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Attorney general candidate looks to beat out Bondi, make Florida history

Voters could elect state’s first Black man to hold the office

Chloe Herring | 8/7/2014, 9 a.m.
On August 26, as part of Florida’s primary elections, voters will determine which of the two Democratic candidates they prefer ...

On August 26, as part of Florida’s primary elections, voters will determine which of the two Democratic candidates they prefer to run against incumbent state attorney general, Republican Pam Bondi.

The attorney general serves as the head legal advisor to Florida lawmakers and is elected to act in the interest of the public. When Bondi was elected in 2011, she became the first woman to hold the position in the state.

But upcoming elections will decide Bondi’s opposition from the Democratic party.

One candidate, Perry Thurston, is campaigning with hopes of winning against Bondi and making history again as the first Black attorney general in Florida.

He’s one of two candidates vying for voters’ support in this month’s election. Thurston, who is currently a minority leader in the Florida Legislature, is running against fellow Democrat and attorney George Sheldon.

Thurston worked in Broward County as both a public defender and a private attorney before his 2006 election into the Florida House of Representatives. In 2013 he announced his plans to run for attorney general, an opportunity he said trumped the potential idea of moving to the state senate.

“I’m focused on winning,” Thurston said about his campaign for attorney general. “I tend to win so the Senate is not even on my radar.”

Also running in the Democratic primary, Sheldon served in the state’s House of Representatives for nearly a decade before working with the Florida Department of Children and Families and then the U.S. Department of Health. He also served for three years as Central Florida deputy attorney general, a position he said gives his him needed managerial experience.

Sheldon has a history of championing causes for equality. He was an advocate for voting rights with Coretta Scott King and continues to look to politics to create a fair society. One of his priorities is addressing wealth disparity.

“We’ve got to work toward income equality. We can’t just be a country of the haves and have-nots. We’ve got to build a ladder of opportunity into the middle class,” he said.

Thurston said his opponent is a “good public servant” but hinted at weakness in Sheldon’s campaign.

“I think I am more capable of moving Florida forward because I’m involved in the system now,” he said.

If Thurston beats out Sheldon in the Democratic primaries, he will need additional votes in November to bring down Bondi who is seeking a second term. Sheldon made it clear that beyond the primaries Thurston has his support.

“I have a lot of respect for Perry. I haven’t seen anything we disagree on,” said Sheldon. “I think the Rick Scott and Pam Bondi agenda has got to be stopped so it’s not about his personality or mine.”

Thurston has some choice words for Bondi, who he has called out for having a right-wing agenda and failing to serve the public.

His campaign platform includes providing affordable and universal health care, the elimination Florida’s Stand Your Ground law and the restoration of rights to felons. Thurston said Bondi has created a mess, her latest offense being an appeal that barred gay marriages across the state.

“She’s deprived people of the restoration of rights, which is only consistent with her position on marriage equality. She’s not doing it for the people of Florida,” Thurston said. “Floridians wake up every morning wondering if someone is fighting for them. The fight shouldn’t be against the people."

About 1.5 million people in Florida are affected by felony disenfranchisement. In June U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder asked that states work to return voting rights to former felons.

“From my perspective [felon disenfranchisement] is systemic and only done in southern states,” said Thurston, who wants to push for the automatic restoration of rights to former inmates who have served their sentences.

Thurston said his election as attorney general would mean Florida is ready for both a political and historical breakthrough. He hopes to get past the Democratic primaries and make it to the general election November 4.

CORRECTION: An earlier version of the story incorrectly stated Thurston as a minority leader in Congress. Thurston is in fact a minority leader in the House of Representatives, which is a branch in the Florida Legislature.

Take our poll to let us know who has your vote for Florida attorney general HERE.