Monday, August 18, 2014

Meet the Candidates: Democratic Primary for State Attorney General

Unlike the races covered in my previous posts about this month’s nonpartisan elections, only registered Democrats can vote in the Attorney General primary. In November, the winner will face incumbent Pam Bondi (R) and Libertarian Party of Florida candidate Bill Wohlsifer.

Through August 8, Bondi raised $2.8 million, nearly five times the amount raised together by Democratic Party challengers George Sheldon ($347,106) and Perry Thurston ($222,887), according to the Florida Elections Commission. And Bondi faces no primary challenger. Wohlsifer has raised just $27 thousand.

Which candidate has the better chance of beating Bondi? The most recent polling I could find (Public Policy Polling, 6/10/14) says it’s a close call:
Attorney General Pam Bondi holds small leads for reelection over her potential Democratic opponents- she’s up 38/35 on George Sheldon and 40/33 on Perry Thurston. The high level of undecideds is reflective of the amount of attention most voters pay to down ballot offices. 42% have no opinion about Bondi’s job performance as Attorney General, with those who do have one evenly split at 29% approval and 29% disapproval.
With that said, let’s look at the candidates.


George Sheldon


George Sheldon
George Sheldon is an attorney, legislator and public servant. He received both his B.A. (1969) and J.D. (1978) from Florida State University.
His website reveals a history of service and commitment to children and families:
  • Legislative Aide to Florida Senator Reubin Askew (D) - 1969–1970.
    • Askew served as Florida’s Governor from 1971–1979. According to Wikipedia, “Askew is widely thought to have been one of the state’s best governors. He led on tax reform, civil rights, and financial transparency for public officials, maintaining an outstanding reputation for personal integrity.”
  • Assistant to the Deputy Secretary, Florida Department of Health and Rehabilitative Services - 1971–1972
  • Executive Director, Hillsborough Association for Retarded Citizens - 1973–1975
  • State Representative, District 69 representing Tampa - 1974–1982
  • Private law practice, lobbying and consulting - 1979–1999
    • Partner - Sheldon, Daly and McGowan, Tampa
    • Of Counsel – Levin, Freedman, Hirsch & Levinson in Tampa and Tallahassee
    • Sheldon & Cusick Associates, Consulting and Lobbying
  • Deputy Attorney General for Central Florida - 1999–2002
  • Private law practice, Stiles, Taylor, Grace - 2002–2003
  • Associate Dean for Students and Alumni Affairs, St. Thomas University Law School, Miami Gardens, FL - 2003–2009
  • Florida Department of Children and Families - 2007–2010
    • Assistant Secretary for Operations - 2007–2009
    • Secretary - 2008–2010; appointed by Governor Charlie Crist
  • Acting Assistant Secretary, Agency for Children and Families, US Department of Health and Human Services, Washington, D.C. - 2011–2013
Regarding his time in Washington, Sheldon’s website says:
At the Administration for Children and Families (ACF), George championed the cause of early childhood development among low-income families, worked to expand the use of trauma informed care and practices in the foster care system, pushed for better prescribing and monitoring practices within the foster care system for the use of psychotropic medications, and led HHS’s efforts in the fight against human trafficking, focusing on the enhancement of survivor services.
As Secretary of the Florida Department of Children and Families, he co-chaired the State’s Task Force on Human Trafficking along with the head of the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, and previously co-chaired the Federal Victim Services Strategic Planning Committee. In addition, the campaign website says:
George oversaw the State’s child welfare programs, fostering a 36 percent reduction in children in out-of-home care, and integrating mental health, substance abuse and domestic violence services throughout the Department. While at DCF, the agency achieved the highest rate of adoptions among foster children during each of the three years of his tenure. Moreover, as DCF Secretary he led the effort to reduce Florida’s food stamp error rate from among the highest in the nation to the lowest for three consecutive years. Even Governor Scott’s transition team referred to the Department of Children and Families as the best run State agency at the time.
Earlier this month, supporters of Sheldon’s challenger Perry Thurston filed a lawsuit “that sought to eliminate Sheldon from the … ballot [due to] a technicality involving exactly where he lived,” according to the Miami Herald. A Leon county circuit judge ruled Friday in Sheldon’s favor. An attorney for the plaintiffs said he will likely appeal. Stay tuned.
Several other items of note came to light in my web research:
  • On August 11, Sheldon issued a press release urging the Obama Administration to halt seismic testing off the Atlantic Coast.
  • On July 22, he called on the Public Service Commission to reject power companies’ requests to reduce energy conservation.
  • On July 1, he condemned Attorney General Bondi’s position in the Hobby Lobby case. Bondi had said, “Family-owned corporations such as Hobby Lobby have the right to run their businesses on religious principles, and the Affordable Care Act regulations violated their rights.”
  • Sheldon supports gay marriage. On May 30, he called Bondi’s motion to dismiss a legal challenge to Florida’s gay marriage ban “indefensible,” saying it “flies in the face of recent court decisions.”
  • Sheldon supports the proposed Amendment 2 to Florida’s Constitution regarding medical marijuana. On January 27, he said, “By legalizing a medicinal cannabis alternative, we provide … patients with an option that is less harmful, less expensive, and less subject to widespread abuse. We need to quit devoting government resources to meddling in the lives of people who are suffering and focus our resources on making life better and more productive for the citizens of Florida.”

