The state attorney general has the power to improve and protect the lives of Floridians. Attorney General Pam Bondi has had some significant successes, but she too often has failed to act to protect individual liberties and takes a narrow view of the job. George Sheldon, a former state legislator and deputy attorney general, has broad experience and a greater appreciation for the office's potential to be an advocate for Floridians facing everyday challenges.
Sheldon, 67, has an accomplished history of public service. Before a recent stint in Washington as an assistant secretary for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, he was secretary of the state Department of Children and Family Services under Gov. Charlie Crist. Before that, he was a longtime top aide to Bob Butterworth when Butterworth was attorney general and later head of DCF.
Their tenure at DCF included significant improvements, from increasing foster child adoption rates and reducing food stamp errors to being more open with the public. They also paved the way for an end to the hypocritical state law that banned gay residents from adopting children but allowed them to be foster parents. The agency chose not to appeal a judge's decision striking down the adoption ban.
As attorney general, Sheldon would step up consumer protection efforts, including weighing in on utility rate filings before the Public Service Commission. He would increase efforts to root out Medicaid fraud and white-collar crime, including targeting unscrupulous mortgage lenders. As a member of the Cabinet, he would seek to streamline the restoration of civil rights for most felons who have served their sentences.
Sheldon also would drop Bondi's defense of the state's same-sex marriage ban, which state and federal judges have found violates the U.S. Constitution. Even after the U.S. Supreme Court on Monday let gay marriage go forward in five other states by refusing to hear appeals, Bondi refused to stop defending Florida's ban.
Bondi, 48, deserves credit for urging Republican legislative leaders to address prescription drug abuse and human trafficking, two efforts that have made Florida safer. But too often she has pursued partisan fights and appeared to act as the governor's lawyer rather than as an independent attorney general. Just this week, she broadly defended Gov. Rick Scott as Sheldon raised legitimate questions about the governor's disclosure of his assets. Sheldon filed a lawsuit Wednesday asking a judge to force Scott to disclose details.
Bondi carried forward a lawsuit filed by her predecessor against the Affordable Care Act to the U.S. Supreme Court, which largely upheld the law she continues to label a "tremendous disaster." When Scott recklessly sought to purge voter rolls over election supervisors' objections in 2012, she defended the effort even as the Justice Department moved to block it. Along with the governor, she voted as a member of the Cabinet to roll back efforts to streamline the restoration of civil rights for some nonviolent felons.
Unlike her predecessors, Bondi has been largely quiet as electric utilities win rate increases before the Public Service Commission. She has not been a particularly strong advocate for open government. Her penchant for fighting the federal government at every turn — such as intervening in a Chesapeake Bay lawsuit over the federal Clean Water Act — suggests she is too often more interested in ideological battles than in protecting the interests of Floridians.
Sheldon would be a more independent attorney general who would focus more closely on Florida's concerns. In the Nov. 4 election for Florida attorney general, the Tampa Bay Times recommends George Sheldon.