TALLAHASSEE — Lt. Gov. Jeff Kottkamp joined the field of candidates for attorney general Monday, becoming the first statewide figure seeking to keep the key office in Republican hands for four more years.
Kottkamp said he would emphasize the fight against crime in his campaign for the post.
"Serving as attorney general would certainly be a culmination of a lot of experiences I've had in my life," Kottkamp told reporters Monday. "It's something I feel very passionate about. But first and foremost, as I said, I'm going to focus on being lieutenant governor."
Kottkamp, 48, a personal injury lawyer and former state House member from Fort Myers, was picked by Charlie Crist to be his running mate in 2006, largely because of his conservative political credentials.
For example, as a legislator, Kottkamp supported state intervention to prolong the life of Terri Schiavo while Crist, who was attorney general at the time, opposed it.
At the same time, Kottkamp has been dogged for months by questions about spending more than $700,000 on travel for him and his staff, including frequent flights from his home in North Fort Myers to his office in Tallahassee.
He faces an inquiry by the Commission on Ethics over a complaint filed in February by Clearwater citizen activist David Plyer, but Kottkamp said Monday that he expected to be cleared of any wrongdoing.
"I feel confident that's going come out just fine," he said.
In an ironic bit of stagecraft, Kottkamp declared his political plans at an event celebrating flight, and the 40th anniversary of Neil Armstrong's moon walk. Kottkamp chairs a statewide board to promote aerospace.
Even fellow Republicans have publicly questioned Kottkamp's generous use of state resources during a grinding recession, and a leading GOP senator, J.D. Alexander, questioned the need for the lieutenant governor to have a state trooper at his side as a 24-hour security escort.
Kottkamp flew on a Florida Highway Patrol plane from Fort Myers to Tallahassee in November to attend a Florida-Florida State football game, and in May his escort drove him to Atlanta to a Kenny Loggins concert as part of a surprise party for a lobbyist. He has defended his travel and has said he's a victim of "gotcha" journalism.
Kottkamp has a net worth of $2 million and earned $128,000 last year as lieutenant governor, a job with no specific duties other than to stand in when the governor is incapacitated.
His candidacy has been expected for months. He confirmed his plans to run for the state's No. 1 legal post a few days after former House Speaker Marco Rubio dismissed speculation that he would drop his long-shot U.S. Senate bid against Crist to run for attorney general instead.
Republican Jim Lewis, a Fort Lauderdale criminal defense lawyer and former prosecutor, is also running for attorney general. He characterized Kottkamp as a career politician.
"We don't need just another politician looking to hole up somewhere," Lewis said.
Neither of the two Democratic candidates for attorney general, state Sens. Dave Aronberg and Dan Gelber, both of South Florida, criticized Kottkamp over his state-funded travel.
But Gelber noted that he went to Key West last weekend to attend a meeting of gay political activists, while Aronberg went on a taxpayer-paid trip to Atlanta to a meeting of the Republican-oriented American Legislative Exchange Council.
"I'm not taking any vote for granted, and groups that are interested in Florida's future should be listened to," Gelber said.
Aronberg said he attended the Atlanta conference because "to be the best legislator I can be, I like to hear from all sides." He also said the gay caucus event conflicted with family vacation plans.