ST. PETERSBURG — Not being a candidate apparently agrees with Alex Sink.
Florida's former chief financial officer came before the Suncoast Tiger Bay Club on Thursday sounding sharper and more passionate than she ever did running for governor two years ago.
Known for caution and always measuring her words on the campaign trail, Sink instead blasted the Legislature for slashing $300 million from the higher education system while creating "an incredibly expensive and duplicative" 12th university. She called for far more focus on promoting existing Florida businesses than recruiting companies from out of state. She nearly choked up when talking about the killing of unarmed 17-year-old Trayvon Martin by a neighborhood watch volunteer in Sanford.
"As the mother of a 24-year-old young man, my heart bleeds for this family. And when you hear the circumstances — let me just say that in my opinion if this had been a black man with a gun shooting a young, 17-year-old white boy, there would be no doubt that the shooter would be in jail today," Sink said when asked about Gov. Rick Scott's response to the matter.
"If I were governor I would be out front saying, 'We have to stay calm but justice must be done, it will be done. And we're going to very aggressive about holding the FDLE accountable for reviewing the Sanford Police Department.' "
Many Democrats expect Sink to take on Scott again in 2014, having lost by just 1 percentage point two years ago, but she said she won't make any decision for at least a year. Asked what she'd learned from the loss, Sink said she faced a Republican "tsunami," was outspent at least 2-to-1, and ultimately fell 61,000 votes short.
"I am so sorry," she said apologetically.
The Democrats have plenty of up-and-coming leaders who could be future gubernatorial candidates, she said, specifically naming Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn, Jacksonville Mayor Alvin Brown, Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer and Fort Lauderdale Mayor Jack Seiler.
Her focus now is her nonprofit charitable think tank, Florida Next, which aims to promote entrepreneurship and small businesses.
The state needs a moderate-to progressive public policy foundation, she said, noting how Scott cited an analysis by the conservative Reason Foundation when he rejected more than $2 billion in federal money for high-speed rail in Florida.
Had her foundation been in place early in 2011, she said, "We could have stood up as the Florida Next Foundation and said, 'Oh no, you're not right. Let us show you the research that says we have tremendous economic impact from high-speed rail.' "
Asked about the Republican presidential campaign, Sink scoffed at how birth control could become a front-burner issue when the country is in dire economic condition. The candidates of less taxes and more freedom "want to be in my bedroom and in the doctor's office with me," she said.
"Women are not going to forget what's been going on in the Republican primary,'' she said. "And for those of you who are Republicans in the room, you better get your party straight. It's not right for America, it's not right for the people, and it's not what we need to be focusing on."
Said Brian Hughes, spokesman for the Republican Party of Florida: "Alex Sink, struggling to be relevant, has adopted a new, bombastic style. Unfortunately for Sink, whatever style she chooses, it is still the same old liberal message: bigger government, higher taxes and the divisive politics of race and gender."