Miami Herald Recommends: Sheldon, Putnam, Atwater for Florida Cabinet

Democrats have put up an experienced and credible candidate against Republican Attorney General Pam Bondi, though the party hasn’t been much help in raising money. But in the other two Cabinet races, Democrats aren’t even in the game, although they have nominal candidates.

Clearly, it just goes to show that Democrats have a long way to go to make their party competitive at a statewide level.

AGRICULTURE COMMISSIONER

Only 40, Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam is a former five-term member of Congress and is running for, and deserves, a second term in his current position.

Democrat Thad Hamilton, who ran in 2010 as a nonparty candidate, touts his expertise as a retired employee of the U.S. Department of Agriculture with decades of experience in resource conservation. He’s also chair of the Broward Soil and Water Conservation Service.

Mr. Putnam gets our nod on the basis of delivering on promises he made last time around to better serve farmers, consumers and schoolchildren by getting more fresh produce into public schools. He proposed a new law directing revenue from the commercial tax on electricity to support the state’s education infrastructure. His department also directed funds to urban farmers markets to help food-stamp recipients stretch their resources, and helped funnel more food into food banks. For agriculture commissioner, the Miami Herald recommends ADAM PUTNAM.

ATTORNEY GENERAL

Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi has brought in big bucks for the state. She has, at times, taken on and acted in the name of fairness. But not enough, not where it really counts.

Credit Ms. Bondi, a Republican, for Florida getting $334 million as part of a nationwide settlement from mortgage banks that carried out unfair lending practices. She sought to target the funds on housing initiatives, but the Legislature had other ideas. Florida got just over $4 million from a national settlement with three of the country’s largest publishers in a case alleging conspiracy to fix the price of electronic books.

She petitioned the courts to exhume the remains of young boys who were abused at the Dozier School for Boys in Marianna and moved quickly to install another prosecutor in George Zimmerman’s trial for the shooting death of Miami-Dade teen Trayvon Martin. She targeted pill mills.

But as children in the care of the Department of Children & Families were dying left and right at the hands of abusive parents and caregivers, Ms. Bondi, 47, apparently saw little need for her office to investigate. When the U.S. Justice Department found hundreds of Florida’s developmentally challenged children left isolated in nursing homes for the elderly, Ms. Bondi insisted that the state was in compliance with federal law and fought the lawsuit. The ham-handed attempt to purge voters rolls, the flawed Stand Your Ground law, negligent assistant living facilities, officials’ secret out-of-state hunting trips funded by special interests — all left pretty much unexplored by Mr. Bondi’s office. Still, she is expending way too much energy and treasure fighting same-sex marriage, as the courts knock down barriers across the country, including in Florida.

Her Democratic opponent in this race, George Sheldon, faults Ms. Bondi for taking the office of the state’s chief law-enforcement officer in more political direction, something both Democrats and Republicans who have held the office have generally eschewed.

Mr. Sheldon, 67, started his career in public service as a legislative aide to future governor Reubin Askew and later served as a legislator from the Tampa area, deputy attorney general under Bob Butterworth and director of the Department of Children & Families under Gov. Crist, where he implemented transparency and opened records to public scrutiny. From 2011 to 2013, Mr. Sheldon was assistant secretary for the federal Administration for Children and Families in the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, administering a budget of $50 billion.

Mr. Sheldon understands that upholding the law is the first and foremost priority, no matter where an investigation might lead. The Miami Herald recommends GEORGE SHELDON for Florida’s attorney general.

CHIEF FINANCIAL OFFICER

Jeff Atwater is an unusual CFO, pitching his job to voters not just as a financial guru but a crime fighter against those who try to defraud Floridians. Maybe it’s because his father is a former FBI agent. Atwater, 56, a Republican, is being challenged by Broward County businessman William Rankin, a Democrat.

Since taking office in 2011, Mr. Atwater has pushed for a crackdown on Medicare insurance and auto accident fraud and helped shut down several rings across the state.

This success brought down insurance costs for all Floridians, he says. He has also led the popular effort to return unclaimed cash and property to state residents, a figure that has reached $775 million.

Atwater told the Miami Herald Editorial Board he has focused on three areas: smarter investing for the state, helping add $1.2 billion to Florida coffers since he took office; bringing transparency and efficiency to the office and making sure all state spending, along with contracts, are available for viewing online.

Mr. Rankin, 54, a former financial officer and a disabled veteran, has run a foul of the Elections Commission for minor financial report violations. For chief financial officer, the Herald recommends JEFF ATWATER.

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