Sink, McCollum, Dockery Talk About Priorities for Florida’s Next Governor
The top three contenders to become Florida’s next governor staked-out familiar turf Wednesday – with Republican Bill McCollum calling for a crack-down on trial lawyers, Democrat Alex Sink touting her business background and maverick Republican Paula Dockery burnishing her outsider credentials.
The candidates also took time to fire a few shots at each other, while speaking to a gathering of journalists at the Associated Press’ annual legislative planning day at the state Capitol.
McCollum tried to tar Sink as a big-government proponent loyal to “national Democrats.”
“She said she holds Tallahassee responsible for creating jobs,” said McCollum, the Republican attorney general. “I think all of us want to see jobs created. But it’s not government that creates jobs. It’s the private sector that creates jobs.”
Sink, the Democratic chief financial officer, countered, by hinting at McCollum’s 20 years in Congress and two runs for the U.S. Senate before winning the attorney general’s post in 2006.
“There is a real choice in this election: Choosing a business leader and a community leader who knows how to put people in a room and solve problems, or a career politician,” Sink said.
Dockery, a Lakeland Republican state senator, mostly left Sink alone – but fired a veiled shot at McCollum, who has been endorsed by many Republican leaders.
“What I’m hearing around the state is that Republicans are a little disappointed, to say the least, that their party seems to be choosing their nominees for them,” Dockery said.
The three contenders did agree that creating more jobs at a time Florida’s unemployment was at a 36-year high was a priority of any state leader this election year. But they diverged in their approach to sparking an economic recovery.
For his part, McCollum said he would work to bring businesses to the state by pushing for new restrictions on personal injury lawsuits, medical malpractice claims and lawsuits against businesses.
Conceding he had few specifics, McCollum said steps needed to be taken to reduce the risk of lawsuits facing businesses, which he said was a major drag on job-creation in a state with 1.1 million Floridians out-of-work.
“The state overall is too litigious,” McCollum said.
Still, the Republican attorney general, who is holding a double-digit lead over Sink according to a new Quinnipiac University poll, said he was willing to consider filing a lawsuit against the federal Environmental Protection Agency over tougher new proposed water nutrient standards that business organizations claim will cost more jobs.
Federal analysts have said agriculture and industrial polluters could face as much as $1.5 billion in additional costs in Florida to comply with the rules. Business groups deride the proposed standards as a “water tax” and the rules will be the subject of public hearings beginning next month in the state.
McCollum also is threatening to sue federal officials to block the health care overhaul promoted by the Obama administration.
Sink dismissed McCollum’s claim that lawsuits were crippling the state’s economy. Instead, she pledged to focus on improving businesses’ access to loans, while also cautiously defending federal efforts to cut the cost of health insurance.
“We have to have health care reform,” said Sink, who has stopped short of endorsing any of the proposals advancing in Congress. “Something has to change or it’s going to bankrupt all of us.”
Sink, a former head of Bank of America’s Florida operations, said that “making sure our economy has access to capital is our number one problem.”
Sink, whose election in 2006 as chief financial officer was her first run for public office, said her private industry background gave her the skills to “get results” in such high-priority areas as reining-in state Medicaid spending and luring new companies to the state.
“I know I can be an economic ambassador for our state,” Sink said.
Sink also sought to separate from McCollum’s characterization of her as allied with “national Democrats” by calling herself a “Florida Democrat,” and said she supported business groups’ opposition to the Amendment 4 “Hometown Democracy” ballot amendment that would require comprehensive plan land-use changes be approved by voters.
“It’s a horrible idea,” Sink said.
Sink also confronted her campaign’s need to return thousands of dollars in campaign contributions from Scott Rothstein, the Fort Lauderdale attorney who bilked millions of dollars from contributors to a Ponzi scheme.
“I learned a lesson there,” Sink conceded. “Ask your questions.”
The three candidates also found some areas of agreement. All chorused skepticism about House-backed efforts to lift a 20-year ban on offshore oil-drilling to yield what supporters say could be $2 billion annually in lease and royalty revenue.
The House proposal approved last year would allow drilling as close as three miles off Florida’s Gulf coast.
“I have great concern with that,” Dockery said. “The proponents have not been able to answer who can purchase those leases…How do we know the bad guys are not going to be controlling those leases?”
Dockery also said she relished her longshot image, saying her campaign themes of tighter ethics laws and closer scrutiny of state spending was resonating with voters.
“I love being the underdog,” Dockery said. “And I’ve never lost an election yet.”