AG Candidates Clash on Medical Marijuana and Same-Sex Marriage
Around the State
Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi and three of her opponents spoke to the media in Tallahassee on Wednesday and exchanged fire on a host of fronts. Bondi was joined by two Democratic challengers -- former Florida Department of Children and Families Secretary George Sheldon and Florida House Democratic Leader Perry Thurston, D-Fort Lauderdale -- and Libertarian Bill Wohlsifer.
With no major Democratic challengers yet filing against Florida’s CFO Jeff Atwater and Florida Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam, the attorney general’s race is increasingly appearing to be the most competitive statewide race in Florida besides the gubernatorial contest.
An impassioned Bondi also reviewed her efforts in taking on synthetic drug abuse, including using emergency orders to fight against these drugs. “They’re killing our kids,” Bondi said repeatedly about synthetic drugs.
Bondi also reviewed other issues her office has tackled, including organized retail theft, business-to-business scams, human trafficking, the national mortgage settlement, working with Florida’s military community against fraud, the Gulf oil spill, Medicaid fraud and efforts to get the truth about the Dozier abuses.
Turning to her legislative priorities for 2014, Bondi said she would continue to focus on cracking down on human trafficking, adding more consumer protection when businesses and government bodies face data breaches, and taking on synthetic drugs.
Asked about a proposed medical marijuana state constitutional amendment which will be on the November ballot, Bondi said she would not continue to fight against it. The Florida Supreme Court ruled on Monday the ballot amendment passed muster despite Bondi’s opposition.
“My official duty has ended,” Bondi said. “I accept the court’s ruling." Despite that, Bondi said she would vote against the proposed amendment and would “encourage everyone to read the entire ballot amendment” but said she would not campaign against it.
Bondi also said she would defend the state's traditional marriage amendment, approved by 62 percent of Florida voters back in 2008, and weighed in on her post.
“People call it a tremendous amount of power,” Bondi said about her office. “It’s not. It’s a tremendous amount of responsibility.”
Sheldon pointed to his experience in state and federal politics. A former aide to Reubin Askew, Sheldon served in the Florida House and as deputy attorney general under Bob Butterworth. When Butterworth served as DCF secretary, Sheldon was his deputy and eventually became secretary. Sheldon also served as an assistant secretary of Health and Human Services (HHS) in the Obama administration. Sheldon was the Democratic nominee to be education secretary, losing to then-Republican Charlie Crist in 2000, and ran for the Democratic nomination to be attorney general in 2002, placing third behind Buddy Dyer and Scott Maddox.
Looking back at his time in the Obama administration, and insisting he had had nothing to do with the Obamacare website roll-out, Sheldon said there were lessons he drew. Bashing the “toxic nature of what’s happening in Washington,” Sheldon said there was “innovation” outside the Beltway as the federal and state governments worked together.
Turning his focus to Florida, Sheldon criticized the Republicans for not taking federal monies for high-speed rail and Medicaid expansion. “Ideology was overtaking too much of our political thinking today,” Sheldon said, bashing “a small wing of the party [that] believes government, by it’s nature is bad” running the GOP. Sheldon hit Bondi for fighting against Obamacare and for opposing medical marjiuna use in Florida.
“My view of an attorney general is an attorney general who is above the partisan fray,” Sheldon said, insisting the post should be a “moral pillar” to help all Floridians.
Asked about what Bondi has done well, Sheldon praised her record on cracking down on pill mills. “Prescription drugs is the new epidemic in Florida,” he said. He also praised Bondi for working to cut down on human trafficking. But Sheldon bashed her record on white-collar crime and civil rights.
Sheldon said he had a “very good relationship” with Crist, his old rival who appointed him to be DCF secretary, and Obama. “I will not run away from either one of them,” Sheldon said, insisting both leaders were dealt a bad hand with the start of the recession.
Asked by Sunshine State News if he would defend the state constitutional amendment passed by voters at the ballot box in 2008, Sheldon said he would not. “As attorney general I would not defend the statute,” Sheldon said. “I oppose the ban on gay marriages and gay adoptions.
“The time has come to stop discriminating against people based on their sexual orientation,” Sheldon added.
Sheldon also said “pubic policy should be listening to the scientists” on medical marijuana and global warming instead of “old ideology.” He noted he thought having a medical marijuana state constitutional amendment on the ballot would increase voter turnout in November.
“It is an issue and attempts to withhold it from the ballot” were meant to “mislead voters,” Sheldon insisted though he called for “oversight” to prevent abuse.
Calling it the “ultimate act of police power,” Sheldon said he supported the death penalty but added it had to handled with caution. “I will be careful to assure no innocent man will be put to death in Florida,” Sheldon said, though he said he would carry out sentences.
There were some sparks between the candidates. Sheldon called out Bondi for taking $25,000 from Donald Trump despite an investigation of an online university owned by the celebrity billionaire. The Republican ripped into Sheldon, noting she had one complaint and that Trump was investigated in New York and not Florida. “It’s untrue, it’s offensive and it’s despicable,” Bondi fired back. “He needs to know his facts before he says it.”
While he mostly ignored Sheldon, Thurston joined in with his primary rival and also took off the gloves and ripped into Bondi, saying she was failing at being the “people’s attorney.”
“Florida needs someone who will fight for the people of Florida," Thurston said, though he praised Bondi for her efforts on human trafficking and pill mills.
Thurston hit Bondi for standing against President Barack Obama’s federal health-care law and on medical marijuana, noting she lost both cases. “I don’t think you’re the people’s lawyer if you’re fighting for a partisan political agenda,” Thurston said.
Reviewing Bondi’s record, Thurston hit her for opposing restoring voting rights to released felons and for getting in the way of voters’ rights.
Thurston also ripped into Bondi for postponing a death sentence due to a fundraiser. “As your attorney general, I can assure you ... it’s wholly unacceptable and indefensible to cancel an execution due to a political fundraiser,” Thurston said. “It’s incredible one would even think that; the governor and the attorney general have to own that.”
“Florida deserves an attorney general who will fight for the people of the state of Florida,” Thurston said.
Saying he thought Bondi and other Republicans opposed the proposed medical marijuana amendment partially for political reasons, Thurston said he would vote for it.
Wohlsifer, an attorney from Tallahassee, said he was a longtime supporter of medical marijuana use and same-sex marriage. “I would strongly support same-sex marriage,” he said despite the state constitutional amendment approved by Florida voters in 2008. “Public opinion has shifted greatly since then.”
The Libertarian, who entered the race in December, insisted he “brings something different to this race” due to his ideology. “I’m running on principle,” Wohlsifer said.
While he did not approve of Bondi’s stances on marriage or marijuana, Wohlsifer said he approved of Bondi’s record on Dozier and consumer protection.
Reach Kevin Derby at email@example.com.