THE CAPITAL, TALLAHASSEE, Dec. 16, 2010 --
Four years ago, Alex Sink became the first Florida Chief Financial Officer to win a contested election in her first bid for elected office.
Now, she is looking back at a term that saw her emerge as the face of a Florida Democratic Party hungry for new voices, but fall short in her bid to win the Governor’s Mansion for the party, which has been in the wilderness there since 1999.
But she has no regrets, Sink told reporters in her final media availability before she hands the reigns to CFO-elect Jeff Atwater.
“Four years ago, I became the first truly elected chief financial officer of the state of Florida because my predecessor had been unopposed,” she said. “I had an election to run for an office most Floridians didn’t know anything about.”
Neither did she at first, Sink admitted, even as she ticked off things she accomplished during her tenure as one of only two Democrats elected statewide. Among them, she said, was the Safeguard Our Seniors Task Force she created to investigate financial fraud involving seniors. She pushed the Legislature to approve a bill (SB 2176) to increase penalties for "twisting" or "churning" annuities.
Sink said she hopes her successor Atwater keeps the task force going, and continues to push for reforms to the Florida Retirement System that she made a focal point of her tenure. Sink pushed to expand the trustees of the State Board of Administration, which oversees the retirement fund, beyond just the governor and Florida Cabinet, but a proposal from Attorney General Bill McCollum to expand the system’s advisory council became law instead.
Sink said she had not gotten any assurances from Atwater that her programs would be extended, but “I have to feel confident that my successor shares my concerns for seniors,” she said. Plus, “many of the protections are now law.” But she understands that Atwater will have his own agenda.
“He’s doing the same thing I did four years ago,” Sink said of Atwater. “He’s bringing his team in to evaluate and re-evaluate every program.”
While Sink said she is leaving the office in good shape for her successor, there’s likely to be debate for some time about the condition in which she’s left the Florida Democratic Party.
Sink lost the closest governor’s race in Florida history to Gov.-elect Rick Scott. But everywhere else on the ballot, her party got slaughtered. Besides Sink, only one other Democrat running for statewide office got more than 40 percent of the vote, and Republicans won veto-proof majorities in the state House and the Senate.
Asked if she would do anything differently in the bruising gubernatorial election, Sink said, “find a 100,000 votes.”
MSNBC political analyst Chuck Todd recently named Sink the worst candidate of 2010, saying “you lost to a guy who defrauded Medicare. In Florida! Okay? More people are on Medicare in Florida than maybe any other state.”
Sink dismissed the criticism, saying “what I think about one person who doesn’t live in Florida and wasn’t here is I’m ignoring him.”
Instead, she said, she’s focusing on the supporters she met since the election who have congratulated her on running so close to Scott, who spent who spent a Florida record $73 million of his own cash to defeat her.
“Total strangers stop me in the street, in the airport and tell me I ran a fantastic campaign,” she said. “What I’m hearing over and over is ‘my gosh, we got outspent $100 million to $30 million, how did we come so close in a really bad year for Democrats?”
Sink said she has not spoken to Scott since the day she conceded the election, and pointedly did not rule out challenging him to a rematch in four years.
“We can’t afford another four years that look like the last four years,” she said, though she quickly added “the next governor of our state has to succeed.”
However, Sink said she worries there might be “issue distractions” under Scott, with a more conservative Florida Legislature edging for fights over education and social policy.
“They could spend the session arguing about his (school) voucher plan, but that doesn’t put people back to work, it’s not going to help small businesses and I’m not sure it’s going to improve the quality of our children’s education.”
Asked if she might seek the governor’s – or any other – office in the future, Sink said “I’m not closing any doors.”
“I’ve learned never to say never,” she said. “I’m going to continue being active and involved and I’ll make a decision about that later.”
Although she became the face of vanquished Florida Democrats, Sink said she didn’t run for office for partisan reasons.
“I ran to be a problem solver,” she said.
She added that she did not regret forgoing a bid for re-election in light of her losing effort to become the 45th governor of Florida.
“I don’t go back,” she said. “I made absolutely the right decision. As I’ve said many times, when Gov. Crist made the decision not to run for re-election, as important as (the CFO) position is, it really is the governor that drives the agenda of this state, especially the economic agenda. I have absolutely no regrets on running for governor.”
Back to the office she’s about to leave, Sink said she hoped Atwater would modernize the state’s accounting system and lawmakers would find creative ways to sustain the Florida Forever program, suggesting increasing the number of conservation easements in the program, which would allow for property owners to be financially accountable for upkeep of properties.