Florida Republican chief financial officer candidate Tom Lee and Democratic candidate Alex Sink presented two divergent viewpoints of the state Cabinet job they are seeking and the experience needed to accomplish its demands during a forum this week.
Speaking to the Suncoast Tiger Bay Club in their first appearance together since the primary, Lee, Florida’s Senate president, and Sink — former Florida president of Bank of America — debated the state’s hurricane insurance market and the proper way to spend a multibillion dollar surplus amonf other issues.
But it was their different approaches to the job of CFO that clearly emerged. While the position is relatively unknown to most Floridians, its duties — overseeing state spending, reviewing state contracts and investigating insurance fraud, among others — make it the state’s second most powerful position according to many political observers.
Lee views the position as inherently political, one for which he is well-suited with his experience as leader of the Senate who pushed through a strict lobbying reform bill.
“The CFO needs to be engaged in the legislative process,” Lee said. “You have to understand the human psychology of those 160 members of the Legislature … You have to have relationships to get things done.”
Sink, who said she was in charge of $40 billion in customer deposits in her Bank of America position, believes the CFO should be an apolitical guardian of the state’s coffers.
“That is exactly the reason I’m running for CFO,” Sink said. “All of the reasons we have heard Tom Lee say. We don’t need a politician running for the office of chief financial officer.”
In the next Cabinet, there will be a governor and an attorney general who are lawyers, and an agriculture commissioner who is a rancher, Sink said.
“Who is that fourth person?” she said. “I’m the only candidate in the race with deep, broad financial knowledge.”
Sink said she got a lesson in current Tallahassee politics when a businesswoman on a recent plane ride there told her she was part of a no-bid contract with the state.
“It’s business as usual,” Sink said.
Lee called on Sink from the podium to report the individual’s company so the media could investigate the contract. Sink declined to give details later, and Lee later said the contract probably wasn’t illegal but was “unethical.”
“She could have tried, and she can try today,” Lee said about Sink’s decision not to report the matter.
Sink portrayed Lee as a political insider who had his hand in creating problems the state is now trying to fix.
She said Lee was Senate president when an important hurricane insurance bill was passed at midnight on the final day of the legislative session without proper vetting. Republicans spearheading the bill, which allowed insurance companies to raise rates without getting state approval in some cases, said it was a step toward spurring competition among insurance companies. Democrats and some Republicans panned the bill as too cozy with insurance companies.
“None of the allegations that were raised against that bill were remotely accurate,” Lee said.
Sink also lashed out at Lee, after he attacked her for not reporting the contract matter, for not doing anything about contract accountability during his time in the Legislature, and for saying he was independent of special interests when he ran a third-party committee to raise special-interest money for Republican candidates.
“At the end of the day my campaign is built on the contributions of individual Floridians,” Sink said.
Lee said the Legislature passed a contract accountability bill that was vetoed by the governor, and said Sink was being politically opportunistic.
“If you knew a year ago that insurance was a big problem, over the next 40 days of this campaign I want you to tell the people of this state why you waited 380 days before you had your first idea and first plan out after there were a multitude of public hearings?” Lee said.
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