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Hello. I want your vote for...a state job

What is a cfo? It’s hard to say. But the office’s duties run from accounting to cemeteries.

By ALISA ULFERTS
Published July 31, 2006



The chief financial officer is the most powerful person in the state — next to the governor. He or she controls the state’s bankbook and shapes much of its policy. Job perks include a corner office in the Capitol and a bully pulpit with a statewide reach.

What was that job again?“

On the campaign trial we jokingly refer to it as the UFO,” or unidentified financial officer, said state Senate President Tom Lee, a Valrico Republican and CFO candidate.“Until you explain some of the job to people, they don’t quite understand,” Lee said.

He’s not the only one with the problem, nor is he the only candidate who spends as much time describing the job as he does his qualifications for it.

Lee’s main rival for the Republican nomination, Celebration state Rep. Randy Johnson, has a complete cheat sheet to the CFO office posted on his campaign Web site.

It includes a breakdown for each of the office’s 12 divisions and includes brief descriptions.

Lee, too, spells out on his Web site which duties are the CFO’s alone (like monitoring insurance agents) and which he or she shares as one of four votes on the state Cabinet (regulating insurance companies and premiums).

The third Republican in the CFO race, Tallahassee businessman Milt Bauguess, also talks about the CFO’s role in stabilizing the insurance market on his Web site.

But Democrat Alex Sink goes the farthest. She’s running a contest — first prize is dinner with Sink — to see who can correctly name all the CFO’s duties. (It’s a multiple choice quiz.)

“People don’t believe the answer might be all of the above,” Sink said.

So why the big, blank stare when voters hear talk of the CFO?

Sink and others say a combination of events is to blame. First, the job has been around for only four years. And aside from agreeing to roll two state Cabinet positions — comptroller and treasurer — into one CFO, voters left the details of the job description up the Legislature.

“It didn’t get a lot of attention except in the inside-Tallahassee crowd,” Sink said.

Lawmakers wrote a sausage of a job that included bookkeeping and check writing, funeral home and cemetery regulation, insurance agent monitoring and fire marshal duties, as well as some insurance regulation, which the CFO shares with the governor and state Cabinet.

But mostly the candidates attribute the lack of CFO knowledge to the fact that the state’s first and current CFO, Tom Gallagher, who is running for governor, was elected unopposed in 2002.

“This is the first time that this office has been contested in its history,” Johnson said.

Gallagher’s name didn’t even appear on the ballot — and people may have assumed he had been appointed, as the education commissioner and secretary of state now are after years of being elected.

No one even blinked when he became CFO. “Because he’s been in state government so long, everyone is just used to having Tom Gallagher around,” Sink said.