Alex Sink on losing, Rick Scott's agenda, the media and running government like a business
Here's a few notebook excerpts from our year-end interviews with Democrat Alex Sink. She is retiring Jan. 4 as chief financial officer after losing the governor's race to Republican Rick Scott. Here's the story.
On the representation of business interests in Tallahassee:
Small business is Florida's "economic engine," and it's biggest challenge is access to credit, primarily through the community banks and regional banks which are limited as to where they can get credit since "the TARP funds and federal stimulus money went primarily to the large financial institutions.
"But yet when I did my endorsement interview with the Florida Chamber, for example, they weren’t asking me anything about the issues that businesses were telling me were there challenges. There’s a big disconnect there. I’m interested in seeing a stronger economy and figuring out whether there’s a place for my voice and my passion to be more representative for the real issues that small businesses are facing when it comes to policy.
"The large corporations are the one’s that fund the Florida Chamber, so they earn their way onto the PAC board. That was a big aha for me."
On coming 62,000 votes short of winning:
"The first day I woke up saying, 'Oh my gosh, it was so close.' The second day I woke up saying, 'Why couldn’t I have lost by 300,000 votes?' " It’s harder to lose by a narrow margin," she said, “because you go back around and say couldn’t we have fond those extra 60,000 votes somewhere? So it’s been a little bit like a roller coaster.
"When you step back and see what happened other races in Florida and, around the country ... Being in Washington on Monday and Tuesday gave me a better perspective. Pennsylvania lost everything: six congressional seats, every single statewide elected position -- lost. I’m sitting here thinking: 'My gosh how did I come within 60,000 votes? How did I come within 1 percent?' Coming so close doesn't take the sting out of it because so many people were so invested in a future with me.
"So losing sucks. No matter how much you lose by, it sucks."
On watching the results on Election Night:
"I woke up every day thinking we were going to win. Not by any landslide. And every poll that came out was within the margin of error. So I definitely thought we were going to win.
As the numbers came in, Sink was always a little behind …"But watching these other races put it in a little perspective. Allen Boyd lost by double digits. Ron Klein against Allen West. Suzanne Kosmos wasn’t even close. I’d seen Ron Klein that last week, and he was pretty convinced he was okay. The tide really did turn pretty dramatically those last two or three days ... The reality sunk in pretty fast."
On why Democrats did so poorly:
“Rod (Smith) and I both came across people – particularly form the most conservative areas of North Florida where he and I both had done well before -- who just said I’m not voting for no Democrat this year, I don’t care who you are. If you have Democrat behind your name, I’m not voting for you. Then we got our butts beat in the Panhandle. It was that, plus running against somebody who spent $100 million versus our, I don’t know, $35 million. Money does matter in politics.
“This is a longer-term trend from the last three or four governor’s races that we’ve seen. In the nonpresidential years, the turnout numbers in the heavily Democratic Palm Beach and Broward areas are not good. When the statewide turnout is 48 percent and the turnout in Broward County is 38 percent, that’s a problem that has to be addressed."
In her husband Bill McBride's 2002 race against incumbent Jeb Bush, they attributed the lower turnout in South Florida to the “Reno hangover,” when it took nine days to call the election for McBride and he lost that time in the Democratic stronghold. “We thought then he just didn’t have the time in 45 days to reconnect and solidify the votes,'' Sink said. "So I don’t think we anticipated the turnout was going to be so low in Broward and Palm Beach counties. Somebody does have to figure out why.
"What are the dynamics that are causing people not to vote in the off year presidential election? Is it an organizational issue or do we just have a group of voters down there that just care about federal races?"
Sink said the three-way Senate race didn’t help her because people didn’t know if Kendrick Meek was going to drop out and many Democrats split their votes.
"... I am very very proud of the campaign we ran … There’s 2.5 million people who voted for me. As I reflect on the way we ran our campaign and the things we were talking about to Floridians, I’m proud. I’m sorry we came up short."
On what's ahead for her:
“I’m not running for mayor of Tampa,’’ although she has been recruited by many. “My heart wouldn’t be there. From the minute that I became the statewide president of NationsBank in 1993, I’ve really had that statewide focus. Not many people have it.
“There are not many other business executives who have the ability to have the kind of intimate knowledge of our state region by region and the way the economies work. That’s why my focus turned to statewide organization … Redlands Christian Migrant Association, TaxWatch or the Nature Conservancy.”
As a former banker, Sink hopes to tap into the cross-party support of her campaign to work on issues she is passionate about, such as the role small business plays as an economic engine in Florida and dozens of other issues for which she developed policy papers.
“I’m not closing any doors,’’ Sink said. “I’m at the stage of my life when I’ve learned never to say never ...
“The ideas are still legitimate. Just because I was the loser of the election, it doesn’t mean those ideas can’t be presented and advocated for.”
On Rick Scott's agenda:
“I think he needs to do his job and do his job well. Implement policies that can be supported by the majority of Floridians. He shouldn’t be thinking about a challenger. What he should be doing is thinking about accountability and transparency in government and the Sunshine Law and ensuring that he makes himself available to the press and answers the tough questions that you all are hopefully going to continue to ask."
"... What I want for our state is I want a stronger economy. We can’t afford another four years of what we have been experiencing the last four years. The next governor of our state has to do well and be successful ... Our state is in a very critical time …
"I am concerned about distractions and issues distractions, like the education system, for example. They can spend the whole session debating or arguing this new voucher plan. That's not going to put people back to work. That’s not going to help small businesses. I’m not sure what it really does to improve education for our children. I just hope they stay focused on the issue at hand for Florida, which is how do they get people back to work, how do they support small businesses so they can grow the economy."
