The field in the Democratic primary for attorney general is the strongest of any race in this election. Two state senators, Dave Aronberg of Greenacres and Dan Gelber of Miami Beach, have distinguished themselves as legislators. Either would be a welcome antiseptic to the overtly political shop run by incumbent Republican Bill McCollum. But Gelber's breadth of legal experience and superior leadership skills make him the better choice for the state's top legal job.
Gelber, 49, has been a legislative standout for 10 years as a gifted orator, leader and thorn in Republicans' side. Even before reaching Tallahassee, the Miami Beach native already had an impressive career of public service.
As an assistant U.S. attorney in Miami for nearly a decade, Gelber prosecuted all types of crimes. Then he moved to Washington to work as chief counsel and staff director to the U.S. Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations, where he investigated terrorist activities domestically and abroad. He returned to Florida to practice law in 1996 and has obtained the highest rating as a lawyer from Martindale-Hubbell. He won the first of four elections to the Florida House in 2000 and moved to the Senate in 2008.
During Gelber's eight years in the House, Democrats were overwhelmingly outnumbered. But Gelber rose to minority leader and helped Democrats influence legislation through convincing arguments and procedural moves. Gelber's intellect and political skills commanded bipartisan respect in Tallahassee. Republicans often cringed if he rose in opposition, but they counted him as an ally on criminal justice matters. He is a dogged defender of open government laws, an essential trait for attorney general.
Gelber's first ambition in this election was for the U.S. Senate. But when Gov. Charlie Crist jumped into that race and McCollum ran for governor instead of re-election, Gelber moved to the attorney general's race. His talents are well suited to the post.
On policy, Gelber and Aronberg are strikingly similar. Both pledge to return the Attorney General's Office to the nonpartisan reputation it had under Democrat Bob Butterworth, for whom Aronberg once worked. Both would drop the state's politically motivated lawsuit against the federal health care reform and its support of the Arizona immigration law. Both talk of tackling mortgage and Medicaid fraud, public corruption and prescription drug abuse.
Aronberg, 39, also has established himself as a thoughtful and effective lawmaker, mastering an awkward district that spans the width of the southern half of the state. He never shied from complex topics, from consumer protection to the plight of released sexual offenders who have trouble returning to society because of residency requirements. But Aronberg's legal resume is far less extensive than Gelber's and he has shown poor judgment in the campaign by repeatedly trying to link Gelber to the BP oil spill because of Gelber's former employment at a firm hired by BP.
Democrats are fortunate to have two well qualified candidates in this race, but Gelber has the edge in legal experience and political savvy in Tallahassee. In the Democratic primary for attorney general, the Times recommends Dan Gelber.