Governor Hopefuls on Opposite Sides of Education Fight

McCollum supported Senate Bill 6, while Sink opposed the controversial reform plan.

By Ron Word
Capitol Correspondent

Published: Sunday, April 25, 2010 at 6:01 a.m.

TALLAHASSEE - Next January, Alex Sink or Bill McCollum likely will be taking the oath of office as Florida's 45th governor, and recent polls show it could be a close race, with the Democrat gaining ground on the Republican.


The two front-runners in each of their parties bring impressive credentials to the race and were on opposite sides of the controversial and contentious fight over Senate Bill 6, the educational reform plan vetoed by Gov. Charlie Crist.


Sink, 61, the state's chief financial officer, was president of Bank of America Florida and is the only woman and only Democrat on the Florida Cabinet. She is married to Bill McBride, who challenged Jeb Bush in the 2002 governor's race and lost.


McCollum, 65, the state's attorney general, is also on the Cabinet and is a Republican. He served in Congress for eight years before returning to Florida to take on Bill Nelson in a losing effort for the U.S. Senate.

Four years ago, he won the race to become the state's chief law enforcement officer, following in the footsteps of Crist, who served as attorney general before winning the governor's race.


The latest Quinnipiac University poll on the governor's race, conducted April 8-13, has Sink just four percentage points behind McCollum, 36 percent to 40 percent. The poll has a margin of error of plus or minus 2.8 percentage points.

Since August, Sink had been far behind in the polls but has started narrowing the gap.


"Campaigns are all about momentum, and clearly right now it's with us," Sink said.

Calls and e-mails to the McCollum campaign were not returned.


One of the areas in which McCollum and Sink have differing views is the controversial teacher performance bill, Senate Bill 6, which the governor vetoed.


McCollum is closely aligned with the conservative wing of the Republican Party and supported the bill, which would have tied teacher pay increases to student test performance, eliminated tenure and made it easier to fire teachers and take away their teaching credentials.


"I am deeply disappointed Gov. Crist succumbed to the pressure from Democrat Alex Sink and the unions by putting bureaucracy above the best interests of our children and teachers," McCollum said in a statement.


"The veto of Senate Bill 6 is a significant setback to our strides in education reform, which will limit Florida's ability to compete on the world stage," he said.


The attorney general, who recently sued the federal government over President Barack Obama's health care plan, said if he is elected governor, he will continue to fight to reform Florida's education system.


Prior to Crist's veto, Sink was circulating a petition asking the governor to veto the bill, and her campaign said she was still opposed to the legislation.


"This fight is personal for me," Sink wrote. "My two children graduated from Florida public schools, and as a proud PTA mom, I know this bill, Senate Bill 6, is bad for teachers, bad for our kids and bad for our state's future.


"I think testing is an important part of the education process and that we should bring together our school districts, teachers, parents and superintendents to determine the best way to reward teachers for student performance," Sink said.

"McCollum is making it clear that he does not share Floridians' priorities - which is why it's so important to send a strong signal about who is standing up for Florida's interests and who is in it for their own interests."


Another well-known candidate for governor is state Sen. Paula Dockery, a Lakeland Republican, cattle rancher and businesswoman.


She was also opposed to Senate Bill 6, calling it a "Tallahassee power grab" in an article published in the Lakeland Ledger. "As I have found so often in public life, the devil is in the details. And on close examination, SB6 violated my core conservative principles - less government, more personal responsibility and lower taxes."


She said the bill blamed teachers, denigrated the teaching profession and was more "Tallahassee politics as usual."

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