- The Washington Times - Monday, March 3, 2003

TALLAHASSEE, Fla., March 3 (UPI) — Gov. Jeb Bush appointed former Senate President Toni Jennings of Orlando, Fla., on Monday as Florida's first female lieutenant governor.

Jennings, 53, is a former rival of Bush within the state Republican Party, but the any hard feelings have softened since she retired from the Senate four years ago.

"It's an honor to have the opportunity to again serve the state of Florida, and particularly to work with this governor, who has made improving education his top priority," said Jennings.

"I look forward to being a part of his team."

The official duties of lieutenant governor are limited to succeeding the governor in case of death or resignation. But the post also has major political implications, including the future of President George W. Bush, the governor's older brother.

There was pressure on Bush to name a woman or member of a minority group to widen the Republican base in Florida in advance of his brother's bid for re-election next year.

Florida's 27 electoral votes, which can go either way, are considered critical to any candidate's chances for White House.

Jennings now could also be a viable candidate for the GOP nomination in 2006 when the governor finishes his second term and his term limits go into effect.

If she wins the nomination and the election, she would be the first woman to be Florida's governor.

Tom Gallagher, the state's chief financial officer, was the clear frontrunner for the Republican nomination, and there was some speculation Bush wanted to throw a hurdle in the moderate Republican's way.

Jennings will succeed Frank Brogan as lieutenant governor. He resigned from his second term to become president of Florida Atlantic University in West Palm Beach.

"Toni's business, legislative and education background will make her an asset to the governor, and for the state of Florida," Brogan said.

Jennings is the second high-profile woman from central Florida to join Bush's administration this year. Former Orlando Mayor Glenda Hood became secretary of state in January.

Jennings is president of Jack Jennings and Sons, an Orlando construction company. She retired from public life in 2000 after 24 years in the Legislature including the last four as Senate president.

While she was the Senate leader, she and Bush fought frequently and she once won a lawsuit against him involving a veto.

But friends said their relationship has warmed considerably since she left Tallahassee, most likely because Bush's battles with the Republican Senate have become even more intense.

Bush said Jennings represented a rare combination of experience in public service and the private sector.

"I'm excited to have enlisted Toni Jennings to serve as my partner in this endeavor," Bush said. "Her years of public service as well as her vast experience in the private sector make her uniquely qualified to be the next lieutenant governor of Florida."

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