Below is a edited transcript of the interview/chat with Florida CFO candidate I conducted earlier today. You can view the original thread at Gather.com. The interview went well, with more than 18 people posing questions or commenting and numerous others viewing the chat live. Feedback was positive both from readers and from the Sink campaign. Below are the exact questions and answers from the chat (unless otherwise noted, all questions were asked by me):
Q: Why should progressive voters support your campaign?
A: Thanks for that question. For the last eight years, Republicans have been completely in charge of Florida government — the Governor’s office, Cabinet, and the Legislature. In 2006, Democrats have a unique opportunity to recapture part of state government, show Floridians that we are the party which knows how to govern best, and then makes strides on progressive goals like improving public education, protecting Florida’s environmental treasures, and improving access to health care.
Q: Your campaign web site discusses ensuring access to affordable health care for all citizens, how will you approach this issue?
A: Kenneth, I am going to use the Chief Financial Officer position to be a strong insurance consumer advocate who aggressively represents the interests of anyone who wants insurance in this state — individuals, families, and businesses. One of the problems we face is that small businesses — which are the backbone of our economy and employ the majority of our workforce — find it very hard to afford health coverage. As Chief Financial Officer, I’m going to look around the country for innovative health care products that would make it easier and more affordable for small businesses to provide health care to their employees.
Q: Laurie Tozier asked: How do you plan to help floridians with the current homeowners insurance crisis? Related to Laurie’s question, what are your plans for dealing with the property insurance crisis in Florida and how is the CFO limited in this area?
A: Hi Laurie, thanks for joining in. (Laurie is one of my neighbors in Thonotosassa)
Kenneth, As you probably remember, the Chief Financial Officer position is a combination of the old Insurance Commissioner and Comptroller jobs. But where the elected Insurance Commissioner directly regulated insurance, that regulatory function is now carried out by an independent commissioner who reports to the Florida Cabinet. So the CFO’s role is more limited.
As Chief Financial Officer, a member of the Cabinet, and a statewide elected official, I’m going to work very hard on this problem. My principles on this issue are:
First, we need to stop creating commissions and start finding solutions. My entire career as a business leader has been about finding solutions to challenges, and I’ll bring that approach to Tallahassee.
Second, it simply isn’t tenable for a state-run agency to be the largest property insurer in Florida. We need a new approach.
Third, as Chief Financial Officer, I’m going to work to bring more private insurers back to the market so that competition can increase availability and stabilize rates.
Fourth, the 2006 Legislature entirely ignored the commercial property insurance crisis. The homeowners’ crisis is bad enough, but many businesses can’t obtain commercial property insurance of any kind. This has the potential to be an economic disaster in Florida. If a business has to go out of business because it has been destroyed by a hurricane, its workers lose their jobs.
Q: What is the CFO’s role in protecting Florida’s environment and what do you see as the most important environmental concerns in the Sunshine State?
A: I am a strong defender of Florida’s environment. For many years, I have been an active member of the Nature Conservancy, including service as Chair of the Nature Conservancy. I will have oversight over some environmental issues as a member of the Cabinet. For example, the Cabinet oversees the acquisition and subsequent management of all state lands, and will have a big role to play in the extension of the Florida Forever program. I also want to make sure we are doing all we can to protect our shores from oil and natural gas drilling, and all we can to protect other natural treasures around the state, such as the Everglades and our precious rivers, lakes, and wetlands.
Q: Part of the CFO’s job is improving school quality. What exactly is the CFO’s role in education and what areas of our school system can you have the most impact on improving?
A: Actually, the Chief Financial Officer does not have a direct role in education. Education policy is generally shaped by the Legislature and the Governor. However, as the state’s highest-tanking official on financial matters, I will have a very loud bully pulpit to address how the Legislature is spending our hard-earned taxpayer dollars. We need to make sure that Florida is investing enough in students, teachers, and public schools so that we offer the best possible education. If the Legislature and Governor are not doing right by our children, I’m going to loudly ask some very tough questions about it.
Q: What is the CFO’s role in helping out Florida’s veterans, particularly in light of frequent cuts in veterans benefits at the federal level?
A: This is another area where the Chief Financial Officer has some say because of her role on the Florida Cabinet. The Governor and Cabinet appoint the head of the Florida Department of Veterans Affairs, and I will work hard to ensure that our state government is adequately funding the needs of the department and providing appropriate services to our veterans.
Q: What efforts are you making to reach out to grassroots activists and bloggers?
A: The Internet is having a huge influence on politics, and I have worked hard to make sure that my campaign is reaching out to the many people who use the Internet as their source of political news and their site for political activism.
I look forward to participating in more web chats like this one with bloggers from many different points-of-view.
Back in early June, my campaign unveiled a new website which provides information on my qualifications to be Florida’s next Chief Financial Officer.
