TAMPA — After narrowly losing his first race for governor, Jeb Bush created a think tank that helped keep his profile elevated and sharpened his education policy chops before he won the governor's race on his second try.
Fifteen years later, former Democratic gubernatorial nominee Alex Sink, after narrowly losing her campaign for governor, is launching her own policy think tank while brushing off widespread speculation that she will take on Gov. Rick Scott again in 2014.
"That's a long way away," Sink, 63, said Thursday. "People may criticize and say I have some other agenda, but the opposite would be that I go hide under the covers and do nothing. I don't think that's good for our state."
The Florida Next Foundation, officially launched Thursday, is a nonprofit that intends to gather research and data from around the state and the globe to help boost Florida's economy, with a focus on small business and entrepreneurs. Sink, the former state chief financial officer, said nongovernmental organizations and think tanks are best suited to focus toward issues most important to the public, and Florida Next will use research, social media interaction, polling and public forums to gather and disseminate information.
"Perhaps, rather than simply trying to capture another state's Fortune 500 companies, we should cultivate our own businesses to create a culture of innovation and creativity. The answers to those questions don't exist yet, but Florida Next believes that Floridians will help provide them," said a statement from the foundation.
Leasing office space in the Tampa Museum of Art, Florida Next will be led day to day by Jim Cassady, Sink's former chief of staff as CFO and her top campaign adviser. Board members include longtime friends and political allies, including her husband, former gubernatorial candidate Bill McBride, and her former campaign finance chairman, Richard Swann of Winter Park.
"In order to make the idea into a reality, just like any other entrepreneur, the first place you go is friends and family. … I just wanted four or five people in that initial group that could be a sounding board that could help figure out how to raise the money that it's going to take to run the foundation and make it viable, and then spread out from there," said Sink, who expects Florida Next to have an annual budget of about $750,000.
As for the next governor's race, Sink said life is unpredictable.
"If you had told me 10 years ago that in the next 10 years my husband would run for governor, that I would be the CFO of the state of Florida, that I would be running for governor I would look at you and say you are friggin' out of your mind."
Adam Smith can be reached at email@example.com.