Covering a race for Florida's governor that's so close, high priced and venomous keeps our political reporters extra busy. But this time around, the two candidates are former business executives, not career politicians. So their running amid the worst financial crisis in decades makes this race a major economic story, too.
Frankly, I doubt anyone sworn in as Florida's next governor could turn this state around enough to quickly put a serious dent in our 11.7 percent unemployment or multibillion-dollar state fiscal deficit. We are in for a long slog, no matter the candidate.
Who will control a Legislature likely to thumb its nose at either candidate? And who could win favor from the many Florida residents fed up with Tallahassee's magnificent dysfunction — the ones who believe state spending still needs a major haircut?
Still, Republican Rick Scott or Democrat Alex Sink will be at the helm soon. Watching their campaigns, there's a lot to like and, unfortunately, to dislike.
Top 5 Likes
5. Sink: I've known her nearly 20 years, covered her days as a banker and, overall, consider her a true arrow.
Scott: He's a classic SOB ex-CEO, and I mean that in a positive way. It will take a corporate pit bull to achieve the spending cuts he insists he can find in the state budget.
4. Sink: She's lived in Florida a long time and cares about making it a better place. Being well acquainted with Florida: Don't you expect that in any candidate seeking to be the next governor?
Scott: Anybody willing to spend his own mega-bucks to defeat perennial GOP candidate Bill McCollum in the primary deserves a round of applause.
3. Sink: If you bother to read her recommendations (alexsink2010.com) about education (put a college-educated teacher in Pre-K programs, revive the lottery promise of using funds for schools) and jobs (corporate income tax credits for creating jobs, more credits for better-paying jobs), the ideas have some creative depth.
Scott: Credit him with smart campaign instincts to paint himself as an outsider. That's playing well to voters angry over the perceptions of me-first, at-the-public-trough politicians.
2. Sink: She is vying to become the first female governor of Florida. With women asserting themselves in business, universities, law and entrepreneurship, why not politics? Besides, our male political leaders have little to boast about lately in Tally.
Scott: He's got the best slogan, hands down. "Let's get back to work" simply resonates.
1. Sink: Best quote of her campaign: "I just refuse to let Rick Scott hijack my state without a fight."
Scott: After kicking the Florida Republican Party's favorite son, McCollum, to the curb, Scott has managed to make peace with a GOP that once fought against him. And he snared the support of major business groups like the Florida Chamber of Commerce even after the group spent money trying to defeat him in the primary. Grudges? What grudges?
Top 5 Dislikes
5. Sink: Calling her a "president" of a bank, with all its implications of being a top dog with big decisionmaking powers, is a modest stretch. Scott was CEO of Columbia/HCA, a major hospital chain. Sink ran the Florida branches for multistate NationsBank (which became Bank of America) but probably had to clear many decisions with superiors at the bank's headquarters in Charlotte, N.C. Example: When NationsBank bought Barnett Banks, Florida's last big bank, that deal was neither instigated by nor negotiated by Sink.
Scott: He's long been reluctant to release his personal tax records, but he promised to do so this past Friday — something Sink did weeks ago. The delay smacks of a rich person coveting his privacy and annoyed at the demands for public disclosure. Is this a sign of things to come?
4. Sink: Florida is in dire straits and needs a governor with the chops to make draconian spending cuts and project the leadership to make this state economy more innovative. Former Gov. Jeb Bush broke the mold (and wallet) by luring Scripps Research to expand to Florida, prompting a burst of related high-end biotech activity here. Gov. Charlie Crist briefly tried to make alternative energy a key Florida industry but he lost focus. Does Sink have the fire in the belly to follow Bush's boldness or Crist's myopia?
Scott: His economic plan calls for creating 700,000 jobs in Florida in seven years (details at rickscottforflorida.com). That's an average of 100,000 jobs per year. It's better than nothing, but consider this: The number of people who are employed in Florida has dropped by 720,000 since the recession began in December 2007. Adding 700,000 jobs by 2018 is no victory.
3. Sink: No matter what Sink pushes as governor, she will face frequent resistance from a Legislature dominated by conservative Republicans. The result could be one massive stalemate. That might cheer Floridians who see little value in whatever Tallahassee does. But it sure won't help move the state forward.
Scott: The 75 times he invoked his Fifth Amendment protection against self-incrimination in a deposition over a Columbia/HCA lawsuit boggles the mind. Being forthcoming — or accountable to the public — is not one of his strengths.
2. Sink: She says she wants to make state government more efficient, but her tinkering at the edges may not satisfy a lot of Floridians. A Pew Center for the States survey finds 45 percent of Floridians believe the state's government is too big and trying to do too many things. Only 28 percent think it's about the right size.
Scott: (Credit goes to columnist Ron Littlepage of the Jacksonville Times Union on this exchange). Scott refuses to meet with newspaper editorial boards in the state. Whenever he is asked why, his stock answer is: "I'll have to ask Susie." That would be Susie Wiles, a former mayoral aide in Jacksonville who is managing Scott's campaign. If he is elected, is that the way he will govern when facing tough issues? I'll have to ask Susie?
1. Sink: "The only candidate with 25 years of proven business experience" should make the Guinness World Records for underwhelming slogans.
Scott: So much of the who is this guy? question boils down to this: How could he serve as CEO of Columbia/HCA and claim he was unaware of the hospital chain's massive fraud that prompted a $1.7 billion federal fine? Will we have to get used to a governor famous for the "Sgt. Schultz" (of Hogan's Heroes) I know nothing defense?
Robert Trigaux can be reached at [email protected]