I really like the site because it goes beyond traditional web tools and embraces unprecedented ways for me to energize supporters at the grassroots level. For example, at http://www.alexforcfo.com/join/gather.html, it allows supporters to create their own social networks to communicate with other supporters across the state. So we have groups like Lawyers for Alex, Business Women for Alex, and even Republicans for Alex.
My campaign is operating on a budget and the use of the internet is the most cost-effective way to reach a large number of people.
Q: Now we’ll open up the questions to anyone. Please ask them one at a time, though, to give Alex a chance to respond. We also have some reader-submitted questions that I will pass along. Let’s start with Monica’s question from above: Please speak to the qualifications of the CFO for the state of Florida.
A: Kenneth and Monica, Floridians deserve a Chief Financial Officer who has actual financial leadership experience. I have been a business and financial leader in Florida for more than twenty years. For the last seven of those years, I was president of Florida’s largest bank, where I supervised 9,000 employees in 800 branches, representing more than $41 billion in customer assets.
I also have a record of promoting fiscal responsibility and accountability in government. Lawton Chiles appointed me to the Commission on Government Accountability to the People, where I helped lead efforts to make state government more responsive to citizen needs.
I advocated productivity and efficiency in state government as Vice Chair of Tax Watch, a non-partisan, non-profit organization that reviews how Florida collects and spends its tax dollars and has identified more than $6 billion in taxpayer savings since it was founded in 1979.
By the way, I am the only candidate in this race for Chief Financial Officer who has an extensive financial background.
Q: Jim Cassady asked: Many of our Florida state government services have been outsourced/privitized. What is your position on that from an accountability perspective?
A: Jim, Over the past eight years the state has privatized or outsourced a number of services. As CFO, I will hold these companies accountable for achieving the savings they actually promised for the people of Florida. For example, it was recently reported by the state’s auditor that the privatization of foster care has resulted in a $70MM INCREASE in costs to the program, with worse results (more children subject to abuse). We need to be sure that if we privatize, the citizens are actually going to get a better result…
Q: Robert M. asked: Florida’s Republican leadership has been a symbol of the ‘culture of corruption’ and cronyism for far too many years now. What are your plans to change the good-ole-boy atmosphere that is so prevalent throughout Florida’s government?
A: Robert M., I believe in integrity and accountability. as Chief Financial Officer i can oversee the appropriate use of our $70 billion state budget, and ensure that we are getting our money’s worth. We need a Chief Financial Officer in Tallahassee who is “minding the store” and NOT subject to cronyism and political influence when it comes to managing the state’s purse.
Q: Ted W. asked: Alex, the largest state union endorsed Lee this morning. I know your campaign says you have the support of the majority of the people in the AFL-CIO but then why do you think the most dominant union in Florida did not endorse you? It can’t simply be (as they say) because they “just don’t know you well enough” – what’s your take on this?
A: Ted W., I’m very proud to have the support of the overwhelming majority of the labor community in this state; including the AFL-CIO and the Florida Education Association. While I did not get the support of AFSCME, I look forward to continuing to have a strong relationship with members of the labor community. And I look forward to working with them on issues of common concern when I am elected Chief Financial Officer.
Q: From Robert McNally: Insurance being virtually required of all with a mortgage; raising the cost of a home to discouraging proportions; encourage people to live elsewhere … is it not possible that the Florida Government underwrite policies and make a profit, for surely the insurance companies make a profit…Could the State, in such an undertaking accept less of a profit than the Insurance Companies. Would the State not gain funds from investing premiums in a manner as do the Insurance Companies?
A: Robert, Certainly the system we have now is not working. Private insurers continue to leave the state or reduce their policies. However, some smaller companies are in fact beginning to do business. We need to rethink our approach to this crisis, and your suggestion has been mentioned by several people. In general , I would prefer we have a better market to encourage more private enterprise come to compete for our business rather than have a state run insurance company. However, at this stage, all alternatives ought to be on the table for consideration.
Q: Jackie D asked: Are there some government services that should not be privatized? (Does it make any sense to privatize human resources services? It seems to me — as a former state employee — that human resources worked better when people worked for a particular government agency and understood its needs.)
A: Jackie, Some services should not be privatized. When I was in banking, we were very careful when making outsourcing decisions that would directly impact our customers. We need to take it on a case by case basis, carefully evaluating all the potential negative impacts on people. and most importantly , is it REALLY less expensive to outsource???
Q: Bill B. asked: It’s now 2:00 pm so I assume the chat will be closing soon. When’s the next opportunity to gather?
A: Thanks to everyone for participating. This was my first time in a web chat! I spent yesterday traveling in north Florida, to Live Oak, Lake City, and Jasper, where I found many enthusiastic supporters! The momentum is building, so I hope you will share my story with your friends.
As for the next one, keep in touch with us in this group and sign up for updates on our web site (http://alexforcfo.com) so we can email you with all upcoming activites… Thanks again to everyone. Alex
Other questions were posed and the Sink campaign has said that Alex will get to those in the near future, so hopefully, we will have another post then with more responses.