Two Democrats, both with legislative experience, are vying for the opportunity to face Attorney General Pam Bondi in the November election. Both George Sheldon and state Rep. Perry Thurston recognize the contribution a more progressive attorney general can have on improving Floridians' lives. Both deliver the same basic message: Bondi has politicized the office. But Sheldon's experience as an assistant attorney general, work in other positions in Tallahassee and Washington and more specific plans for the office make him the better candidate.
Sheldon most recently made headlines as secretary of the Florida Department of Children and Services under then-Gov. Charlie Crist, where he succeeded his longtime associate, former Attorney General Bob Butterworth. Their tenure marked a relatively calm and productive period for the complicated $3 billion agency. Foster child adoption rates went up, food stamp error rates went down, and the agency was far more open in dealing with the public. And when a judge struck down the Florida law that banned gay residents from adopting children, the agency opted not to pursue an appeal and paved the way for the end to a hypocritical policy that allowed gays to serve as foster parents but not adopt.
Sheldon, 67, says such perspective is what is now missing in the attorney general's office: what is best for Floridians, not a political agenda. If elected, he plans to restore the aggressive consumer efforts Butterworth was known for during his four terms, including challenging the utilities' rate filings before the Public Service Commission. He would retreat from Bondi's spree of out-of-state legal entanglements, such as intervening in a Chesapeake Bay lawsuit over the federal Clean Water Act. His experience at DCF, and most recently as one of eight assistant secretaries at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, make him well suited for the agency's administrative role.
Sheldon, a graduate of Plant City High School, received both his undergraduate and law school degrees from Florida State University. His first foray into politics came in 1974 when he won a Tampa-based state House seat he held for eight years. He lost a 1982 Tampa Bay race for Congress to then-newcomer Mike Bilirakis and has run unsuccessfully for education commissioner and attorney general.
It is troubling that Sheldon told the Florida Bar he should be considered a nonresident with regard to his law license but maintained Florida residency while in Washington by keeping his homestead exemption and voter registration in this state. Sheldon said he followed the Bar's rules and legal advice that define residency for licensing purposes.
Thurston, 53, is a Broward County native and a graduate of Morehouse College in Atlanta and the University of Miami law school. He served as an assistant public defender for four years before going into private practice, specializing in criminal defense and public finance work. He is the state House minority leader, where he maximized Democrats' ability to check the power of the Republican majority. But he lacks Sheldon's broader experience.
In the Democratic primary for attorney general in the Aug. 26 primary, the Tampa Bay Times recommends George Sheldon.