The Herald recommends: For attorney general, Democratic primary

08/09/2014 7:00 PM

09/17/2014 3:26 PM

Democrats George Sheldon and Perry Thurston, who are competing for the party’s nomination for attorney general, share similar views on a host of issues. Mainly, they agree that Republican Pam Bondi is doing a poor job of representing average Floridians as the state’s chief law-enforcement officer and should be replaced.

Both Democrats see the powerful office, with its 500 attorneys, as an advocate for consumers and a force for protecting the public from widespread scams, corporate wrongdoing and the degradation of Florida’s environment, as well as enforcing the law.

In separate interviews with the Editorial Board, both said the office traditionally functioned that way under both Democrats and Republicans, until Ms. Bondi took it in a more political direction. Both cited her aggressive efforts to support the gay-marriage ban as a waste of state resources designed principally to curry political favor with conservatives.

Mr. Sheldon noted that even Republicans Charlie Crist and Bill McCollum, when they held the office, had intervened in utility-rate cases at the state level on behalf of consumers. That kind of pro-consumer activity ceased under Ms. Bondi, he lamented.

Mr. Sheldon, 67, began his public-service career as an aide to state senator and future governor Reubin Askew and later served as a legislator from the Tampa area, deputy attorney general under Bob Butterworth and director of the Department of Children & Families under Gov. Crist.

He proved to be an effective leader, helping children and families in trouble and improving transparency by opening records to public scrutiny.

From 2011 to 2013, Mr. Sheldon was assistant secretary for the federal Administration for Children and Families in the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, administering a budget of $50 billion.

Unfortunately, that created a residency issue. Mr. Thurston says it violates the requirement that candidates for this position live in Florida for the preceding seven years. Mr. Sheldon replies that he kept his homestead and voting residence in the state and is confident he meets the residency qualification.

Mr. Thurston, 53, is an attorney in private practice and the outgoing Democratic minority leader in the Florida House of Representatives, where he has served four terms representing Broward County. “Democrats elected me to lead because I know the issues and I’m not afraid to speak out,” he told the Editorial Board.

Mr. Thurston was particularly critical of Ms. Bondi’s failure to investigate conflict-of-interest issues in Tallahassee and the way the state’s $77-billion budget is spent.

He said the attorney general should have led the fight against redistricting instead of leaving it to the League of Women Voters and other civic groups to successfully seek redress from the courts.

The redistricting lawsuit uncovered possible fraud among Republican insiders, he went on, but Ms. Bondi has ignored the issue rather than investigate fellow Republicans. Mr. Thurston said that as attorney general he would fight to repeal “Stand Your Ground” laws and return, instead, to the original Castle Doctrine.

In a state capital top-heavy with Republicans, either Mr. Thurston or Mr. Sheldon would serve as a good political watchdog to keep the other side honest. Our recommendation goes to Mr. Sheldon, based on the depth and breadth of his experience as a lawmaker, manager of a major state agency and a federal administrator on issues involving children and families — as well as his familiarity with the work of the Office of Attorney General because of his years with the agency.

For the Democratic nomination for attorney general of Florida, The Herald recommends GEORGE SHELDON.

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