On what she learned about Florida during this election:
"There’s a question in my mind as to whether: is there one Florida or are we more a state of regions -- and that is not necessarily negative -- that have their unique characteristics. The issues of the Panhandle are so different from the issues of Miami. The thing that does bring us together is that Florida, for so many people, has always been a land of dreams, a land where people come for sunshine and opportunity and a different kind of lifestyle.
"One size doesn’t fit all in Florida. Let’s talk about education policy. There are some counties here that have one high school while Hillsborough County has 25 high schools now. So the way education is delivered can’t be the same for the county with one high school versus one with many high schools. The same with economic development ... Myakka, Fla., still has dial-up Internet ...
"We’ve got huge opportunities. We’ve got to look at renewable energy. The loudest applause lines were around solar and renewable energy. The Brookings Institution said one of the keys to the American economy is to encourage more businesses to explore export opportunities. We have been too insular in terms of how we grow our businesses in Florida. What better place to create export opportunities than in Florida? …. With the Panama Canal opening up, we’ll be closer to Asia. But those are things I can work on whether or not I’m the governor."
On dealing with the media, bloggers and Chuck Todd:
"Media was a hard adjustment. That’s one thing about being new to politics is I don’t have those years and years and multiple campaigns, and I haven’t grown up with how media has evolved … I would be giving a speech and before I got half way through the speech it had already been tweeted.
"The risk is, because of that, and because there is no room for error, you get people who are in public office who don’t expose themselves or don’t make themselves available to the media – as we saw with the candidate Rick Scott. So are we going to evolve into a strategy of manipulating the media, as opposed to being open and accessible to the media?
"So instead of me showing up on YouTube because Mary Ellen Klas, the reporter, had a camera in my face, I just choose to come into the confines of this room with my own videographics creating my own YouTube and posting it on the Web and saying to people 'There I am – I’m talking to you and I’m giving you a message and it’s my own message.' ''
Sink said she doesn’t know where the middle ground is. "In the past, the only way I could make news and get my word spread was to go to the press … Now, as we have seen, you can totally bypass all that. Why should you go to an editorial board when you can bypass all that?"
She believes she was unfairly labeled a cheater by bloggers who were influenced by "Scott's spin machine'' and "the worst part of it is that John King on CNN repeated it ... Fortunately for me, it didn't influence the votes.''
MSNBC political analyst Chuck Todd labeled Sink the worst candidate of the year, saying on his show, The Daily Rundown: "Think about it. You lost to a guy who defrauded Medicare. In Florida! Okay? More people are on Medicare in Florida than maybe any other state."
But Sink said she didn’t care what Todd said: "What I think about one person who doesn't live in Florida and wasn't here is that I'm ignoring him.
"Total strangers stop me in the street, in the airport and tell me I ran a fantastic campaign. 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?' "
On running government like a business:
“In business, you’re in business and you have customers and sometimes you make decisions that you don’t want a certain segment of customers; they can just go someplace else and buy whatever products you’re selling. That’s the big difference because in government, we don’t have a choice about who Floridians are. We have to be able to balance the interest and be concerned about the interest of all Florida citizens. Just as in the education system, if you’re running a private school you can pick and choose who your students are. In the public school system, we take everybody. That’s the way of our democracy … it’s taking business principles and understanding there is that element there that you have to protect the people with the weakest voice."
On her legacy in office:
"Four years ago, I became the first truly elected chief financial officer of the state of Florida because my predecessor had been unopposed ... I had an election to run for an office most Floridians didn't know anything about ... I didn’t run for office to be a partisan politician. I ran to be a problem solver.”
Sink is proud of creating the Safeguard Our Seniors Task Force to investigate financial fraud involving seniors, reducing the state's risk of exposure to hurricanes "although it’s not where the state needs to be,'' reforms to the Florida retirement system, strengthening the Healthy Kids insurance program, and the reforms made to the clemency process.
"The state is in desperate need of a new accounting system, and the state must be vigilant in the aftermath of the BP oil spill."
The global financial system exposed some flaws in the way the retirement system has been overseen, she said. Sink continues to believe that it's a mistake to have three elected officials serving as the trustees of the retirement system “when they have no background or experience in financial matters and they have enormous responsibilities; this is not the right way to oversee a pension fund of this size.”
One of her first acts in office was the shut down the accounting system Aspire, after $100 million had been spent and the project was flawed and not near completion. "Replacing it will require a decision of who will be in charge with the new system, and money is needed."
On insurance reform:
"We have to continue to reduce our state’s risk but at the same time not give Florida property owners an overnight shock in terms of premiums ... There are homeowners whose rates are being subsidized 40 to 50 percent by other Floridians, particularly along the coastal areas, and that’s the inequity that has to be addressed going forward. So that people in areas that are the riskiest are bearing more share of the storm."
On the BP oil spill:
She said she hopes the Obama administration will re-examine the approach and philosophy Kenneth Feinberg has adopted on who should be eligible for a claim and be "more transparent about the way decisions are made when claims are being denied."
Feinberg's "words are the right words. The actions are not the right actions. We continue even today -- a Naples Daily News article on a woman who lost her business and is living in her car." Sink's office got her claim reopened …"There are just too many stories like that that we continue to hear through Feinberg."