Bud Chiles Considering a Run for Florida CFO
With Miami Mayor Manny Diaz the latest to quash talk of his running for Chief Financial Officer, Florida Democrats may turn to an even better-known name in hopes of retaining the party’s lone Cabinet seat.
Lawton “Bud” Chiles III, son of the late Democratic governor, said the post being vacated by Alex Sink is one where “you could create a voice for changing what is wrong in Florida today.”
“I’ve had a number of people talk to me about it,” Chiles told the News Service of Florida. “I’m giving a lot of thought to it.”
Since Sink announced in May that she was running for governor, plenty of other Democrats have also eyed launching a run for CFO. But each has declined – with Diaz confiding recently in fellow Democrats that he wasn’t interested in pursuing the post, despite a steady hard sell from Democratic U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson and South Florida fund-raisers.
Diaz didn’t return phone calls. But Rep. Ron Saunders, D-Key West, said after speaking lately with the mayor about the job he concluded, “Manny isn’t going to do it. He’s not running.”
Chiles clearly is the most familiar Democratic name still in the mix for a party struggling to complete its slate of Cabinet candidates. Florida Democrats’ biennial conference, slated for October 9-11 at Disney World, is built around the theme “Winning Florida in 2010.”
But the CFO seat is one that, for now, could turn Republican uncontested.
Others who have considered the job and declined are Sens. Ted Deutch and Jeremy Ring, a pair of Palm Beach County Democrats, and Miami businesswoman Annette Taddeo, a Democrat who challenged and lost to U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, R-Miami.
“I looked at it, but it wasn’t for me,” Taddeo said, conceding that Senate President Jeff Atwater appears a formidable frontrunner on the Republican side.
In just over a month of fund-raising, Atwater collected $528,655 by June 30. When new finance reports are filed next week, the North Palm Beach Republican is expected to top $1 million in cash-on-hand, GOP campaign leaders say.
Atwater faces a Republican primary challenge from Deland Rep. Pat Patterson. But no Democrat is in the field to succeed Sink, whose victory in 2006 ended a four-year run for an all-Republican Cabinet – which emerged after Democratic Attorney General Bob Butterworth was term-limited in 2002.
“I’m frankly surprised no one has stepped up to the plate,” Taddeo said.
Chiles, though, is increasingly acting like a future candidate and carries a name familiarity that could blunt Atwater’s fund-raising edge. This week he began a statewide walk reminiscent of that undertaken by his father in his 1970 U.S. Senate campaign, which earned him the nickname “Walkin’ Lawton.”
The younger Chiles walked part of the way Wednesday from the Panhandle town of Century – where his father began his tour – to Pensacola. By spring, Chiles said he will have walked one million steps and more than 500 miles to Miami as part of his “Worst to First,” campaign aimed at improving Florida’s education system.
Along the way, he is stopping at schools, meeting educators, advocacy groups and doing media interviews as part of the initiative’s effort to heighten attention on children’s health, education and safety.
Chiles plans to end his walk by March when the legislative session begins.
The 55-year-old Chiles said a CFO campaign is not necessarily expected to follow – but that the job fits the “executive level” position he thinks is necessary to prompt change in the state.
A real estate investor and president of the Lawton Chiles Foundation, Chiles has become increasingly outspoken politically. He launched a short-lived gubernatorial campaign in 2006 before being forced to withdraw because he did not meet the state’s residency requirement after returning to Florida after years living in the New York City area.
Chiles in recent months also has railed against Gov. Charlie Crist and the Legislature’s Republican leadership for draining $1 billion from the Chiles Foundation – organized to finance children and seniors’ health-care programs – but used to patch holes elsewhere in the state budget.
“There is such a leadership gap at the top in Florida right now,” Chiles said. “But the Cabinet can advocate for change, like ending the control of special interests in the Legislature and the Public Service Commission. You also have a voice in consumer issues, banking, investments and education. I’m not saying no to it.”