TALLAHASSEE – Former Lt. Gov. Jennifer Carroll, whose life story is described by the governor’s office as “the American Dream come true,” has seen a political career with tremendous potential suddenly hit the pause button.
Whether it resumes or not will depend on what is revealed about her association with Allied Veterans of the World, a purported veteran charity now accused of pocketing millions of dollars in illegal gambling revenue.
“We don’t know yet the ramifications but, given the track that she was on, it’s hard for me not to imagine that she wouldn’t have been at some point a gubernatorial candidate or a Senate candidate,” said Republican political consultant Brett Doster. “She is charismatic, she’s beautiful and her resume cuts across every demographic that any candidate thinks they need to win an election.”
Carroll, 53, ran a public relations company that did consulting work for Allied Veterans. Authorities said Allied Veterans was a front for a $300 million Internet cafe gambling operation. She is not among the 57 people charged. In a statement she said she doesn’t believe she or her former company is under investigation but she resigned so that her ties to Allied wouldn’t be a distraction to Gov. Rick Scott.
“If this is resolved in a non-damaging way for her, her potential is really unlimited. If this is resolved with significant damages, this will effectively end her career,” Doster said.
Carroll has a near-perfect resume for politics. She immigrated to the United States from Trinidad and Tobago as a child, served in the U.S. Navy for 20 years, retiring as a lieutenant commander, was executive director of the Florida Department of Veterans’ Affairs, was the first black Republican woman elected to the state House and she was the first black lieutenant governor and the first woman elected to serve in the position. Other than Supreme Court Justice Joseph Hatchett in 1976, no other African American has been elected to a statewide position in Florida.
Carroll is a married mother of three, including a son, Nolan, who plays defensive back for the Miami Dolphins.
Former Gov. Charlie Crist considered her as a running mate in 2006 and interviewed her as a candidate for a vacant U.S. Senate position. Even before she was sworn in as lieutenant governor, she was often given prominent speaking roles at Republican events, where she has a reputation for telling jokes, sometimes mildly risque. She recently told a Republican women’s group, “The governor always gets nervous when I tell my jokes.”
While charismatic, she has occasionally made comments that have caused negative attention. Last year, Carroll, who isn’t shy about calling herself attractive, issued an apology for offending lesbians when she said black women who engage in those relationships don’t look like her.
She is highly praised by those who know her.
“She’s smart, articulate, telegenic, ambitious, a hard worker. She’s everything you could want” in a politician, said Susie Wiles, who served as Scott’s campaign manager and who has been friends with Carroll for more than 20 years. “Plus she’s an amazing mom.”
Wiles also said Carroll is honest and she couldn’t imagine any work she did for Allied Veterans was anything but above board.
“I don’t think she’s done anything that’s wrong,” Wiles said. “I have every reason to believe that when this is completed she will be exonerated. I base that on a long time of knowing and respecting Jennifer.”
If that’s the case, Cindy Graves, president of the Florida Federation of Republican Women, believes Carroll will re-emerge on the political scene.
“It’s very surprising and very heartbreaking and today is not a good day for Republicans because Jennifer is a great leader,” Graves said. “She hasn’t been accused of anything. It’s just confusing as to why she would resign … Eventually all of this will pass.”
Republican Rep. Mike Fasano of New Port Richey said he doesn’t think there’s more to Carroll’s involvement with Allied Veterans but he said she did the right thing because perceptions can hurt and Scott doesn’t need a distraction in the middle of a legislative session and while he’s preparing to run for re-election.
“The governor, his political life is out there lingering and he doesn’t need any more baggage,” said Fasano. “I’m sorry to see her go. I always had a good relationship with her. She was very kind. Wherever she went, people liked her.”
Scott has often praised her work, including remarks this month to a Republican women’s group. “She’s been a great partner, she’s tenacious,” he said. “In the last year, because of Jennifer’s hard work, our position with regards to military missions has increased. Space Florida – you can go on and on – every meeting she has she has an impact.”
Scott then told Carroll, “You’ve been a great partner, you’ve been a great friend, but you’ve also been a great lieutenant governor for the state.”