Rumors have circulated for months that Florida secretary of state Kurt Browning, a lifelong Dade City resident, would challenge two-term Pasco schools superintendent Heather Fiorentino for her job in 2012. When Browning announced his resignation from his state post on Wednesday, the anticipation mounted again that he would jump into the Republican primary against Fiorentino, who has generated antipathy in some circles as district employee morale has sagged. Browning, 53, refused to rule out the possibility of running, but also refused to commit. He spoke with the Tampa Bay Times about his plans.
Your name has come up a jillion times as a likely candidate to run for superintendent against Heather Fiorentino. I want to know what your thought processes are on that, because there are a lot of people who are pinning their hopes on you.
Let me just tell you that my decision to resign from being Florida secretary of state ... was to come home to be with my wife, my family and my community. I've been doing this now for, gosh, almost five years. After a while, when you're up here every week, week in and week out, it's stressful. You miss birthdays and you miss all kinds of things going on back home. My wife and I talked about it over the holidays, and it was just the right thing to do. I did not resign today with the express purpose of going in on Monday morning and filing for superintendent. That is not the case.
There have been a great number of folks all across Pasco County, just common everyday voters and folks who are connected, that have been encouraging me for some time now to consider running for superintendent. Right now, my focus is to get through the Jan. 31 primary and get it certified on the 14th of February and then come home on the 17th. What happens after that, I have not made any decision yet.
You're one of the few people who could step in and have instant name recognition, so you don't have to make a decision really early.
No. But, certainly, Pasco County has been good to me. I served 26 years as supervisor of elections. Pasco County is my home. I miss Pasco and I'm just ready to get home. We'll see what happens when I get home. I'm not making any promises. There's still a lot of thinking that has to be done. Right now I'm so singularly focused on that January primary. I just want to make sure that one comes off without a hitch.
Why would you even consider running for superintendent in the first place? You've not been involved with the school system very much, and you could just come back home and be home.
Well, I think I could. At the appropriate time, you and I, if I decide to do that, could have that discussion. But I think it would be premature for me to even start speculating on why I would run or why I would consider it. Right now, my focus has been just getting home, getting the appropriate time to tell the governor that I'm coming home, and then physically relocating back to Pasco. Once I get there I'll give some thought as to what my future plans are.
I thought you were here every weekend and driving back and forth.
I am. That's the problem. I am home most weekends. There are some weekends where I'll just stay here in Tallahassee, depending on what's going on. ... That's stressful when you get home on a Friday night late. Usually I work until 4:30 to 5 p.m. on a Friday. You have to go get your stuff, load it up in the car, drive home. I get home around 9:30 to 10 p.m. So you basically have Saturday. Sunday, you get done with church and you have to load up to go back to Tallahassee.
You mean you can't be secretary of state from Dade City?
Boy, I'll tell you what. If I could, the governor would never have seen a letter of resignation. That's the gospel. I love what I do. I love this department. And I love the people I am working with. They just excite me. They really do. They excite me. And they're passionate about what they do. That's the hard part. That is the incredible hard part of resigning is knowing that I'm going to leave this incredible team of people up here.
Why do you think people want you to be superintendent? There has not been hardly a day go by where I haven't heard someone talk about it.
I don't know. You have to ask them. Listen. My focus has been elections. I've been an elections administrator for a number of years. I like to think we did a good job. We created a great team. Good elections I will tell you they just don't happen. It takes a lot of planning and preparation, and putting a team together that's focused, that understands what the mission is. Not only that, but what I did with my folks in Pasco and here in the department is, we set the bar high, I turned them loose and I held them accountable. That's my secret. It worked for me in Pasco and it's worked for me in Tallahassee. You know, you surround yourself with good people and you turn them loose, you empower them to do the job and you know they'll do exactly what they're supposed to do. And they'll probably do it with banner results. You'll have to talk to the folks throughout Pasco who are making the comments why they think I need to run for superintendent. I haven't gotten there yet. ...
What do think the time frame might be? Because I know there are other people waiting to find out what you are going to do.
Well, at this point, I've got a January primary. We certify on the 14th, and my last day in the department is going to be on the 17th. I'm going to leave it at that.
Jeffrey S. Solochek can be reached at [email protected], (813) 909-4614 or on Twitter @jeffsolochek. For more education news, visit the Gradebook at tampabay.com/blogs/gradebook.