The three Republicans in the race for attorney general have spent more time talking tough than addressing serious issues. Former prosecutor Pam Bondi of Tampa, former state agency head Holly Benson of Pensacola and Lt. Gov. Jeff Kottkamp of Cape Coral are all aggressive attorneys who pledge to crack down on crime, fraud and illegal immigration. But the attorney general has a broader responsibility to keep government open and honest — and to avoid overtly political fights. The office needs a fresh start and a fresh face, and Bondi offers more potential than two insiders who have failed to distinguish themselves in Tallahassee.
Bondi, 44, is a Tampa native and first-time candidate who has spent her 18-year legal career as a prosecutor with the Hillsborough County State Attorney's Office. She has tried every major type of crime, while also doubling as the public spokeswoman for one of the busiest prosecuting agencies in Florida.
While comfortable offering sound bites, Bondi is not the most polished of the three in more detailed discussions. She can struggle to offer clear views on statewide policy. But the candidates differ little on the issues. All pledge to continue Attorney General Bill McCollum's ill-advised lawsuit against health care reform. All oppose automatic restoration of civil rights to felons who have served their sentences. And none seem overly pressed to clean up state government. That silence is deafening for a party embroiled in ethics and spending scandals. Perhaps because Bondi is the only candidate without Tallahassee experience, she has the broadest view of the job.
Benson, 39, showed little independence as a state House member from Pensacola between 2000 and 2007. She then headed two state agencies for Gov. Charlie Crist, the Department of Business and Professional Regulation and the Agency for Health Care Administration. But Benson is a former municipal bond lawyer who has never tried a case in court. She dismisses the need to speed up the process so ex-felons can obtain licenses to practice high-paying trades, and she has the wrong priorities: job development and cutting government regulation. She is running to be chief legal officer of Florida, not Chamber of Commerce president.
Kottkamp, 49, has been one of Florida's weakest lieutenant governors and is a case study for eliminating that nebulous job entirely. The former state legislator has not been as engaged in policy as many of his predecessors, spent relatively little time in Tallahassee and has been less than a full partner in the Crist administration. He used state planes for personal trips, ultimately reimbursing taxpayers more than $10,000. He had a state trooper drive him to Atlanta to attend a Kenny Loggins concert as part of a birthday party for a Tallahassee lobbyist. This sense of entitlement is what turns voters off.
Bondi needs to get up to speed on larger policy matters that the attorney general must deal with as a member of the Cabinet. But she distinguishes herself by acknowledging that the attorney general has a responsibility to set an example for public officials. She believes government should be transparent. Bondi's strong ties to local, state and federal law enforcement could maximize the attorney general's resources in an era where government must do more with less. In the Republican primary for attorney general, the Times recommends Pam Bondi.