This is a pivotal moment for Floridians. The collapsed housing market and high unemployment have shaken our confidence, and the state remains burdened with nagging concerns such as the outdated tax system and a broken property insurance market. Yet there is reason to be optimistic that Florida can create a brighter future with innovative approaches to transportation, renewable energy, health care and public education. In our judgment, Alex Sink is by far the best prepared to meet familiar challenges and seize new opportunities as the next governor.
The voter frustration fueled by the economic collapse is understandable, and so is the temptation to try a new face offering a catchy slogan and wild promises. But Republican Rick Scott is untested, unprepared and unfit to be governor. His leadership of a private hospital company that paid record fines for Medicare fraud reflects unethical behavior and a disdain for the law that Floridians should not tolerate in the state's highest public office.
Sink, 62, offers a blend of business experience from her long career as a Florida banking executive and familiarity with government as the state's chief financial officer. The Democrat is a thoughtful, pragmatic leader who combines attention to detail with a broader vision for the future. She raised her family in Hillsborough County, and her roots in the civic and business life of this state run deep.
In one term as chief financial officer, Sink has accomplished a great deal. She reduced the size of the office's staff and cut expenses without compromising service. She scrapped an expensive, problem-riddled state accounting system built by her predecessors. And she worked with the Republican-led Legislature to pass laws to protect seniors from financial fraud.
Sink has proven herself as a solid fiscal conservative on the state Cabinet. She pushed to reduce the state's financial exposure after a hurricane. She has been the steady voice challenging the State Board of Administration to improve its accountability in investing the state pension fund and other government money. And when some Cabinet members wavered on drilling in state-owned waters, Sink stood firm, understanding the risk to the tourism and fishing industries. After the BP oil spill, her office quickly responded to help those Floridians most in need.
In elected office and private life, Sink has long been engaged in the public discussion about Florida's future. Her challenge is to find ways to let her genuine concern for Floridians reveal itself more often and to become more comfortable in the spotlight. Her performance on the campaign trail, particularly of late, has provided a stronger and more confident message.
Given the fragile economy, Sink's plans for Florida are ambitious but prudent. She has no interest in raising taxes and proposes tax breaks for businesses that add jobs. She proposes surgically streamlining regulations — particularly for companies with strong track records — to help business and still protect consumers. She wants to expand the state's emerging bio-tech sector; diversify the agriculture industry to produce alternative energy sources; and build a modern transportation system that includes rail.
Sink also is committed to improving public education. She wants a merit pay plan developed with teachers' help and stronger standards for prekindergarten programs. She would put less emphasis on the standardized FCAT and more focus on individual student learning plans.
Scott, 57, lacks Sink's familiarity with Florida and its challenges. He moved to Naples just seven years ago and has never held public office or participated in the state's civic life. He spent $50 million in family money to hire a political team, flood the airwaves with television ads and buy victory in the Republican primary. He refuses to be candid about his business record, avoids lengthy media interviews and declines to discuss his policy positions with newspaper editorial boards, including this one.
Scott says he would bring the bottom-line business culture to government that he claims he fostered as chief executive officer at Columbia/HCA, which he built into the nation's largest for-profit hospital chain. But government is not a profit-at-all-cost operation. It has responsibilities to educate children, protect citizens and provide a safety net — however frayed — for Floridians. And whatever success Scott had in cutting costs and generating profits came at an unacceptable price: Columbia/HCA paid a record $1.7 billion in criminal and civil fines for Medicare fraud. Scott, who was not charged with a crime and left the company amid the federal investigation, acknowledges mistakes were made and little else.
Transparency is a foreign concept to Scott. He will not release a deposition he gave just six days before he joined the governor's race in a lawsuit that alleges Solantic, a chain of health care clinics in which he has invested, violated state licensing rules. He only recently released his tax returns, a common practice for statewide candidates.
On issue after issue, Scott fails to grasp the consequences of his reckless campaign promises. He claims he can cut corporate and property taxes, reject additional federal stimulus money, trim state spending — and still maintain or increase education spending. As good as that may sound to struggling Floridians, the dollars just don't add up.
Among Scott's other radical plans: deregulating property insurance, gutting the state's growth management agency, expanding school vouchers, considering offshore oil drilling and passing an Arizona-style immigration law. The lawyer who became wealthy running a company that defrauded taxpayers has no appreciation for government's responsibility to protect consumers and individual rights. Among the likely consequences of his proposals would be significantly higher homeowners insurance rates, less money for public schools, early release of prison inmates and more reckless development.
Imagine a Florida with Scott as governor and this Republican-led Legislature, whose most extreme impulses would go unchecked. There would be no one to rein in the legislative leaders who have sought to open state waters to oil drilling, increase abortion restrictions, abolish teacher tenure with no input from teachers, gut growth management and create slush funds for themselves.
Fortunately, voters have an excellent choice in Sink. She possesses the varied experience, sound judgment and strong values to lead this state at a particularly important time. For governor of Florida, the Times recommends Alex Sink.