Much of the attention of Florida Democrats has been rightfully focused on ousting Governor Rick Scott next year. However, little if any time has been spent in discussing the statewide cabinet races, a place where Democrats must take advantage of shifting attitudes and demographics in the state. Democrats have lots 10 of the last 11 cabinet races with the lone victory coming in 2006 when Alex Sink defeated Senate President Tom Lee who had become unpopular among Tallahassee lobbyists and Republican donors/activists throughout the state. This record is worse than any other Democratic Party east of the Mississippi over the same time period (since 2000). While defeating Jeff Atwater (who boasts support of many nominal Democrats in southeast Florida) and Adam Putnam, the former number three Republican in the House leadership appears a clean fit for Agriculture Commissioner. While Democrats should by no means concede these two races, the focus should be on Attorney General Pam Bondi.
Consider that many members of the Florida Bar consider Pam Bondi to be one of the worst Attorney Generals in the country. Bondi has been the hyper-partisan ideological law enforcement office Florida Republicans have long craved. This is no surprise considering Bondi’s prior claim to fame was a conservative hack on FOX News’ Hannity show, which is one hour of pure right wing drivel. Bondi won a competitive three way Republican Primary in 2010 and then benefited from a conservative tide and political attacks bordering on slander towards Dan Gelber, the single state legislator who was most qualified to be Attorney General in the State of Florida in order to win her office. Bondi and her surrogates waged a campaign of fear and demagoguery about “Obamacare,” feminism and “radical environmentalism.”
In office, Bondi has proven to be the partisan Florida Republicans long craved. Her agenda as Attorney General has not been to protect Florida’s consumers or working class but to protect corporations, insurance companies, polluters, high profile law firms, mortgage companies and other entities pushing a conservative viewpoint. Unlike Bob Butterworth, who approached law enforcement in a non-partisan way and even appointed a Republican Solicitor General, most of Bondi’s appointments have been strictly ideological and partisan. Charlie Crist’s tenure as Attorney General was a disappointment to partisan Republicans as Crist continued many of Butterworth’s policies and maintained much of his staff. Bill McCollum moved the office in a partisan direction but still did not satisfy the crowd that congregates around right-wing, Koch brothers and DeVos family funded think tanks and Christian right advocates.
Unfortunately to this point the only Democrat to step forward in the Attorney General’s race is House Democratic Leader Perry Thurston a competent lawyer and liberal advocate but someone who has proven in his history to have a hard time fundraising and has lost the most competitive elections he has run in locally. Thurston would be a good Attorney General but will have a hard time beating Bondi. From what I have learned, many people including former Attorney General Butterworth have given thought to the type of Democrat that needs to be recruited to have a strong chance of winning. Any Democrats that ran for this position either with the support General Butterworth or prominent people associated with him would have instant credibility among many donors and primary voters.
The problem is some prominent consultants and staff both at the state level and local Broward County level have pushed Thurston into this race and with his strong progressive record he very well may be favored to win a primary depending on the strength of his opposition. These consultants/staff have created enemies locally and statewide that could lead to increased negativity within the party at a time we need to be united. While Thurston’s nomination very well could undermine the chances of defeating Bondi in November, it is possible the weakness that he has had in fundraising may be offset by prominent lawyers in the state rallying to his cause were he the nominee. That having been said, many of those lawyers do not view Thurston as anywhere near the ideal candidate and chances are someone prominent or experienced in the legal profession or consumer advocacy will end up in the race.
Whether Perry Thurston or some other Democrat receives the nomination taking down Pam Bondi needs to be a statewide priority for all progressives and those who care about protecting consumers and non-partisan law enforcement.