tampabay.com

Candidate for CFO demonstrates skill at avoiding specifics

By Times Staff
Published April 9, 2006


Four years ago, Democratic gubernatorial candidate Bill McBride said he would vote for a sweeping mandate to reduce class sizes in Florida schools even though he personally had proposed a less expensive alternative. Incumbent Gov. Jeb Bush never let him forget that, casting McBride as someone sure to raise taxes and unwilling to say how he'd pay for a class-size amendment so expensive it would "block out the sun."

Gov. Bush beat Bill McBride but not the class-size amendment. Now McBride's wife, longtime banking executive Alex Sink , is running to be Florida's chief financial officer, to oversee everything from audits of state contracts to advocating for insurance consumers. We presume to know how Sink voted in the governor's race in 2002, but how did she vote on the class-size amendment?

"I honestly can't remember, because I debated with myself," Sink said in a taped interview for Political Connections airing today on Bay News 9.

The retired chief of NationsBank for Florida, parent of two Hillsborough public schoolers and first-time candidate proved herself in the TV interview adept at avoiding specifics. She largely stood by the class-size amendment but said, "I certainly agree there needs to be more flexibility....

"The voters sent a very clear message to Tallahassee that they were frustrated and they thought class sizes were too large. And let's look at what happened over the past four years: In fact class sizes have come down, and we haven't had tax increases. We're sitting there with a $5-billion surplus right now, so I think that it's a little bit hard to sell the point that the class-size amendment from the get-go was too expensive."

Sink faces either Republican Senate President Tom Lee of Valrico or Republican state Rep. Randy Johnson of Celebration in the race for CFO, and by many accounts is the Democrats' best shot at picking up a statewide office.

On Political Connections , though, she cast herself as a "very activist fiscal watchdog" with little interest in partisanship: "It is really all about running business efficiently representing the interests of all Floridians. ... I don't see it as a job that should be a partisan, political job."

She said she would increase the office's role as a consumer advocate on insurance issues and, when pressed, said she would support committing a chunk of the state's budget surplus to paying off the deficit of Citizens Insurance to limit the prospect of another rate increase.

"We've got a $5-billion windfall because of hurricanes (revenue from rebuilding)," she said. "Logic tells me that we ought to take part of that windfall and replenish the (Citizens Insurance) deficit so that every insurance buyer in this state won't be penalized."

On Jeb Bush's performance, Sink was diplomatic: "He's certainly very personally popular and likable, and yet there's a disconnect because many Floridians do not agree with his approach to education and ... some of the key aspects of his programs over the last eight years."

The interview airs at 11 a.m. today on Bay News 9. Starting Monday it can be seen on Channel 340 (Tampa Bay on Demand).

CYNTHIA AND KATHERINE: Democratic Georgia Rep. Cynthia McKinney , aggressively competing with Katherine Harris for the title of "Politician Generating the Weirdest Stories," (McKinney apologized last week for hitting that Capitol police officer who didn't recognize her as she breezed through security) was in Harris' district Saturday. She attended the Sarasota Film Festival for a screening of American Blackout , a documentary about disenfranchising black voters in Florida, Georgia and Ohio. She was also expected to headline a Democratic rally, and there was talk of protesting outside Harris' office, but thought better of the idea after McKinney's latest troubles.

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ANOTHER SHOT AT HILLARY: Back in 2000, Tampa media consultant Adam Goodman looked like he'd be in the middle of an epic Senate race working to help Rudy Giuliani take on Hillary Clinton in New York. Giuliani's prostate cancer put an end to that, but now Goodman has another - considerably lower tier - shot at Sen. Clinton. He's signed on with Kathleen Troia "KT" McFarland , a first-time candidate vying for the Republican nomination.

Apparently Ed Rollins, an old pal of Goodman's dad in GOP consulting business, liked what he saw as they worked together on Katherine Harris' rarely dull Senate race here. He's McFarland's top strategist, and brought on Goodman after he and Goodman jumped the Harris ship.

MR. RIGHT: Those who favor conservative politics will be happy to hear that Florida's junior senator has joined an elite group: Mel Martinez , who is serving his first term, was one of just 12 senators (all Republicans) to earn a perfect score from the American Conservative Union.

The American Conservative Union, a venerable grass roots lobbying group, has rated members of Congress every year since 1971. This year's rankings, released Wednesday, were based on an analysis of 25 Senate votes "that reflect a clear ideological principle," the group said. They include votes on abortion rights, tax cuts, gun control and government regulation.

Florida's other senator, Democrat Bill Nelson , scored a 20 - which among the 44 Senate Democrats was pretty near the top. Just five Democrats were rated more conservative. Only one of Florida's 25 House members got a perfect score, Rep. John Mica , a Republican from Winter Park. Three House Democrats were deemed among the "worst of the worst," Reps. Debbie Wasserman Schultz and Robert Wexler of South Florida and Corrine Brown of Jacksonville.

CFO MONEY: New fundraising figures are in for the major candidates running for chief financial officer. Tom Lee raised in the first three months of the year (lawmakers had to halt raising money when the session started in March) $405,000 and has about $1.17-million in the bank. Randy Johnson raised another $220,000 and has about $560,000 on hand. Alex Sink raised nearly $305,000 and has about $680,000 on hand.

YOUNG REPUBLICANS FOR GALLAGHER: The Florida Federation of Young Republicans held their annual spring convention last weekend and held a gubernatorial straw poll. The results? Chief Financial Officer Tom Gallagher was backed by 81 percent, and Attorney General Charlie Crist by 19 percent. Roughly 60 people participated in the straw poll, mostly officers from the Young Republicans' 36 chapters.

A HARRIS STAFFER FAN: For all those dissing the new Katherine Harris campaign team as strangers to Florida, we found at least one Republican fan of new campaign manager Glenn Hodas. Charlie Keller, Rep. Ginny Brown-Waite's press secretary, worked with Hodas on the unsuccessful 2002 gubernatorial campaign of Illinois Lt. Gov. Corrine Wood.

"He knows how to build relationships, which is going to be important," Keller said of Hodas, a top Republican state Senate staffer in Illinois for much of the 1990s. "He also has a really good ground game effort and has a very, very good idea of how to build a national media strategy."

Keller stressed that he was speaking personally, not on Brown-Waite's behalf.

Lt. Gov. Wood, unlike Harris, campaigned as a moderate Republican and supporter of abortion rights.

--Adam C. Smith, Steve Bousquet and Wes Allison contributed to this report. For more political Buzz check out http://www.sptimes.com/blogs/buzz