Special to South Florida Times
When Jennifer Carroll took the oath of office shortly before noon Tuesday, Jan. 4, becoming lieutenant governor of Florida, it marked the highest point so far in an immigrant’s American success story.
Carroll rose from humble beginnings as a little girl in Trinidad and Tobago and into the pages of history in the United States of America. She is now the first African American and the first elected to the number two spot in state government.
Wearing a two-piece suit and with her classic good looks, Carroll was all smiles as she stood before an overflow crowd in the state Capitol. With her husband of 27 years, Nolan Carroll, a native of Miami’s Liberty City neighborhood, holding the Bible, she placed one hand on it and took the oath, flanked by her children Nolan II, Nyckie and Necho.
Many other relatives sat in the audience, including Steven Carroll of Miami, one of her biggest supporters. He is the first cousin of her husband and was at their wedding. He said he would not have missed her inauguration for anything and drove to Tallahassee for the occasion.
“It was excellent,” he said in an interview. “Everything was beautiful and well planned.”
But as he reflected on the inauguration as he drove back home Wednesday, Steven Carroll had one regret over the ceremony where Rick Scott was also sworn in as Florida’s 45th governor.
“There wasn’t much emphasis on the fact that she’s the first African American to hold the position and that she is the first woman elected to the post,” he said. “Her achievement says ‘you can make it.’”
He had expected more people, particularly African Americans, to take note of her place in history.
“I just didn’t hear a lot of talk about it,” he said.
How much influence Carroll will have in the Scott Republican administration remains to be seen. By all accounts, she gives her all to whatever she does.
After graduating from high school in New York, Carroll enlisted in the U.S. Navy, becoming a jet mechanic. She rose through the ranks to a Naval officer and retired after 20 years from a career filled with awards, honors and commendations.
Carroll soon entered politics and was elected a state representative in 2003, becoming the first African American Republican female elected to the Legislature. She said she became a Republican because her parents were affiliated with the party. But, as she came into her own, she felt more aligned with the GOP.
“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 recalled in an earlier interview.
Despite the fact that African Americans are overwhelmingly Democrats, Carroll is being welcomed to her new position. Members of the black legislative caucus turned out Sunday at a reception to honor her at Florida A&M University. More than 20 members of the Florida Conference of Black State Lawmakers were on hand to pay tribute to her. It was a rare show of bipartisan for Carroll, who had been the lone GOP member of the caucus.
Rep. Alan Williams, D-Tallahassee, called it “an historic occasion.”
AP Photo/Joe Burbank, Pool. Florida Lt. Gov. Jennifer Carroll is sworn in during inauguration ceremonies at the Capitol in Tallahassee, FL., on Tuesday. Carroll became Florida's first black lieutenant governor and the first woman elected to the position. With her is her husband Nolan Carroll.