibbons said there was “no question” Carroll’s presence in the Scott administration would help the black caucus’ relationship with the new governor, which figures to be rockier than its relationship with outgoing Gov. Charlie Crist.
“She’s going to help the governor-elect more than he probably knows,” Gibbons said. “She has deep relationships in the Legislature and with the caucus and we know on any issue, we can go straight to her. She’ll be a nice vehicle to have to (Scott)…and he’ll be more sensitive to our concerns because of her.”
“It’s important for them to see that she’s not alone,” he concluded. “She’s the lone Republican in the caucus, but she’s not alone.”
For her part, Carroll joked about the opposite partisan-leaning of the lawmakers who came out to honor her Sunday, saying that former Senate Democratic Leader Al Lawson called her on Election Day sounding “like a kid in a candy store because he had just voted for me.”
Lawson, whose law firm co-sponsored the gala for Carroll with Florida A&M, had a different recollection.
“I know it’s unusual, but during the course of the campaign, Jennifer and I talked every week,” he said. “I was on the other side…a lot of people were on the other side.”
But Lawson called Carroll a “dear friend” he’s always considered “like a little sister.”
“Seven years ago, many members were suspect about this young lady,” he said. “She was the first Republican member of the black caucus, and that created many unusual situations for many of my colleagues.”
Carroll did not make explicit mentions of political parties – hers or the members of her former black caucus colleagues – but she did thank the group “for coming aboard at the end of the day.”
“Thank you for your friendship and thank you for supporting me here today,” she said.
As for what is to come after she and Scott are officially sworn-in Tuesday afternoon, Carroll said “you are about to see great things,” and pledged to be more active than previous lieutenant governors.
“Early on when we first met, I told Rick I did not want to be a hump on a log,” she said. “He said ‘I agree. I’m going to put you to work.'”
Scott was not scheduled to appear at Carroll’s ball, but he made a brief appearance to praise his number two.
“I’m honored Jennifer was elected to be my lieutenant governor and I’m looking forward to working with her,” the soon-to-be 45th governor of Florida said in brief remarks. “As long as I’m willing to listen to her ideas and watch her tenacity and the relationships she’s built (with lawmakers) over the last seven years, we’re going to have a very successful four – hopefully eight – years.”
Events in honor of Scott and Carroll’s inauguration are scheduled to continue Monday with a Salute to Women in Leadership Breakfast, a tribute to First Lady-to-be Ann Scott, a military appreciation event, a reception at Goodwood Museum in Tallahassee and a youth concert featuring 90s R&B group Dru Hill.