The two men competing to become Florida’s next Chief Financial Officer are miles apart – politically and geographically.
Republican Jimmy Patronis, the incumbent, proudly describes his fourth-generation roots in the Panhandle. He was born and raised in Panama City, and he graduated from Florida State University.
More than 500 miles away in Broward County, Democrat Jeremy Ring is the challenger. A tech entrepreneur and investor who hails from the Northeast, he came to Florida in 2001 and lives in Parkland. He graduated from Syracuse University.
One commonality: The two served at about the same time in the Florida Legislature: Patronis represented Northwest Florida in the Florida House from 2006 to 2014; Ring represented a Broward County district in the Florida Senate from 2006 to 2016.
Now the two are vying to win a broad and important job.
The Cabinet-level position of Chief Financial Officer covers a four-year term and includes the role of the State Fire Marshal.
The job also involves a broad array of financial management duties. Those include everything from monitoring billions in state investments and auditing and accounting functions, to licensing and overseeing insurance agents, funeral homes and cemeteries, according to state information. Other duties include insurance fraud investigations and workers’ compensation coverage issues.
The race became nasty this fall when both candidates began bashing each other through the creation of separate websites that are downright chilling. Their regular campaign websites highlight their bios, their families and their top issues. Their other websites trumpet their political attacks in graphic and creepy ways.
Ring is trying to become the first Democrat to become Chief Financial Officer since Alex Sink was elected in 2006 to a four-year term.
Whether the Cabinet post turns from red to blue is the big question on Nov. 6, when voters go to the polls in the general election.
Republican Jimmy Patronis: Originally appointed, not elected
Just so voters know: Incumbent Patronis was not elected to the Chief Financial Officer post. He was appointed in July 2017 by Gov. Rick Scott, to replace CFO Jeff Atwater, who left early in his second term and went on to become a vice president at Florida Atlantic University.
The appointment gave Patronis the advantage of a year’s incumbency going into midterm elections.
Money has been an advantage too.
Patronis’s individual campaign account has pulled in $2.3-million in cash contributions as of Oct. 28, with no loans, according to campaign finance records. That compares to Ring’s $534,354 in cash contributions, and $192,000 in loans.
In addition, Patronis’s separate political action committee, Treasure Florida, has taken in $4.5-million in cash, as of Oct. 28. That compares to Ring’s separate committee, Florida Action Fund, which has taken in about $842,000.
In state financial filings that disclose candidates’ net worth, Patronis’s net worth was listed at about $6.5-million as of Dec. 31, 2017. That figure includes assets of property, a home, a condo and hefty stock shares and partnership interests with his family.
Patronis is a partner in his family’s historic seafood restaurant, Capt. Anderson’s, in Panama City Beach, according to his campaign website.
Patronis highlights his public service career on his website, stating that in addition to his service in the state House, he was appointed to the Florida Elections Commission, the Florida Public Service Commission and Florida’s Constitution Revision Commission.
Whether Patronis can be elected – rather than appointed – will be the question.
Democrat Jeremy Ring: Gets important endorsements but trails in campaign cash
Ring has won endorsements from the state’s major newspapers.
Said the Miami Herald: “Jeremy Ring, a former state senator, is a 21st-century visionary. Most important for Floridians, he wants to bring his ideas to the office of the state’s Chief Financial Officer.
“Given Ring’s record of effectiveness, Floridians can vote with confidence for him to be the state’s next CFO. His opponent, incumbent Jimmy Patronis, does not bring the depth of experience for this particular office…”
The Tampa Bay Times – the state’s largest newspaper – wrote about Ring: “He knows what it takes to run multi-billion-dollar enterprises. He also was an operating partner at Sterling Partners, a $5 billion private equity firm. And he founded the Florida Institute of Commercialization after concluding universities are great at innovating but often have challenges in capitalizing their ideas and scaling them up. As a state senator, he led the effort to create the State Office of Technology and worked with Republicans to reform local pension systems.
“Ring, 48, has a proven track record of success in the worlds of technology and business. He is a technocrat in a position that requires one…
“Patronis, 46, has not served with distinction since being appointed by Gov. Rick Scott last year after Jeff Atwater resigned, and the Panama City Beach restaurant owner lacks Ring’s experience and credentials. “
On his campaign website, Ring tells the story of opening “the first East Coast office of the internet company Yahoo out of his apartment in New York City.” It was 1996, and he was 25.
“Over the course of the next five years, he worked with his friends to build Yahoo from a small start-up into a multi-billion-dollar venture,” the campaign website states.
In state financial disclosure filings, Ring reported a net worth of $5.1-million, which includes assets of cash, securities and real estate, among other assets. He listed his income as dividend and interest income, consulting income and other income. In campaign finance documents, he lists his occupation as “investor.”
Patronis’s campaign has criticized Ring’s business ventures.
In an August news release, the Patronis campaign characterized Ring as having a “record of business failures.”
