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Rick Scott to finish term as governor before becoming US senator

116th Congress opens in Washington 5 days before Scott finishes state job

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(News Service of Florida)

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – Gov. Rick Scott announced Tuesday that he will serve out his full second term under an arrangement that will lead to a five-day delay in the Republican joining the U.S. Senate next month.

The 116th Congress, which includes the U.S. House and Senate, will start on Jan. 3. But Scott, who was first elected as governor in 2010 and re-elected in 2014, is scheduled to remain as governor until Jan. 8, when Gov.-elect Ron DeSantis’ term begins.

Scott, who narrowly beat Democratic U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson last month, had the option of resigning early as governor, joining the U.S. Senate on Jan. 3 and elevating Lt. Gov. Carlos Lopez-Cantera to the office of governor for a few days.

It would not be an unprecedented circumstance. It happened in January 1987, when Gov. Bob Graham resigned early to join the U.S. Senate, making Lt. Gov. Wayne Mixson the state’s 39th governor for a three-day period before Gov. Bob Martinez took office.

“Never before has a lieutenant governor succeeded to the office of governor,” said former Gov. LeRoy Collins at Mixson’s inauguration. "He is a person of rare good judgment.”

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Mixson, now 96, made the most of his three days. He printed stationery. He spent the night with his wife Margie in the governor’s mansion. 

The state could have and would have paid for it all, but Mixson did it all at his own expense.

“Well, I don’t enjoy the criticism -- whether it’s just or unjust -- that would have come otherwise,” Mixson said.

Mixson even has a portrait hanging with other former chief executives outside the governor’s office. He even paid for that himself.

“I appointed between 50 and 60 commissioners of water management districts and those kinds of things,” Mixson said. "It was a lot of fun. I felt relevant”

The only other lieutenant governor to succeed to the governor’s office was Buddy MacKay, who took office Dec. 12, 1998, the day Gov. Lawton Chiles died.

Chiles term ended four weeks later. Gov.-elect Jeb Bush was sworn in Jan 5, 1999.

Scott avoided the awkward transition by opting to remain in office for his full term, his aides said Tuesday.

“When Gov. Scott was elected governor of Florida, he promised to fight for Florida families every single day of his term. Gov. Scott will remain governor until Jan. 8,” John Tupps, the governor’s communications director, said in a statement.

Tupps said U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., has agreed to hold the Senate swearing-in ceremony for Scott on the afternoon of Jan. 8, which will be the day that inauguration ceremonies will be held in Tallahassee and DeSantis will become Florida’s 46th governor.

Scott will transition to his role as the state’s junior senator, joining U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio in giving Florida two Republican senators in the nation’s capital for the first time since the Reconstruction era.

The issue of when Scott would leave office drew extra scrutiny this year when it remained unclear whether Scott or the incoming governor would appoint three new justices to the Florida Supreme Court in January.

But the issue became largely moot, when the state Supreme Court ruled that the appointment power rests “solely” with the new governor.

DeSantis, in consultation with Scott, is reviewing 11 judges and lawyers who have been advanced by a nominating commission to replace justices Barbara Pariente, R. Fred Lewis and Peggy Quince. The three justices are leaving the state’s highest court on Jan. 8 because they have reached a mandatory retirement age.