Floridians need to have confidence that the state attorney general is a straight shooter, an independent sort who impartially wields the office's considerable authority. But partisan politics has too often overridden those ideals under incumbent Attorney General Bill McCollum, who lost the Republican primary for governor. The next attorney general needs to restore the office's nonpartisan tradition to ensure the office's power is used for the common good.
The clear choice in this election is state Sen. Dan Gelber, a Miami Beach Democrat who has demonstrated his commitment to law and order, open government and fairness. He commands bipartisan respect in the Legislature, and he has impeccable legal credentials as a former federal prosecutor, former U.S. Senate investigator and a highly rated attorney.
Gelber, 49, pledges to aggressively tackle mortgage and Medicaid fraud. He plans to aggressively go after prescription drug abuse, an epidemic that now kills an average of seven Floridians a day. He promises to ensure the state is fully compensated for the BP oil spill and that consumers are protected. He also would be a stronger advocate than the incumbent for open government.
Equally important, Gelber would abandon McCollum's ill-advised lawsuit against federal health care reform. He would prudently refocus the office on its role in helping uninsured Floridians take advantage of the federal law's benefits. He has also pledged to focus on prosecuting public corruption in Florida, which has not been a particular priority under McCollum.
Gelber's wit, intelligence and oratory skills gave him significant influence in the Legislature, even as a member of the Legislature's minority party. For example, he helped reduce the FCAT's influence in school grades. But he also has a reputation of working with Republicans on criminal justice issues. His legislative experience and legal skills would make him a strong member of the state Cabinet, which oversees environmental policies, the state's investments and clemency for convicted felons.
Pam Bondi, 44, is a well-known Tampa native who has spent 18 years as a prosecutor in the Hillsborough County State Attorney's Office. She has run an aggressive campaign and won a three-way Republican primary against more seasoned politicians. Like Gelber, she pledges to fight prescription drug abuse and Medicaid fraud. But her campaign has tilted far to the right as she seeks support from the tea party movement. Bondi would continue the lawsuit against health care reform and supports an Arizona-style immigration law, which Gelber opposes. While she has some promising ideas about combating gang violence and other crime, she is not as well-versed on state issues as Gelber.
Another former prosecutor, Jim Lewis, is also on the ballot. But the 51-year-old independent candidate has failed to launch a statewide campaign of any note.
For Florida attorney general, the Times recommends Dan Gelber.