TALLAHASSEE — Questions about whether George Sheldon's residency status should disqualify him from the attorney general race have exposed a rift in the Florida Democratic Party.
On Friday, the president of the Democratic Black Caucus of Florida, Henry Crespo, said Sheldon should step aside in his Aug. 26 primary race against House Democratic Leader Rep. Perry Thurston of Fort Lauderdale.
"Recent questions about his residency and bar license are overwhelming," Crespo stated in a release. "(Attorney General) Pam Bondi is our target. If we allow the Sheldon campaign to continue, it will become a distraction on winning the attorney general's office, which for African Americans is critical with issues like 'stand your ground,' voting rights and clemency board within the scope of the attorney general's office."
Earlier in the week, Sheldon's Florida Bar license lapsed. To reinstate it, Sheldon signed an exemption that stated he had been a nonresident living in Washington, D.C., from 2011 to October 2013 while working in his $179,000 job at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
The Florida Constitution requires that candidates who run for attorney general live in Florida for the preceding seven years.
Sheldon said Thursday that there's no conflict. He maintained a home in Tallahassee, was registered to vote in Florida and had a Florida's driver's license. He said there's no question he was a Florida resident, but he would get a lawyer's opinion.
On Friday, Democratic attorney Ron Meyer dismissed the issue. "Accepting an appointment to serve our nation in Washington, D.C., did not require George to give up his Florida residency," Meyer stated. "George Sheldon is qualified under Florida law to serve as Attorney General."
Sheldon added: "This is a political issue, not a legal issue. My situation is the same as with members of Congress, members of the military, ambassadors and others who perform service to their country in Washington or overseas, while Florida remains their home," Sheldon said. "Lawton Chiles, for example, served the people of Florida with great distinction in the U.S. Senate from 1971 to 1989, and then returned home and was elected governor in 1990. My circumstances are no different.
Thurston said he wasn't asking Sheldon to step aside and knew nothing of Crespo's statement.