Lee Debates Sink - Tallahassee Insider vs. Outsider

ST. PETERSBURG -

Outgoing State Senate President Tom Lee came across as a seasoned politician, who knows how to get things done in Tallahassee. And Democrat Alex Sink portrayed herself as an outsider who would end 'business as usual' and bring independent oversight to government contracts.

Lee, a Republican, has served as vice president for finance in his family's home building firm. The Brandon resident has also had a hand in fashioning two state budgets as head of the Florida Senate.

Lee says he isn't afraid to tackle tough issues - or buck the power structure.

LEE: I've proven over time to be a consumer advocate. I stand up to special interests when I think their interests are adverse to the people I represent. We had some battles keeping energy rates down, back when deregulation was a hot topic in Florida. I fought every year against the telephone rate increases in the Florida legislature. I didn't just vote against the bill, I led the charge.

Sink was president of Bank of America's Florida branch, managing more than $40 billion in assets and supervising about 9,000 employees. Even though the Thonotosassa resident is a newcomer to politics, she was at the side of her husband, Bill McBride, during his unsucessful run for governor.

SINK: I bring a 26-year banking career. I've spent years working with numbers, analyzing financial statements, holding people accountable for the way they spend their money.

The Chief Financial Officer is one of only four cabinet positions. The CFO acts as the state's chief insurance regulator, oversees all state revenue, and acts as the fire marshall.

Not surprisingly, soaring premiums for homeowner's insurance dominated the debate. Lee says he has worked to eliminate double deductibles for hurricane insurance premiums.

LEE: We must do more on insurance. We have to stimulate private-sector investment. We have to expand our re-insurance support to the marketplace to attract that capital back to the market and we have to create more regulatory flexibility, so the companies have more options and consumers have more options. More competition will lead to lower prices.

Last year, state lawmakers agreed to form a task force to look at long-term solutions for the state's insurance crisis. But Sink took them to task for negotiating with insurance companies.

SINK: The bill never saw the light of day until midnight, the last day of the session. The most important issue we had never saw the light of day, was never debated, people did not know what was in it, and you could only conclude in the back rooms of the legislative halls, our legislative leaders were cutting deals.

Sink backed that up by saying only a week after the bill was passed, several insurance companies announced they were cutting back homeowners coverage in the state. Sink says she favors setting up a regional catastrophe fund for hurricane coverage with other states around the Gulf coast.

Lee also said the job of CFO is much bigger than any of his opponent's experiences working as the head of a bank. He said he wouldn't want anybody without prior government experience sitting in the Cabinet.

LEE: The CFO needs to be engaged in the legislative process. You have to understand the psychological process of those 160 men and women in the Florida Legislature. You have to have relationships to get things done. You have to know the lay of the land in that Capitol.

Sink replied that that's the reason she's running for office.

SINK: I'm going to Tallahassee because I haven't been in Tallahassee for 10 years. We don't need a politician running the office of Chief Financial Officer. That's what Bob Milligan, the Republican, told the press corps in Tallahassee. We need people who can be independent, bring fresh ideas, and a new approach.

Many people have called the CFO the most powerful position in Tallahassee, after the governor. This is the first time the position will be on the ballot.

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