by Glenn Tschimpke
Democrats Buddy Dyer and George Sheldon and Republicans Locke Burt and Tom Warner kept the hype grounded but the rhetoric thick as each took a five-minute turn at the podium before the First Coast Tiger Bay Club last week. All are candidates for Florida Attorney General Bob Butterworth’s seat, who will be term-limited out of office this fall.
Butterworth has been Florida’s attorney general since 1986 so the four candidates took more time explaining what the position entails rather than hammering home their campaign issues.
“Sometimes the AG’s race is a little lower profile than it ought to be,” said Dyer, a senator from Orlando. “Because we are about to elect the person who is going to be the lawyer for the people for the State of Florida, I think it’s the second most important position in Florida. I can see that the governor’s position is just a little more important, but not much, quite honestly.”
Florida’s attorney general is the state’s chief legal officer and member of the Florida Cabinet. With a team of about 500 lawyers, the office provides legal defense any time the State is sued. It also provides criminal law enforcement.
Sheldon has been Butterworth’s deputy for the past three years. Among other legal issues, the attorney general is responsible for investigating fraud and other consumer affairs, such as tobacco companies, Firestone and Jacksonville’s current problems with AT&T Broadband. Sheldon explained the possible negative effects an investigation can have on a business.
“I’ve really seen how Bob has used this office as a force for good as far as really dealing with consumer issues,” said Sheldon. “I think a lot of people really don’t understand the Attorney General’s office. I think Senator Dyer is right. There’s a substantial amount of power in the office. My view is any time you have power to investigate and you have police power of the State, that power needs to be exercised with a substantial amount of caution.
“Having opened investigations, I know very well that if we open one, the very fact that we opened an investigation can have a negative impact on that company. So we better be right and we better be certain.”
Warner is currently the state’s solicitor general. While their speeches were short by design, some candidates alluded to issues they felt will be important in the years to come. Warner touched on a few.
“The attorney general is the lawyer of the State,” he said. “The attorney general defends the constitutionality of our law. I think the biggest part of the job is to be champion of the public interest. He is the lawyer for the people, whether it’s looking into nursing home abuse or Medicaid fraud or whether the telephone companies are charging too much money.
“So I tell people when they go to the polls in September and November to elect a new attorney general, ‘You’re not just electing another politician into office,” he continued. “What you the people of Florida are doing is selecting who you want to be their lawyer.”
Dyer was more direct, promising to employ strict sentencing guidelines for certain types of crimes.
“One thing that I want to do is make sure I am the person responsible for making sure that our senior citizens and our children are protected,” he added. “I believe that if you attack a senior citizen or if you attack a child, you should spend every day of your sentence in jail and you should not be eligible in any way for any form of early release.”
Burt, a state senator from Volusia County, played on his banking background.
“Some of you probably don’t know that the job of will be expanded next year to include a significant financial element,” he said. “The attorney general is going to become one of three members of the State Board of Administration, which is responsible for a $100 billion pension plan, $15 billion in state bonds and $5 billion in hurricane funds which insures every one of your homes. I am the only one in the race who has a masters degree in corporate finance.”
Two other candidates, Florida Education Commissioner Charlie Crist and Tallahassee Mayor Scott Maddox, did not attend Friday’s luncheon.