Castor outlines plan for Fla. senate campaign

Making an appearance at Sen. John Kerry’s fundraiser, former USF president Betty Castor spoke briefly about fundraising and strategy for her campaign, and also addressed higher education issue.

Castor, one of the three Democratic candidates competing for Sen. Bob Graham’s seat, mentioned the state’s economy as one of the main issues affecting people in Florida today and said college students are the key to fixing such concerns.

“The issue that I think is most important for Floridians is the economy and, of course, looking at new jobs, new opportunities and new solutions and not just looking at what has happened in the past,” Castor said. “This is a campaign about the future, and that’s why I like to talk with young people. I think a lot of the solutions are on university and college campuses.”

Castor was among the 300 campaign supporters who attended the event at the Grand Ballroom of the Wyndham Westshore Hotel in Tampa on Tuesday afternoon.

Castor has been campaigning since Nov. 3, the day Sen. Graham announced his retirement.

Castor, who served as USF president from 1993 to 1999, said the polls suggest she has a big advantage over the other candidates but emphasized the need to raise funds in order to stay on top.

“We’ve done the polling, and we’re in that period of the campaign where (it) is essential to raise funds,” Castor said. “So I’m spending a lot of my time talking to people individually about my campaign, asking them for their support, organizing fund-raisers here in the Tampa Bay area as well as statewide.”

Castor said because she has run statewide before she has some advantage over the other candidates.

“Today, we are at an advantage because we’ve done a lot of polling,” Castor said. “I’m the only candidate of all of those running who has run and won statewide,” Castor said. “Most of the polls are very consistent, and they show me with a double-digit lead in the primary, and they also indicate that I’m the only Democrat running statewide that can beat any of the Republican (candidates).”

From 1987 to 1983, Castor served as Florida’s commissioner of education. After leaving USF in 1999, Castor was elected as president of the national Board for Professional Teaching Students.

The other two Democratic candidates competing for Sen. Graham’s seat are U.S. Representative Peter Deutsch, from Pembroke Pines, and Alex Penelas, mayor of Miami-Dade County.

Castor plans to make a visit to USF in the next few days. As of Tuesday night, a specific date had not be confirmed.

The former USF president voiced her opposition to the proposed idea of bringing standardized testing as an additional way to measure accountability at universities statewide.

“I think it’s absurd. I’m not in favor of it. I think the idea of doing an standardized test at the college level would be very counterproductive,” Castor added. “I know that there are some members in the State Board of Education that think that there needs to be a new level of accountability. I think there is a lot of accountability right now. All of the information about the university system, the number of graduates, the years to degree, fiscal information is already available publicly. And to (impose) some kind of new testing requirement, I don’t think is helpful at all.”

Castor also spoke about what can be done at Florida’s universities to improve accountability.

“If we want better quality, we ought to pay our faculty more. We ought to put more into research,” Castor said. “We ought to make universities a priority in this state. That’s the way to build a reputation at an institution.”