ST. PETERSBURG — Republican Pam Bondi said she entered the attorney general's race because she questioned her opponents' legal expertise.
Bondi, 44, a former Hillsborough County prosecutor, faces a three-way fight for the Republican nomination for attorney general.
In an hourlong St. Petersburg Times editorial board candidate interview, she said that her GOP rivals, former state agency head Holly Benson and Lt. Gov. Jeff Kottkamp, lack courtroom experience, and that Florida needs a credible chief legal officer, not another career politician.
When asked to explain why she supported bringing Arizona's immigration law to Florida, Bondi began by denouncing racial profiling, saying that as a career prosecutor she has seen firsthand "the devastating damage" it can cause. So she would want to review any proposed law, and have rigorous police training to ensure it was carried out fairly.
"You can't just pull a car over because you think they are Mexicans. … There has to be reasonable suspicion more than you have dark skin."
Asked to describe what might constitute reasonable suspicion, she said officers might find clues in where someone was coming from or what they said.
Then she added: "Often, when they get out of the car and run, if they are illegal, I think that would give you reasonable suspicion right there."
She said she didn't know how the federal Department of Homeland Security's E-Verify system worked. In the GOP gubernatorial primary, Rick Scott and Attorney General Bill McCollum have called for all employers to use the program, which checks the legal status of employees.
In her interview with the Times, Bondi was perhaps at her strongest when she spoke about the state's crowded clemency system. She said that while the process needs to be streamlined, she was not in favor of automatic restoration of rights. She also advocated strongly to restore drug treatment in prisons, saying that in her experience, 80 percent of Florida's crimes are drug related.
Her priorities as attorney general, she said, would be to shut down pill mills, dismantle gangs and curb mortgage and home health care fraud.
But when pressed to defend her views on some other issues, she was short on specifics and seemed at times uninformed.
She said she would vote against two proposed constitutional amendments on the November ballot that would change the way electoral district boundaries are drawn, saying she had heard there could be "unintended consequences" for minority voters.
"I can't tell you what they are, but I have heard from multiple sources that there could be some unintended consequences. … So right now I would vote no on (amendments) 5 and 6," she said. "I was just told that within the last few days."
She said she would continue McCollum's legal challenge to President Barack Obama's health care plan. "They are forcing us to purchase a good simply by being alive, and then penalizing and taxing us if we do not purchase that good," she said.
But she struggled to explain why Medicare is constitutional and the new health care plan is not, confusing for a time Medicare with the low-income program Medicaid. She concluded, "Yes, we all pay a portion toward Medicare, but it is not forcing us to have insurance, and that is the difference in my mind."
Cristina Silva can be reached at email@example.com or (727) 893-8846.