Video from the Florida Press Association meeting ...
SARASOTA — Alex Sink described herself as a “problem-solver” who can bridge the partisan divide.
Lawton “Bud” Chiles III promised to stand up to the special interests.
Bill McCollum said he knows Florida, and knows how to lure jobs to the state while doing everything he can to “tighten the belt.”
Three of the four leading Florida gubernatorial candidates spoke Thursday to a roomful of journalists and newspaper editors at the Florida Press Association’s and the Florida Society of Newspaper Editors’ annual convention in Sarasota.
Republican candidate Rick Scott, who was speaking in Tallahassee on Thursday, was the only high-profile candidate not in attendance. Even without his presence, Scott was a topic of several questions for McCollum, who previously had been considered a shoo-in for the Republican nomination, but since has found himself in a double-digit hole.
Scott has been running millions of dollars worth of television and radio ads statewide attacking McCollum.
“My belief is that you and the state of Florida need to have a governor that knows where the state government is, how it’s run, and what we need to do as a state to get there,” McCollum said in his introduction. “And we don’t need a rookie. We need somebody who knows how to get it done, and we need good, conservative leadership.”
The candidates spoke one at a time, and each was given three minutes to introduce themselves before facing questions from the crowd. The candidates had two minutes to respond to each question.
As would be expected, many of the questions touched on the state’s expected multibillion-dollar budget deficit and the ongoing oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.
Regarding the deficit, Sink, who spoke first, said Florida needs to expand business, look for savings and efficiencies, and diversify the economy. In the short term, the state will need to rely on the federal government to overcome budget shortfalls, said Sink, a Democrat and the state’s Chief Financial Officer.
“We’re in a situation now where anytime the country gets a cold, Florida gets pneumonia,” she said.
Chiles, who is running without party affiliation, is campaigning to increase spending on education and cutting spending on prisons. He also suggested an Internet sales tax.
Chiles said he is fed up with the “head-knocking” in Tallahassee.
“That head-knocking that’s going on is not fixing the schools, it’s not adding one new job, and it’s not getting anybody health care,” he said.
McCollum, who is proposing a two-year, statewide millage freeze, also said Florida’s business base needs to be expanded. Because of the budget deficit, when all is said and done, government won’t be able to do everything it’s doing today, he said.
“We’re not going to raise taxes,” McCollum said. “We’re not going to raise fees. We’re going to do everything we can to tighten the belt.”
Sink said she has visited the Panhandle to help with the oil spill crisis, and said she is focused on the plight of business owners in the Gulf Coast region. She has called for a disaster loan program for small businesses.
“Not one single business in this state should have to go bankrupt because of this oil spill,” she said.
The “oil spill problem” didn’t start when oil started gushing from the ocean floor, Chiles said.
It started with lax regulations and poor oversight, he said.
Chiles called the oil spill a “wake-up call” to the need for more energy conservation and renewable energy.
But first, he noted, the leak must be stopped, and the spill cleaned up.