Incumbent Republican Jimmy Patronis wins Chief Financial Officer race

Jimmy Patronis
Jimmy Patronis

Incumbent Jimmy Patronis, a Republican with Panhandle roots, won the post of Florida’s Chief Financial Officer Tuesday, even as he faced controversy over accepting campaign contributions from insurance companies that allegedly scammed consumers, and made questionable remarks to a black man at an Executive Clemency Board meeting this summer.

Patronis, originally appointed to the Cabinet-level CFO job in July 2017, defeated Democratic challenger Jeremy Ring, a South Florida tech entrepreneur and investor who was trying to turn the CFO post from red to blue. The state’s major newspapers endorsed Ring — but voters said otherwise.

Overall, 52.05 percent of voters preferred Patronis, compared to 47.95 percent for Ring, according to the latest, unofficial results from the Florida Division of Elections.

The campaign was marked by nastiness, as both sides bashed each other through the creation of separate websites that were downright chilling. Their regular campaign websites highlighted their bios, their families and their top issues. Their other websites trumpeted their political attacks in graphic and creepy ways.

The two men competing to become Florida’s next Chief Financial Officer were miles apart – politically and geographically.

Patronis proudly described his fourth-generation roots in the Panhandle. He was born and raised in Panama City, and he graduated from Florida State University. Patronis is a partner in his family’s historic seafood restaurant, Capt. Anderson’s, in Panama City Beach.

More than 500 miles away in Broward County, Democrat Jeremy Ring hailed from the Northeast, and came to Florida in 2001. He lives in Parkland. Ring 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.

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.

Patronis’s priorities included fighting for first responders and securing cancer coverage for firefighters in Florida, because cancer rates for firefighters are alarmingly higher than for the average person.

Patronis also listed the priorities of protecting consumers and rooting out insurance fraud and waste.

The Florida Phoenix found that Patronis’s political action committee took at least $60,000 in contributions from two South Florida insurance companies that a federal judge shut down for allegedly scamming people by collecting money and not giving promised health insurance.

In response, a spokesman for the Patronis campaign said the PAC would donate $65,000 to the United Way of Northwest Florida “so it can benefit Hurricane Michael relief efforts in the Panhandle.”

In the waning days of the campaign, Patronis was slapped with a federal lawsuit, according to Politico. He was sued by a former employee claiming she was fired for not attending a political fundraiser for the Patronis campaign, Politico wrote.

In addition, as a member of the executive 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.”

Diane Rado
Diane Rado has covered state and local government and public schools in six states over some 30 years, focusing on policy and investigative stories as well as legislative and political reporting. She spent most of her career at the St. Petersburg (Tampa Bay) Times and the Chicago Tribune. She has a master’s degree in journalism from Northwestern University and did a fellowship in education reform at the University of Michigan in 1999-2000. She is married to a journalist and has three adult children.

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