MIAMI — Fort Lauderdale attorney Jim Lewis cut ties to the Republican party Tuesday and announced he would run as an independent in Florida's attorney general race, mirroring a similar backlash toward party affiliations across the state and country.
Lewis, 52, a trial lawyer and former assistant state attorney from Orlando, said he saw the switch as his best chance for winning a race in which he is among the lesser known candidates.
"The extreme right isn't always right, and the far left leaves common sense left out," he said in a statement released by his campaign office in Fort Lauderdale. "We have serious issues to face here in Florida and we don't have time for the same old party politics."
He said that while he holds many conservative views, he opposes the death penalty and supports abortion rights. He is also adamantly opposed to offshore oil drilling and long prison sentences for drug offenses.
"I won't run to the right to try to get the base of my party to support me," he said. ''A lot of folks came up to me at debates and said 'we like you, but we can't vote for you in the primary because we're Democrats.' ''
In one of his better known cases, Lewis, a trial lawyer with more than 30 years experience, represented Lionel Tate, the 12-year-old found guilty of body-slamming his six-year old playmate to death in 1999. Prosecutors offered Tate a plea bargain that included three years of juvenile detention, but Lewis chose to take the case to trial, arguing that professional wrestling had influenced the boy. The case drew headlines nationwide.
As a candidate, Lewis touts his outsider credentials, noting he had never been elected to public office. However, he has run several times for various offices, including mayor of Ft. Lauderdale and as Broward County commissioner.
As Florida's chief legal officer, the attorney general oversees 475 lawyers and is expected to protect consumers from fraud and discrimination, represent the state in legal matters including death penalty appeals, and set policy as a Cabinet member on everything from open space to state investments. Lewis faces an uphill political fight against a slate of candidates who have strong name recognition.
Among them are Democrats Dave Aronberg and Dan Gelber, both of whom are state lawmakers with extensive political experience. And three Republicans: Former state Rep. Holly Benson, former Hillsborough County prosecutor Pam Bondi or Lt. Gov. Jeff Kottkamp.