Lt. Gov. Jennifer Carroll
Carroll delivering a message
Carroll with a winning smile
The Carroll family
*** Legends ***
By Yussuf J. Simmonds
“The first Black woman elected as lieutenant governor of Florida.”
Jennifer Carroll was born in Trinidad (officially the republic of Trinidad and Tobago), in the West Indies at a time when the island(s)/country were still a British colony (and they were a part of what was called the British West Indies). She came to the United States at the age of eight. Though many Trinidadians migrated to England–mainly to receive a university education–at the time, Carroll was born (August 27, 1959), the migration of Trinidadians, in search of higher education and other opportunities, had begun to shift towards the U.S.
After moving to the U.S., Carroll graduated from Uniondale High School in New York. Then in 1979, she enlisted in the U.S. Navy where she served as an aviation machinist mate, was selected for the Navy’s Enlisted Commissioning Program and six years later, became an aviation maintenance officer. During her years in the Navy, Carroll worked through the ranks, and according to one of her interviews, she suffered numerous sexist and racist indignities from some of the White navy men who had been offended having a Black woman in charge. She served her adopted country honorably and with distinction, was awarded the Meritorious Service Medal, the Overseas Ribbon, two Coast Guard Special Operation Ribbons, and an Expert Pistol Medal. After 20 years of service, Carroll retired as a Lieutenant Commander Aviation Maintenance Officer in 1999.
While in the Navy, Carroll received an Associate of Arts degree from Leeward Community College, Hawaii in 1981, followed by a Bachelor of Arts in political science from the University of New Mexico in 1985. After moving to Florida in 1986, she then received her Master of Business Administration degree from St. Leo University in 1991.
In her new home state, Carroll started a public relations firm, 3N. & J.C. Corp., where she became its president. (It appeared that she named the business, 3N, in honor of her three children–Nolan, Nyckie and Necho–and J.C., her own initials). And she eased into politics by becoming a member of the Clay County Republican Executive Committee. In 2000, Carroll first tested the political waters as a newcomer when she ran for Congress against an incumbent. Though she had tremendous financial assistance from the state’s Republican machine–outspending the incumbent 2-to-1–she lost to the Democratic Rep. Corrine Brown.
Then Florida Governor Jeb Bush nominated her to run the state’s Department of Veterans Affairs. With her impeccable military background, Carroll was confirmed by the Florida Senate. As head of the department, she was responsible for the claims and benefits of over 1.8 million veterans, and more than $63 million in retroactive compensation was awarded to Florida veterans. Also in that capacity, she oversaw the state’s nursing homes for veterans, the department’s $30 million annual budget and legislation pertaining to the care and benefits of veterans in the state. Carroll aggressively lobbied for state construction funds for Veterans’ Nursing Homes and led the fight for two federal matching grant applications that resulted in $15 million of federal funds for the aforementioned projects.
Then she resigned to run for Congress, but lost again. However, in 2003, she ran for the Florida House of Representatives, and won, becoming the first African American female Republican in the Florida Legislature’s history where she represented the 13th District. Carroll served in that legislative body until 2010. As a legislator, she was appointed Deputy Majority Leader by the Speaker from 2003-2004 and served as Majority Whip from 2004-2006.
In the state legislature, Carroll worked on the following committees: Ethics & Elections Committee, Business Regulation Committee, Finance & Tax Committee, Growth Management Committee and Workgroup on Affordable Housing. These experiences would eventually lead to a virtual legislative boon and catapult Carroll to the second highest elected office in the state: that of the 18th lieutenant governor.
In 2010, Florida’s Republican gubernatorial candidate, Rick Scott, named Carroll as his running mate after winning the primary. Thus, she became the first Black woman to be a major party candidate for lieutenant governor in Florida’s history, on any statewide Republican ticket. The team won the election and they assumed office on January 4, 2011. In her state website, Carroll was described as the “embodiment of the American Dream.”
(The office of Florida’s lieutenant governor has a somewhat unique history; it existed two separate times in state history: from 1865-1889 and 1968 to the present. Like some other states, including California, the state’s lieutenant governor was previously elected independent of the governor. But since 1968–via an amendment to the state constitution–the gubernatorial nominee selected a lieutenant governor as a running mate and they ran together as joint candidates on one ticket. In other words, they would either win or lose together–and now, the two top offices in the state will always be from the same party).
As a Republican and of the same party as the governor, Carroll shares the governor’s vision for the state and his conservative values: smaller government, lower taxes, personal responsibility, and personal freedom. At the same time, she typically opposes the Obama agenda which Republicans generally outline as higher taxes, government control of health care through Obamacare, and excessive regulation like Cap and Trade.
Though Lt. Gov. Carroll’s tenure, as the second highest elected in the state, has just started, her ascension to that position can be presently viewed in its historical context as a Black woman, a West Indian, a native of the Caribbean and a Trinidadian. There were some mild differences during the campaign as to whether or not she was to be described as “African-American;” some believed it was a misnomer since she was born in Trinidad.
But according to her website, she seems to prefer “Black,” which indeed covers the entire “labeling” spectrum (race, color and maybe even nationality in some quarters); notwithstanding, she is chair of the Republican Party of Florida African-American Leadership Council. And in announcing her as his pick for lieutenant governor, Scott said Carroll “is the first African-American Republican woman to be part of a statewide ticket in Florida.”
As a Black woman, she stands on the shoulders of Jennette Bradley (also a Republican), who in 2003 became the first Black woman in the U.S. to be elected as lieutenant governor of a state (Ohio). As a West Indian from a former British colony, she follows the footsteps of pioneering politicians including Sir Alexander Bustamante, Norman Manley, Portia Simpson Miller (Jamaica); Sir Grantley Adams (Barbados); and Eugenia Charles (Dominica).
As a Trinidadian, she treads the paths of fellow Trinidadians including C.L.R. James, Dr. Eric Williams (first prime minister); Kamla Persad-Bissessar (current prime minister); and Dr. Mervyn M. Dymally, who in addition to being a Trinidadian, was the first and thus far, the only Black person to be elected lieutenant governor of California.
According to news reports, Carroll is close to her family, and sometimes blends family life and politics. She reportedly said that when it comes to politics, she lets her family members make their own choices, adding that she was delighted when her son, Nolan Jr. registered as a Republican. “We talk about the issues, and I tell them the pros and cons as I see them, and then it’s up to them to decide,” she said. But Nolan Jr. prefers to keep his mother’s politics out of the locker room, but when his teammates (he plays for the Miami Dolphins) find out, they like to ask questions.
“Sometimes people will want to debate issues, and I just tell them that I don’t like to talk about politics much because it gets too heated,” he said.
Carroll is married to Nolan Carroll Sr., also a veteran from the military (U.S. Air Force) and as previously stated the couple has three children; they are said to be her biggest cheerleaders. As the parent of an NFL player and a politician, Carroll sees many similarities between politics and sports and wishes politicians could be as sportsmanlike as NFL players.
A recent reporter aptly describes Carroll as a former state legislator, small business owner, and veteran currently serving as the lieutenant governor of Florida, and an example of the American Dream come true.