This wasn’t the turn history was supposed to take for Jennifer Carroll.
Carroll, as many already know, became Florida’s first African American lieutenant governor in 2010. Had some misfortune befell Gov. Rick Scott, she could have wound up being the first black and first woman governor of the nation’s fourth most populous state.
And even if no misfortune befell Scott, Carroll, with her likeability and her back story of being a Navy veteran and a child of Trinidadian immigrants, would have been well positioned to make a run for governor herself.
But that trajectory took a crash-and-burn turn recently, when Carroll resigned after being questioned in connection with an Internet gambling scandal. A few years ago, she did consulting work for Allied Veterans of the World, a non-profit organization that operates a number of gaming centers around the state to raise money for veterans.
Law enforcement officials say the centers were fronts for illegal gambling, and that officials with the organization pocketed more of the $290 million that they raised than they donated. Although Carroll hasn’t been charged with a crime, she quit, she said, to avoid being a distraction.
But even though it’s possible that Carroll might not have known whether Allied Veterans was doing anything wrong, news reports say that Scott had pressured her to quit.
She had, after all, had been fighting off a slew of ethical lapses and charges of her office being woefully disorganized, and trying to live down the embarrassment of a response she made after a former employee said she was a lesbian; Carroll said, in essence, that she was too attractive for that.
Still, that’s some thanks from the governor who had to live down his own dubious history of invoking the Fifth Amendment 75 times in a Medicare fraud case – and who she once compared to Martin Luther King, Jr.
But this is what happens to people like Carroll who, after becoming a trailblazer, settle for being a token. They get used and tossed aside.
It didn’t have to be this way, though.
Whoever holds the office of lieutenant governor is close enough to the governor to at least have his ear and his respect.
In Carroll’s case, she should have been close enough to help Scott understand and empathize with the experiences of people who look like her.
And there’s no indication that Carroll tried to do anything close to that.
She was virtually silent as Scott signed off on legislation clearly designed to limit the access of blacks, Latinos and college students to the polls, such as cutbacks in early voting days that resulted in horrendously long lines at the polls.
Then there was her presence on a state task force to examine its Stand Your Ground law. This law, which allows people to resort to deadly force if they feel threatened rather than retreat, thrust Florida in the national spotlight last year.
That was after self-appointed neighborhood watchman George Zimmerman fatally shot 17-year-old Trayvon Martin in Sanford, Fla., after following the unarmed teenager against the advice of a police dispatcher and getting into a tussle with him.
The task force was supposed to revise the law, which keeps the door open for people to kill someone and claim they felt “threatened,” by that person’s ethnicity, their music, or other reasons that might have more to do with stereotyping than any credible danger.
Instead, the 19-member task force, which included lawmakers who helped write the 2005 Stand Your Ground legislation – essentially left it as it was.
Amazing, Carroll defended the makeup of the panel. Carroll – a black woman with two sons who could possibly wind up being shot by some racist claiming he felt threatened, and claim the Stand Your Ground defense.
I’m no fan of this Tea Party-infested GOP, but I still held out hope for Carroll. I just hate that she chose to carry the tainted water of people who preferred to use her color and her back story as an excuse to ignore the needs of other black people, and her acquiescence as a pass for them to proceed on their path of insensitivity and intolerance.
Hopefully, she won’t let that happen again.
Tonyaa Weathersbee is an award-winning columnist based in Jacksonville, Fla. Follow her @tonyaajw. Or like her on Facebook at www.facebook.com/tonyaajweathersbee.