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Running mates due Thursday

Republican Charlie Crist has an unconfirmed list of four finalists. Democrat Jim Davis’ picks are a “diverse pool.”

By STEVE BOUSQUET
Published September 12, 2006


TALLAHASSEE — Republican Charlie Crist’s short list for a lieutenant governor running mate includes a surprising name with an unusual background: Helen Aguirre Ferre, opinion-page editor of the Spanish-language newspaper Diario Las Americas in Miami.

Ferre, 49, is a Republican appointee of Gov. Jeb Bush’s to the board of trustees of Miami-Dade College, where she has been since 1999 and now serves as chairwoman. The Miami native is married with three children.

Ferre is one of four people said to have made Crist’s final cut for the No. 2 position, but the candidate would not talk specifics.

“It’s been very thorough and very intensive,” Crist said of the secretive running mate vetting process. “I’m very pleased with where it’s going. That’s about all I can say at the moment.”

A familiar face on public affairs TV programs in South Florida, Ferre would give Crist a telegenic and bilingual partner with strong ties to South Florida’s large and politically vital Hispanic community.

Her father, Horacio Aguirre, a Nicaraguan lawyer, founded the paper in 1953. Her father-in-law is Maurice Ferre, the first Hispanic mayor of Miami.

The lieutenant governor has no formal job description and becomes whatever the governor wants it to be. Sometimes the LG, as the job is known, is reduced to ribbon cuttings and speeches at second-tier events. But some, like current Lt. Gov. Toni Jennings, have played key roles in pushing legislation, and others, such as

Democrat Buddy MacKay, have acted as troubleshooters at state agencies.

The position is widely viewed as a path to political obscurity. Since the job was created in 1968, no lieutenant governor has been elected governor in Florida.

Crist and Democrat Jim Davis must choose by 5 p.m. Thursday.

Crist’s other finalists are:

-State Sen. Lisa Carlton, R-Osprey, 42, chairwoman for the past two years of the powerful Senate Ways & Means Committee and a member of a prominent Florida political family.

-State Rep. Jeff Kottkamp, R-Cape Coral, 46, a lawyer and loyal supporter who has been active in Crist’s previous statewide campaigns.

-U.S. Rep. Jeff Miller, 47, who has represented the Pensacola area in Congress since 2001 and whose western Panhandle constituency includes many veterans and is seen as a bulwark of Republican strength in statewide elections.

Choosing Ferre would be a bold, outside-the-box selection. She has never held elective office, and in recent days has been grazed by a controversy over journalism ethics in Miami.

Ferre was one of 10 Miami journalists who received thousands of dollars in recent years from U.S.-controlled Radio Marti and TV Marti, which exist to promote democracy in Cuba and to weaken Fidel Castro’s regime.

The payments have caused an uproar in journalistic circles. Three reporters were fired by El Nuevo Herald, the Spanish-language daily published by the Miami Herald, which broke the story of the payments last week.The Herald reported that Ferre was paid $4,325 as a guest panelist on TV Marti shows from 2001 to 2005.

In a column published in Diario Las Americas Saturday and translated into English on the paper’s Web site, Ferre said she was paid $75 to $100 for each program and may have been paid $150 for one longer program.

“My opinions do not have price,” the column was headlined. In it, Ferre said she did not consider the honoraria to be a conflict, but disclosed that she was giving the money to La Liga Contra Cancer, a local charity.

“I do not want that something I have done (to) put in doubt my journalistic integrity,” Ferre wrote.

Messages for Ferre left at the newspaper, Miami-Dade College and her home were not returned Tuesday.

The campaign would not confirm or deny who made the short list of finalists.

“We are not going to disclose the names of those being considered,” said Crist’s campaign chief of staff, George LeMieux, in response to an e-mailed question.

Crist’s campaign has been airtight in the running mate search process.

One lawmaker said to be on Crist’s list of possibilities, Rep. Jennifer Carroll, R-Green Cove Springs, squelched such speculation Tuesday, saying she has heard nothing. Carroll chuckled at speculation that she was a finalist for the No. 2 post.

“The papers tell me what I’m doing,” Carroll said.

Davis had still not made his choice as of Tuesday afternoon. “In the past three days, Jim has personally met with a diverse pool of candidates,” spokesman Josh Earnest said.

He defined diverse in terms of geography, ethnicity and gender, adding, “he’s been looking for people that have a record of leadership and public service.”

Earnest refused to share the short list but several people have been contacted by the campaign. They include state Rep. Chris Smith of Fort Lauderdale and former state Sen. Daryl Jones of Miami, a high-ranking Air Force reservist who ran for governor in 2002.

Other potential lieutenant governor picks include former Miami-Dade County Commissioner Jimmy Morales and Miami-Dade State Attorney Katherine Fernandez Rundle.

Morales said Tuesday that he spoke with the campaign over the weekend but had not heard back. “I’d be honored and would be happy to serve in that capacity,” Morales said.

Times staff writers David Adams and Alex Leary and researcher Caryn Baird contributed to this report. Steve Bousquet is at bousquet@sptimes.com or (850) 224-7263.