TALLAHASSEE — State Sen. Jim King, R-Jacksonville, wants to be the next university system chancellor and is ready to step down from the Legislature after 23 years if the Board of Governors will have him.
King, 69, says several people approached him a couple of weekends ago and asked if he would be interested in the chancellor job that has been open since Mark Rosenberg stepped down in February.
"Normally I'd say no because I had my retirement all taken care of, but the economy is saying that I'll probably have to do something and that was something that I think I could do," King said Monday as he left the Capitol. "Now, whether or not I'm even on the short list, I don't know. But the answer to the question is, 'Would you be interested to pursue it?' Yes, I would."
If King steps down before the end of his term in 2010, a special election would be held for his seat and there's already a line of contenders, principally former House speaker John Thrasher of Orange Park.
King planned to call search committee head Carolyn Roberts on Monday to express his interest, but ran out of time. He says he'll call her soon. Roberts chairs the 14-person committee, which touts an "open, national" process with help from Dallas firm R. William Funk & Associates. Today is the application deadline, but board members have indicated it's flexible.
The gregarious, well-liked King is a former Senate president, a self-made millionaire and a passionate Florida State fan, having earned his bachelor's and an MBA there. He was elected to the House in 1986 and moved to the Senate in 1999, where he has long served on education committees. Currently, he holds sway over campuses' annual budgets as a member of the Senate higher education appropriations committee.
King's lack of a doctorate could be an issue for the state's top educators, as well as his very public devotion to FSU.
But former chancellor Rosenberg said King's experience dealing with politics and higher education issues could make King a good fit to manage 11 universities, more than 360,000 faculty members, staffers and students, and a budget of more than $8.5 billion.
"We're looking for someone who can be effective, and Jim King can be very effective," Rosenberg said. "Jim King gets the challenges we have. He understands the issues. He has a passion."
King points to an "ever increasing gap between the board of governors and the Legislature," and says: "I don't know whether I can close it, but I do know that all of my career has been in consensus-building. And I know a lot about higher ed because I've served on it for almost forever.
"I think I could do it. I think I could do it well. Now whether or not they want me, that's another story. But, am I willing to go through the hoops? Sure."
The St. Petersburg native made his money off a temporary personnel firm that he and his partners sold to Wackenhut Corp. in 1997 for $16 million. But after retiring with what he thought was enough money for life, King says he has lost more than $1.6 million in the past year and a half.
King says he would have no trouble stepping down early because "this legislative session has been the worst that I have ever seen or ever want to be in." He and his wife have a second home in Tallahassee and lots of friends, another plus to the job.
State Sen. Dennis Jones, R-Treasure Island, is close friends with King and says he wished him well, but thinks he's crazy to want to work that hard.
"They certainly probably need a PR person to gain some of the credibility that they probably would need to be taken seriously to be funded the way they probably need to be funded," Jones said. "I think he feels he could bring that expertise to the table. I don't think he's looking for a lifetime opportunity here. … He really looks at himself as probably a long-shot. But if you want to win, you've got to be in the game."
Times/Herald staff writer Shannon Colavecchio contributed to this report. Amy Hollyfield can be reached at (850) 224-7263 or firstname.lastname@example.org