Endorsements


Perry Thurston

Perry Thurston
Perry Thurston is an attorney, legislator and community activist. He received his B.A. in Finance from Morehouse College (1982) and his J.D. from the University of Miami School of Law (1987).

Thurston, being younger, has fewer years of experience on his professional resume:
  • Banking industry - 1982–1984
  • Assistant Public Defender, Broward County Public Defender’s Office - 1988–1992
  • Private law practice - 1992-present
  • State Representative, District 93 representing Fort Lauderdale and Central Broward County - 2006–2012
    • Democratic Ranking Member, Finance and Tax Council and Criminal & Civil Justice Council - 2008–2010
    • Democratic Ranking Member for Reapportionment - 2010–2012
  • State Representatives, District 94 representing parts of Broward County - 2012–2014
    • House Minority Leader - 2012–2014. In that capacity he played a critical role in the legislative controvery over Medicaid expansion. When the legislative session ended without a decision, Thurston and other Democrats unsuccessfully urged Governor Scott to call a special session to resolve the issue.
Regarding his time in Tallahassee, Thurston’s website says he:
… was a leading proponent for the restoration of civil rights legislation. He has held several workshops assisting ex-felons navigate through the restoration process. He has lead voters’ registration initiatives and conducted economic empowerment workshops for local businesses. He has also spearheaded the resurgence of youth baseball within Broward County’s African American community.
His website highlights his position on issues of importance to Democrats, including:
Education - Educating our children to compete in the diverse global economy will create a bridge for millions to enter the middle class. 
Jobs and the economy - We are committed to preserving and expanding the middle class by creating well-paying jobs, by strengthening demand for all that Florida has to offer, and by creating an educated, skilled, and productive workforce. 
Health Care - Democrats believe affordable, high quality health care is part of the American promise, that Americans should have the security that comes with good health care, and that no one should go broke because they get sick. 
Immigration - Florida Democrats support comprehensive immigration reform to secure our economic future and allow Dreamers and immigrants to step out of the shadows. 
Women and Families - Women’s rights are civil rights, and women’s issues are economic issues. Democrats are fighting for equal pay, an end to gender discrimination, and an economy that rewards the hard work of all Floridians. 
Voting Rights - Democrats are working to reform the broken elections system, and will never stop fighting the voter suppression tactics that deny honest citizens the right to vote. 
Civil Rights - Democrats are committed to standing up for those who continue to be denied the most basic civil rights, including marriage. For too many Floridians, the ideals outlined in the Constitution are still far from a reality. 
Accountability in Government - Democrats believe that changing politics in Tallahassee means ensuring that government is ethical, transparent, and responsive to the needs of the people.
In addition to Thurston’s involvement in the challenge to Sheldon’s residency, these other items of note came to light in my web research:
  • Thurston, too, has had problems with his residency.
  • Thurston, as State Representative and House Minority Leader, voted during the Legislature’s special session against SB 2-A “Establishing the Congressional Districts of the State,saying he would like to see the court draw its own map or give the task to an independent body.
  • He was one of 109 Representatives who voted for HR 3A - “Support for the State of Israel” and one of 105 who voted for HR 5A - “Human Trafficking/Abduction of Nigerian Girls.”
  • Thurston, like Sheldon, criticized Pam Bondi for her lawsuit seeking to overturn Florida’s same-sex marriage ban.
  • His position on Amendment 2 Medical Marijuana is more nuanced than Sheldon’s: “I think the public deserves an opportunity to vote on the issue of legalizing marijuana for medical use. . I happen to think the public would be much better served by changing the law to allow law enforcement to concentrate on violent criminals [i.e. rather than amending the Constitution?] … The prescription of medical cannabis should be a matter decided between doctors and patients.”
  • Thurton’s campaign created a website last month (Bondisbungles.com) highlighting what his campaign manager said are Pam Bondi’s top six bungles.
  • His voting record in the 2014 Florida Legislature includes a vote FOR in-state tuition for undocument immigrants; AGAINST expansion of school vouchers; AGAINST authorizing certain individuals to carry concealed firearms on school property; AGAINST authorizing local school boards to choose school textbooks; AGAINST a bill that prohibits insurance increasese for gun owners.

Endorsements

  • The Sun Sentinel
    “because he could bring passion — something both candidates rarely show — to a needed fight against one of Bondi’s worst actions,” i.e. her support for Rick Scott’s reversal of Charlie Crist’s Cabinet’s 2007 vote to restore the rights of nonviolent felons upon completion of their sentences.
  • Rick Kriseman, Mayor of St. Petersburg
  • Kendrick Meek, former U.S. Representative and nominee for U.S. Senate in 2010

Discussion

Both candidates are well-qualified, though each would bring different experiences to the Cabinet and the responsibilities of Attorney General. While both have experience as attorneys in private practice, Sheldon has broader legislative and administrative experience, whereas Thurston’s experience is limited to the Florida House.

The polls give Sheldon a slight edge over Thurston, but not enough to base a decision on.

Neither candidate has taken shots at the other from what I could find, other than Thurston’s hypocritical challenge to Sheldon’s residency.

This is a really tough choice. Upon reflection, because of his breadth of experience, his interest in children and families, and the fact that he received many more endorsements than Thurston did, I will vote for George Sheldon for Attorney General.

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