With the nation in a tizzy about Trump and the state obsessed with Tallahassee sex scandals and a governor’s race, how does a former state senator grab some attention in a race for chief financial officer?
If you’re South Florida Democrat Jeremy Ring, you write a book about your career as one of the founding employees of Yahoo, the search engine company that almost bought both Google and Facebook for peanuts, then found itself awash in the behemoth’s wake.
Ring’s book, We Were Yahoo!, recounts his five years there starting in 1996 as the company’s first sales chief, and the aftermath.
Yahoo’s downfall, Ring told a Tampa crowd today, happened because his successors at the company didn’t understand changing technology, including a CEO who couldn’t handle his own emails and had to have an assistant print them out.
Though he talked mostly about the book, Ring said that kind of thing won’t happen in Florida if he gets elected CFO.
Ring, 47,has promised in his campaign to “bring the soul of Silicon Valley to Florida,” and told the crowd he wants to foster the kind of entrepreneurship that made Yahoo – briefly – great.
“If there’s one thing I want this office to do, it’s not to worry about recruiting an Amazon.com fulfillment center,” he said. “I want this office to help build the next Amazon.com from Florida.”
The CFO race is important to the future of the state Democratic party.
They currently hold only one of the state’s six offices statewide offices, Bill Nelson’s Senate seat. If Ring won, he’d be the first Democrat to win any statewide race for a Florida office since Alex Sink became CFO in 2006.
Nonetheless, Ring acknowledged in an interview, “Right now we’re the only ones paying attention to the CFO race, and on the day before the election, we’ll still be the only ones.”
The election, Ring said, will be about “Trump or anti-Trump … The top of the ticket won’t even be on the ticket – it’s Donald Trump.”
The CFO’s main duties are to handle the state’s checkbook and serve as trustee of the state retirement funds, but as a Cabinet office the post shares many executive powers with the governor and Cabinet – plus, it can serve as a stepping stone.
Ring said the No. 1 priority is protection of the solvency of the retirement fund, but that the CFO can also “leverage access to capital to create innovation funds in the state, to create infrastructure funds.”
All three Cabinet offices – attorney general, CFO and agriculture commissioner – will be on the 2018 ballot along with Nelson’s seat and he governor’s race.
Ring believes the Tampa Bay area will be crucial in the race, in part because it’s the home turf of a likely Republican candidate, state Sen. Tom Lee, R-Thonotosassa.
It’s the state’s largest media market, which provides a hometown candidate an advantage.
Lee has said he’ll run but hasn’t filed or formally announced. That’s coming around the end of the legislative session in March, he said recently.
Ring, from Parkland, also represents a major media market, while the current CFO, Jimmy Patronis, already filed for the race, is from Panama City.
With Lee in mind, Ring’s making Tampa a focus of his campaign – his appearance was one of a dozen or more here since he began his campaign last May.
Patronis, a restauranteur, was appointed to the post by Scott in July, and Scott is strongly backing him, including fundraising.
Ring says he’s by far the most qualified, and because of the amount of money the CFO oversees, “Qualifications do matter.”
“Tom’s background is a homebuilder, Jimmy has run a successful family business,” he said at a previous appearance in Tampa. “I helped build Yahoo.”
Ring has one advantage over the Republicans: no current primary opponent. Democratic insiders say they don’t know of another serious candidate in the wings.
Democratic political operative Ben Pollara of Miami, asked which Republican he’d rather see Ring run against, said, “I don’t really know. What I want is for the Republican primary to be as ugly as possible.”
In the state Senate, Ring at times voted with Republicans and against Democratic stances, especially on education issues including vouchers.
“The pro-public education groups have had a problem with him,” said Susan Smith, chairman of the party’s progressive caucus. “But I’m not sure it will matter in that race – if he were running for governor it would.”
Pollara said Ring is “somewhat inoculated” against ideological opposition because, “It’s a low-information race, there’s no primary, and CFO is a position that lends itself to a bit of conservatism.”
Ring’s Yahoo career made him wealthy, with a net worth of $12.5 million as of 2015, his last year in the Senate. The figure is probably higher now.
He declined to say exactly how much money his Yahoo career made him.
“I wasn’t a founding shareholder. If I was, I’d be running for governor and buying the election for $1 billion,” he said.
He said he’s willing to use some of his own money for the campaign, but probably will wait until late in the race to do so.
So far, he’s raised $217,213 and loaned himself $100,000, but he may have to spend heavily to keep up with the Republicans.
Patronis has $238,690 in campaign money plus $1.3 million in an independent committee. Lee has about $2.3 million in a political committee and about $36,000 in a campaign fund.