1. Opinion

Times recommends: Jeff Atwater for CFO

Jeff Atwater acknowledges he inherited a competent operation four years ago when he was elected Florida's chief financial officer, and he kept key staffers who worked for his predecessor. That enabled Atwater to build upon success, and he has performed capably and made significant improvements to help ensure the state is more accountable in how it spends and invests public money. He deserves a second term.

Atwater oversees the state's accounting and auditing operations, and monitors the investment of state money as the chief financial officer. He is one of three statewide elected members of the state Cabinet, along with the attorney general and agriculture commissioner. The CFO is not a flashy job, and Atwater has energetically worked behind the scenes to make the state more open and accountable.

As CFO, Atwater launched a new website that has thousands of state contracts that can be viewed online. That is important, because more than 70 percent of the state's budget is delivered through private vendors. While he did not receive the authority to pre-screen state contracts that he sought from the Legislature, contracts are now required to have clear deliverables, performance measures and consequences for failure to deliver the services. His office also has trained thousands of state contract managers to write clearer contracts that better protect taxpayers, and audits indicate the reforms are producing results.

The state's investment returns also have improved under Atwater, who turned to more outside money managers to help maximize earnings in safe, short-term investments. He also created an online system to publicly catalog all state-owned land and buildings, which should lead to greater efficiencies.

While Atwater does not directly oversee insurance regulation, he has smartly questioned why property insurance rates were not declining more rapidly as insurers' cost for reinsurance dropped. The former state Senate president, who supported limiting annual premium increases to 10 percent for Citizens Property Insurance customers, says premiums from private insurers remain too high and pledges to stay on the issue.

Atwater, 56, applied to be president of Florida Atlantic University but was not a finalist for the job. He says it was attractive because FAU is in the community where he grew up and three of his four children attended the university. He says he has no interest in positions at other universities.

In a second term, Atwater wants to expand financial literacy programs and start replacing the state's outdated computer accounting systems. As a member of the Cabinet, which along with the governor sits as the clemency board, he pledges to revisit whether the process can be streamlined for restoring civil rights to nonviolent felons.

Will Rankin, 54, worked as an aide in Washington for several elected Republicans, helped manage the state of Ohio's public investments and came to Florida more than a decade ago to work on U.S. Census issues. He is a military veteran and lifestyle magazine publisher. The Deerfield Beach Democrat has raised little campaign money and does not have Atwater's familiarity with Florida or state government.

Atwater has an opportunity to build on his accomplishments in a second term. For Florida chief financial officer, the Tampa Bay Times recommends Jeff Atwater.