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What we think: Barbara Jenkins should rule out becoming Rick Scott's lieutenant governor

Quick: what does this group have in common? Ray Osborne, J.H. Williams, Tom Adams, Bobby Brantley, Jeff Kottkamp.

Students of history and political wonks will recognize these men as former Florida lieutenant governors. Most other folks won't have a clue.

And that should tell Barbara Jenkins something.

In Florida, the lieutenant governor is like an unknown understudy to a Broadway star. He or she is only around in case something happens to the governor. That has occurred just a few times, for a few days, since the position was recreated in 1968. Kottkamp, for example, served as governor for a day in 2008 while Charlie Crist was under anesthesia for knee surgery. Really.

If the governor remains healthy and in office, lieutenant governor is an irrelevant post — meant for ribbon-cuttings and Rotary speeches. No wonder Frank Brogan, Gov. Jeb Bush's first lieutenant, ditched the job to become president of Florida Atlantic University.

And lieutenant governor isn't a springboard to higher office. It's more often a political career killer. Lawton Chiles' lieutenant, Buddy McKay, ran for governor in 1998 and lost badly to Bush. Kottkamp didn't even make it past the GOP primary for attorney general in 2010.

Jenkins, superintendent of Orange County schools, is reportedly on the short list to become Gov. Rick Scott's lieutenant. She would succeed Jennifer Carroll, who resigned her post earlier this year after getting caught up in a scandal surrounding an Internet cafe operator.

Though Jenkins is a registered Democrat, Scott is clearly a fan. Last year he named her to a statewide panel he created to cut red tape in education. He singled her out for praise this year in his State of the State speech. She appeared at his side in news conferences to promote his education policies.

Orange School Board Chairman Bill Sublette has said Jenkins' appointment as lieutenant governor would be "a tremendous tribute to OCPS." No doubt.

But it would also be a big loss for the district, putting it back in the hunt for a new superintendent less than a year after Jenkins' first day on the job.

And it would be, in terms of real-world influence, a demotion for Jenkins. She would be abandoning her post as the top administrator in the nation's 10th largest school district — where her leadership impacts the daily lives and futures of some 180,000 students — for political obscurity in Tallahassee.

She would even be taking a big pay cut: from a base salary of $230,000 as superintendent to $125,000 as lieutenant governor.

Jenkins has pursued a logical path to her current position. She began as a teacher and rose steadily through the ranks to become superintendent. Why take a political detour now? History says it would be a dead end. And Scott's poll numbers suggest he'll have a tough go winning re-election.

Jenkins should take her name off Scott's short list, and keep her current job, where can make a far greater difference for her community and Florida's future.

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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