For most marathon runners, qualifying to run the Boston Marathon is the holy grail of the sport.
Loranne Ausley, 46, did that four years ago, when she finished the 26.2-mile Austin Marathon in 3 hours and 46 minutes and finished the Boston Marathon the same year. All the while, Ausley was raising a three-year-old son and serving in the state legislature.
If you thought that was tough, consider this: “I do triathlons now and running is a small part of what I do,” says Ausley, the Democrat vying to be elected the state's chief financial officer. Ausley is running against three other candidates, including state Sen. Jeff Atwater, R-North Palm Beach.
Indeed, Ausley completed the Ironman Florida triathlon in 2007 in just under 12 hours and 30 minutes, finishing 38th out of 105 in her age division. The Ironman triathlon is a grueling event that includes a marathon run, a 2.4-mile swim and a 112-mile bike ride. “The old ladies are pretty competitive,” she chuckles.
The campaign trail isn't far from the running and biking trails. On Sept. 19, Ausley completed a triathlon in Orlando in the midst of her campaign for CFO. “I did well. I placed in my age group,” Ausley says in a rapid-fire staccato voice. “A couple weeks before I came in second in the masters division.”
You get the idea: Ausley's a tough competitor and that carries over into politics. “I've put that same fighting spirit toward my legislative work,” she says.
Her biggest accomplishment as an eight-year state legislator covering parts of Tallahassee from 2000 to 2008 was her work on children's issues. “It was somewhat frustrating being a member of the minority party,” she concedes, though she says she wasn't confrontational. “Anybody you talk to will say I was collegial.”
But that tone may change if she's elected state CFO. “If you're the check on the legislature, it's important to take them on,” says Ausley. “The core of this is holding the legislature accountable.”
Ausley says she's hit a nerve with an appeal to counter what she considers to be the Republican-dominated state legislature's spending excesses. Being a Democrat in a year when the national party is suffering because of its big-spending programs isn't a liability, she says. “This race is about Florida,” Ausley says. “Washington has nothing to do with where we are as a state.”
Because she's cast herself as a foil to state Republican domination, Ausley has attracted some attention from unexpected quarters. “I got a call from a North Florida tea partier in Jackson County,” she says, though she's quick to note that she's not claiming that mantle.
Still, Ausley comes from Southern Democrat roots with a claim to fiscal conservatism. “I think Loranne is where the Blue Dog Democrats are,” says former Florida Gov. Buddy MacKay, for whom Ausley worked as chief of staff when he was lieutenant governor. “She's a centrist.”
Ausley's pedigree is Southern Democrat with roots in Tallahassee. “She was exposed to my friends back when she was growing up,” says her father, Tallahassee attorney Duby Ausley. These included MacKay, former Gov. and U.S. Senator Bob Graham and former Florida State University President Sandy D'Alemberte. “I listened to the dinner conversations. I grew up with Bob Graham's daughters in high school,” she recalls. “My grandfather practiced law with [former Florida Gov.] LeRoy Collins.”
Like her father, Ausley obtained her law degree. But the elder Ausley says he never expected his daughter to go into politics. “Loranne is very independent, like all my children,” he says. “She calls all the shots herself, some of which I agree with and others I don't.”
Still, Duby Ausley is firmly in his daughter's camp. “I'm actively trying to help her right now,” he says. “It's tough from a money standpoint because the Republicans have so much money, but the pollsters tell us she can win this thing.”
Indeed, a recent poll of potential voters has Atwater ahead by just a few points, although the Republican, the past state Senate president, does have a sizeable advantage over Ausley in name recognition and fundraising.
Loranne Ausley says the negative perceptions of the Obama presidency and federal legislature don't carry weight in Florida's races. “The Republicans have dominated [Florida] for the last 12 years,” she says. “People are frustrated and angry.”
She places herself in the conservative Democrat camp that's currently at odds with the national leadership. “North Florida is a place where your word is your bond,” she says. “We're pretty conservative when it comes to how we spend our resources.”
Because she represented Tallahassee in the House, an area dominated by state employees, Ausley says she's delved into the state budgets, from criminal justice to economic development and health care. “I know every area of the state budget,” she says, adding that she also knows how it's crafted “behind closed doors.”
'No junk time'
People who have worked with Ausley say she's driven and goal-oriented.
“She doesn't need supervision,” says MacKay. “You tell her what the big picture is and you don't need to follow up with her.”
Although she's detailed, Ausley doesn't like to get bogged down in minutiae. “She delegates extremely well,” MacKay says. “She's impatient with the bureaucratic style and she doesn't hesitate to make that known.”
State Sen. Nan Rich, D-Sunrise, worked with Ausley on the creation of the Children and Youth Cabinet and other initiatives on behalf of children. “She's always prepared,” Rich says. “She's not a strident person at all. She works well with people on both sides of the aisle.”
While Rich says current CFO and gubernatorial candidate Alex Sink have similar leadership styles, Rich says “Loranne has greater experience in the legislative process and I think that's very important too.” That's especially true because she'll be overseeing state budgets. “You have to know how to work with the legislature for that experience,” adds Rich.
Running marathons and competing in triathlons has forced Ausley to be more disciplined with her time. “It's something I can do before eight o'clock in the morning and it makes me go to bed on time,” she says. “I can't sacrifice sleep.”
If a campaign event runs late into the evening, she'll forgo the workout rather than lose sleep because she can't afford to catch a cold or worse.
Ausley says every minute counts, from campaigning nonstop to reading a book with her now seven-year-old son instead of kicking back at home. “There's no junk time,” she says.
But the exercise time is when Ausley does some of her best work. “It's the time when I think,” she says. “It's real important.”
Ausley often trains with a group people from different backgrounds, from CEOs to janitors. She says it keeps her grounded. “For me, it's a great equalizer,” she says.