The week of Aug. 20 was an especially joyful one for Jennifer Carroll. She celebrated not only her 51st birthday but also her 27th wedding anniversary.
Her elder son Nolan II made the Miami Dolphins and Republican gubernatorial candidate Rick Scott pick her for his running mate.
“What a week it was!” Carroll recalled in an interview after greeting supporters at Howley’s, a quaint diner in West Palm Beach, where she hosted a Meet and Greet Sept. 30 for about 100 people who dined over eggs and ham while listening to her.
But it is not just that week that was remarkable. Carroll’s life itself has been an amazing run.
“I’m proud to say I’m living the American Dream,” she said in a statement shortly after Scott formally introduced her as his running mate on Sept. 2.
Born in Port of Spain, the capital of Trinidad and Tobago, Carroll and her family moved to the United States when she was 8, settling in New York, where she attended high school and upon graduation, enlisted in the U.S. Navy. She rose from service member to jet mechanic and eventually officer, capping a 20-year Navy career, retiring when she was stationed in Jacksonville, and settling in the area.
Success came because of an incredible work ethic she got from her strict West Indian adoptive parents. “My dad would have two or three jobs, taking janitorial work, dental technician, construction work, a mechanic. Mother was a nurse’s aide,” she recalled.
She said she was raised by her great uncle and great aunt, who are now deceased, since she was 3. Her biological mother, Yvonne Thomas, lives in Tampa and they have a relationship, Carroll said.
Carroll obtained a bachelor’s in political science from the University of New Mexico and an MBA from St. Leo University.
She entered the world of business and the world of politics – the latter sparked, she said, by a desire for change.
Carroll was elected a state representative in 2003, representing Fleming Island, the first African American Republican woman elected to the Legislature, and, since then, has been re-elected unopposed.
For her, being a Republican was merely keeping up with family tradition. But she eventually gravitated to the party on her own, based, she said, on her life experiences and philosophical views.
“I felt more in line with the Republican philosophy and principles because my parents worked very hard. My dad always told me, ‘Nobody owes you anything. You have to go out there and work for what you want. You have to work through any obstacles that come your way,’” she said.
Carroll believes small government, lower taxes, fewer government regulations, personal responsibility and personal freedom. That, coupled with her work ethic and her ability to get things done, was what led Scott to look at her as a running mate, she said, even though she supported his primary opponent, Attorney General Bill McCollum. Scott told her that didn’t make a difference.
“He said, ‘It doesn’t matter, because your experience, what you bring to the table, your work ethic, your ability to get things done, is what I need to help guide me through to create the jobs in the state and to turn around the economy and to streamline government to bring accountability’,” she said. “So it falls in line with what I was doing or had done. It just seemed like a good fit.”
Angie Boynton, of Ocala, vice-chairwoman of the Florida Association of Black Republicans, said she vehemently defendes Scott’s selection of Carroll because she has seen the direct impact of her efforts and legislation on the state, particularly on children.
“She listens to the people,” said Boynton, who said she has known Carroll for about 10 years. “She’s an incredible person and extremely knowledgeable. She gets things done. She’s solution-oriented. She would be perfect for the job.”
Carroll says it is indeed her record which will ultimately influence voters.
“It’s usually the other side that’s trying to diminish the impact that my race or my gender or my background will have on this race but I dismiss that, because the voters are intelligent,” she said. “They’ll look at my record. They’ll know exactly what I’ve done and have been committed to doing – as a veteran, as a mother, as a business owner, as a legislator.”
She acknowledges that some blacks accuse most Black Republicans of being out of touch with their community but she rejects that argument. For those who question her commitment to the African American community, she points to her family ties in the inner city.
Her husband, Nolan, a U.S. Air Force veteran whom she met in Hawaii, is from Liberty City and still has family in that Miami neighborhood. Nolan Carroll’s uncle, Earl Carroll, was the first black county commissioner in Miami-Dade County, serving from 1968 to 1972.
She also points to several bits of legislation she pushed through the House that directly benefits the African American community: giving school districts more flexibility in administering the state’s zero-tolerance policies; extending the recertification requirement for minority businesses from annually to every two years; creation of a Civil Rights Hall of Fame to be located inside the Capitol; establishing the “Live The Dream” specialty license plate, in honor of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., with part of the proceeds going to research into sickle cell disease and care and treatment of those who have the disease; allocating funds for the Black Business Loan Program; and funding for the Black Male Explorers Program.
That track record, Carroll says, will resonate with the black community, even among black Democrats and she believes her candidacy will influence some of them to cross party lines and vote for her ticket.
Her record, she said, will give voters who typically don’t vote for Republicans “a comfort level to say, ‘This girl has been there, she’s done that, she’s been with us and she’s all about results and solutions that will positively impact our area. And if she did that when she wasn’t running for lieutenant governor, then she’ll do even more when she becomes lieutenant governor.’”
CAROL PORTER/FOR SOUTH FLORIDA TIMES
ALL SMILES: Republican lieutenant governor candidate Jennifer Carroll, center, is all smiles as she is greeted by Dr. Barbara Thomas-Jones of Wellington and Riviera Beach Councilwoman Billie Brooks during Carroll’s recent meet-and-greet session at Howley's restaurant in West Palm Beach.