The two faces of Pam Bondi

Attorney General Pam Bondi has shown stark differences in office from her days as a state prosecutor.
Attorney General Pam Bondi has shown stark differences in office from her days as a state prosecutor.
Published Sept. 11, 2013

You are the attorney general of Florida, tough on bad guys, so tough you are defending a new law to speed up death sentences here in Florida. Because why should loved ones of the murdered suffer one more day than necessary, right?

Unless, as it turns out, the next execution interferes with your planned re-election campaign kickoff party back in hometown Tampa. Then what's another 21 days on earth for the killer of two women who has been sentenced to die?

Attorney General Pam Bondi is now dealing with the fallout from that very bad decision, one that does not exactly rebut cynical assumptions in some corners that Republicans care about campaign cash above all else. Or that those get-tough laws can be more about posturing than actually fixing where the justice system is broken.

And as has happened often since she was elected back in 2010, I find myself struck by the differences between Pam Bondi, the Florida attorney general often in conservative lockstep with our disaster of a governor, and Pam Bondi From Here.

The one from here is hard not to like. When she was a state prosecutor, families of victims in her cases gravitated to her. She hugged them and she held their hands and she put bad guys away. She has two on death row, Adam Davis and William Kenneth Taylor.

This is a small detail but, to me, telling: She loves dogs, purebred or pound, any dog. (And yes, there was the controversy over the Katrina dog.) She has taken her dog advocacy to the capital, so that at least has not changed.

But something else happened on the way to Tallahassee. Maybe those tea party politics were always in her heart, but she has become a stranger to some as attorney general, pledging on the campaign trail to oppose gay marriage, supporting an NRA challenge to a federal law restricting 18-, 19- and 20-year-olds from buying handguns and, of course, fighting Obamacare.

The Pam Bondi From Here would have taken her lunch hour to drive a poor person to the doctor and paid for the prescriptions. Only slight exaggeration there.

That hometown Bondi may be why someone like Mayor Bob Buckhorn, a Democrat, would be one of those hosting her now-infamous campaign kickoff, why some locals whose politics are not her own support her still.

Permit me a side note here on that execution delay disaster regarding the aforementioned Gov. Rick Scott: So, someone in the Cabinet asks to have a death sentence rescheduled — and we're talking the state-sanctioned killing of an actual human being here, the most serious thing government can do — and the governor doesn't even ask if it's for life-saving surgery versus, say, your annual dental cleaning?

Because I'm not sure which is worse — saying you didn't know the reason for the delay request if you actually did, or not thinking it important enough to even inquire. Because isn't this a frivolous delay similar to those the new get-tough-on-executions law is supposed to curb?

Bondi at least had the grace to say this after the news broke: "The planned execution of Marshall Lee Gore had already been stayed twice by the courts, and we absolutely should not have requested that the date of the execution be moved." As in, this was a very bad idea. That part at least sounds like the Bondi we knew.