A few of Sarasota’s most active Young Republicans got together over dinner for an impromptu question and answer session with Florida’s Chief Financial Officer (CFO) Jeff Atwater. Oh, and I asked him what he thought about the potential increase in revenue that might result from the legalization of medical marijuana.
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Who is Jeff Atwater?
Glad you asked. Ok, not necessarily glad (I didn’t know a whole lot about him before dinner either) but in the sense that you care enough to be reading this article to find out, I am glad. Mostly because politics is not very popular subject for the 20-30 somethings across the state of Florida, especially here in Sarasota, a town where the average age hovers somewhere between dying and death itself.
Jeff Atwater has served as the Chief Financial Officer for the State of Florida since he was elected in November of 2010 and sworn into office on January 4, 2011. He got started in politics as the Vice-Mayor of his hometown (North Palm Beach) in 1993. He would later be elected to the Florida House of Representatives (2000) and then to the Florida Senate (2002), where he was unanimously selected to serve as Senate President (2008).
What does Florida’s CFO do?
Florida’s CFO oversees the state’s accounting and auditing functions and unclaimed property, monitors the investment of state funds and manages the deferred compensation program and risk management program for the state.
Insurance consumer service is handled by the CFO, and the office is responsible for the licensing and oversight of insurance agents and agencies, as well as funeral homes and cemeteries.
Insurance fraud investigation also is overseen by the CFO, as well as ensuring businesses have workers’ compensation coverage in place for employees and helping injured workers with benefit payments and re-employment.
Setting the scene
It was all pretty laid back and quite intimate. With only 8 of us in attendance, including Atwater and his travel aide, there was plenty of time for us to ask questions and get to know Jeff and what he stands for. It was a much better setting than the more formal and infinitely more expensive political engagements that this town is known for.
Stating the obvious
The one thing I hate about dealing with any politician is that you always have to deal with some level of a politically correct front. You always get to see them from behind their public persona, and while I understand it, I despise it.
I hate that they have to run around worried about actually showing the world their real personality because of how someone might spin the slightest misstep and take it completely out of context. If only we could get past this political correctness and instead find some political honesty with the American people then I think we might actually be able to get a few things done around here.
That being said, I liked what Jeff had to say so I thought I would share it with you and let you decide for yourself.
According to JeffAtwater.com, his initiatives have helped Florida insurance consumers recover almost 53 million dollars in 2012 and 2013 combined (among other things) and a couple of his programs have actually increased the overall transparency in the way his office examines and issues contracts with outside vendors.
“I asked to look at them (contracts) and told my staff that there was no way I would sign them” said Jeff, as he explained the fact that 60%+ of the state budget gets spent on outside vendors and apparently before him, “no one was looking too closely at what was in those contracts.”
It seemed that for a while, there were a number of vendors who enjoyed a relationship with the state that was lacking any real accountability for any of the cash that the state was dishing out in these contracts. Something Jeff set out to change early on as CFO.
Jeff’s stance on fraud has been consistent through his entire term and he has been the main driver on a number of transparency initiatives. The Financial Accountability Contract Tracking System (FACTS) has made a summary for each of those contracts available online. This allows the public to see what, who and for how much, each of those outside vendors is billing the state. In addition to making the contracts transparent he is also working to pass legislation that would require the contracts to be bid out on a regular basis ensuring that the tax payer is getting the best bang for their buck.
MyFloridaCFO.com also lists a number of other transparency measures, one of which allows you to punch in your estimated income and see how much you can expect to pay in state taxes as well as where that money is going inside of the government.
I asked Jeff if he was scared (referring to the upcoming election) and he replied “Not of a good contest.”
He continued by explaining that he was a man of principles and that he would stand by them and not feel bad if that lead to a loss. Not exactly the traditional “winners mantra” but maybe that is a little of what we need more of in this country. Someone who is willing to stick by their guns regardless of an election outcome.
It is a little hard to even take the competition seriously though, as this excerpt from the Will Rankin for CFO 2014 website makes clear:
“But already you have to wonder about the success of a campaign against a seasoned and well-funded pol like Atwater. Still, compared to the last Democrat running for the office, Allie Braswell, Rankin doesn’t look as if he’ll embarrass the party.” – Read entire article
I guess if not being embarrassed is what you are going for, then good for them; but honestly, none of this really matters.
When you are talking about a race like this, “it is hard to separate yourself from the top of the ticket” explained Jeff, as we continued talking about the upcoming election. By that he meant that more people would be looking at the Governors race and then voting down the party line.
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With former Republican Governor Charlie Christ (who is now a democrat), running neck and neck with incumbent Rick Scott in the upcoming gubernatorial election, Jeff seems to think that this race will be more about highlighting the difference between the two political parties.
The sheer fact that Charlie Christ is even in the running right now after abandoning ship on his political party leaves me wondering about the reasoning ability of the Florida electorate as a whole.
How bad things must be that we would be willing to reelect someone like Christ (especially knowing he is a political turncoat), instead of pushing to at least bring someone new into the mix. The Democratic party should be ashamed of themselves.
You mean to tell me there was no one better to run against Scott then a washed out Republican Governor who decided to switch sides when it was politically expedient? Are you so desperate to win that you would play to the populist agenda rather than introduce us to someone new? Is there no one out there that could have at least hidden behind the concept of fresh ideas?
NOPE! Instead, the political washing machine will keep cycling through the same candidates, each of them taking turns washing each others back and protecting each others power.
As for Jeff? I didn’t really get a sense of urgency over the upcoming election but you never know what is going to happen in politics. Heck, maybe they’ll even try to bring Jeb back to save us all? Whats that? He’s in line for the next Presidential nomination. God (If he exists) save us all.
– The end –
But what about the weed question?
I didn’t figure you’d let me get away with that, especially since I teased it in the beginning, so here you go.
After dinner I asked Jeff what, if any, plans they had for the increase in tax revenue that might come from the legalization of medical Marijuana in the state of Florida. His answer was unequivocally “No comment” (albeit while laughing) which I kind of expected. I am not sure that the initiative will even pass, although it does seem to be well supported.
What did you think the acting CFO would say to a question like this? Especially on an issue that his party is running directly against. I guess we’ll just have to wait and see what happens in November.