“Ring claims to be an expert businessman because of his five years at Yahoo, but his Florida track record says something different,” the release said. “The same year he left Yahoo, Jeremy took over a digital company that he publicly labeled a ‘failure’ just a few years later. He then opened two other companies that flopped and promptly closed within two or three years after he opened them.
“Jeremy Ring’s flops and failures with Florida businesses make him the wrong choice for Florida’s finances.”
Other controversies and issues
Meanwhile, in other controversies, Ring called the dueling attack websites during the campaign “a total joke.”
“It was never in our thought process to think of a thing like that…It was really stupid,” Ring said in a recent interview with Florida Phoenix.
At the same time, “We countered because we had to,” Ring said about putting up an attack website.
Ring criticized the Patronis campaign for taking cash from insurance companies. He also called out Patronis for his comments at an Executive Clemency Board meeting in July.
As a member of the clemency board, Patronis questioned a black man, Erwin Jones, who had served time for a felony conviction and was requesting to get back his civil rights, including being able to vote.
Patronis asked the man about how many children he had, and “how many different mothers to those children?’”
The Florida Phoenix, which broke the news about what Patronis said, wrote that “The arbitrary public questioning about Jones’ family status is an example, advocates say, of the deeply flawed process felons face when seeking official clemency to restore their civil rights in Florida.”
Ring told the Phoenix that “There’s so much wrong with A, what he said, and B, the whole process (of clemency). Ring said that if he is elected, he would make sure that Constitutional Amendment 4, if approved Nov. 6, would get enacted, even if the Legislature or the next governor tries to block implementation of the amendment.
Amendment 4 would automatically restore voting rights for people who have a felony conviction and have completed parole or probation and paid restitution – meaning they wouldn’t have to go through the clemency process. Some offenders would be excluded.
If he wins, Ring said his first priority likely would involve efforts to repair damage and handle insurance claims stemming from Hurricane Michael.
Ring’s other priorities include protecting Florida’s retirement system for seniors, keeping insurance rates stable and “growing the innovation economy,” including startups and other entrepreneurial efforts, according to Ring’s campaign website.
A campaign spokeswoman for Patronis said he would be unable to be interviewed; he has been in the Panhandle helping with storm damage and various issues related to Hurricane Michael, she said.
But the Patronis campaign provided answers to questions from Florida Phoenix. The campaign also posted the questions and answers Oct. 24, on Patronis’s Twitter site.
The first question from the Phoenix was: “The CFO has a large number of divisions, offices and duties. What will be your top three priorities if you are elected and how would you tackle those priorities?”
Here is Patronis’s response to that question:
Advocating for First Responders as State Fire Marshal
I have the honor and privilege of serving as Florida’s State Fire Marshal where I am able to advocate for firefighters and other first responders to ensure their voices are heard. This year, I worked to secure mental health benefits for first responders struggling with PTSD. As of October 1, these brave men and women have access to mental health benefits they deserve. In addition to fighting for expanded mental health benefits, I’ve been traveling the state to deliver anti-cancer kits to help decontaminate gear after a fire. Cancer rates in firefighters are alarmingly higher than the average person. Moving forward, I will keep fighting for our first responders and secure cancer coverage for our firefighters in Florida.
Protecting Florida Consumers and Their Money
I believe we must protect consumers. As of July, there is no longer a fee imposed on Floridians to freeze your credit, which was a top priority of mine during the 2018 Legislative Session. I am also vigilant about warning Floridians of the numerous scams that emerge in our state, whether it is alerting seniors to health care scams or informing the public about charitable donation fraud.
One area of concern for me is the incredibly rapid growth of cryptocurrencies in Florida and unfortunately, there’s the potential for Florida citizens, especially seniors, to be defrauded by illegitimate crypto schemes. That’s why I’ve called for greater transparency for cryptocurrency in Florida.
Another way we protect your money is ensuring that Florida’s pension fund and investments are not only fiscally stable but show significant growth. Florida’s pension fund showed a positive gain for the ninth straight year in a row. Approximately $2 out of every $3 paid to a retiree today comes from investment gains, not from taxpayers.
Rooting Out Insurance Fraud and Waste
I am proud of the work that’s been done since I’ve taken office. My Division of Consumer Services helps Floridians with your insurance questions. We’ve returned more than $42 million to Floridians’ pockets that they otherwise would not have received from their insurance companies. We’ve arrested 885 people for insurance fraud since I took office, resulting in 767 successful prosecutions.
As we saw with Hurricane Michael, we aren’t done with hurricane season. Anyone who has any insurance questions should call my insurance helpline to make sure your finances are protected. Last year, I created the Disaster Fraud Action Strike Team to put boots on the ground to help attack insurance fraud head-on. These teams are on the ground now in the Panhandle to not only find and stop post-storm fraud but also to educate residents to know how to spot scams and crooked contractors and know where to go to report it.