Tampa Tribune endorsements: Bondi for attorney general; Putnam for agriculture commissioner; Atwater for CFO

The attorney general, the agriculture commissioner and the chief financial officer in Florida have an enormous impact on the lives of Floridians and over the future of the state.

In addition to overseeing the department they are elected to run, they collectively sit as members of the state Cabinet, which functions as a board of directors over state agencies.

Three Republican incumbents face re-election this year for another four-year term.

Attorney General

The attorney general protects consumers from fraud, targets widespread criminal activities such as identity theft and drug trafficking, represents the state when convictions are appealed and defends the constitutionality of laws passed by the Legislature.

Pam Bondi, 48, is a Republican from Tampa and former state prosecutor who is seeking a second term. She deserves considerable credit for putting a major dent in the number of pill mills operating in Florida, attacking the human-trafficking trade and working to keep dangerous synthetic drugs in check. She brokered a settlement with large lending institutions involved with the mortgage meltdown that resulted in billions of dollars for Florida.

She rightly continued — alas, unsuccessfully — former Attorney General Bill McCollum’s legal challenge of Obamacare.

We think the harsh attacks on Bondi for appealing lower court rulings in favor of same-sex marriage are unfair. Perhaps her office could have been more circumspect in its language, but she does have a responsibility to uphold a state ban on the unions that the public voted into the constitution.

And she has been proactive on identity theft and consumer protection.

Bondi was rightly criticized for delaying an execution because it fell on her campaign re-election kickoff event. And we believe she was wrong to get involved in a lawsuit against a Chesapeake Bay cleanup agreement.

She says she is fighting federal overreach, but the affected states had all agreed to the long-needed pollution cleanup plan. Moreover, the Clean Water Act at the center of the dispute has played a key role in cleaning up Florida waters, including Tampa Bay. Getting involved in the fight could undermine congressional support for Everglades restoration.

George Sheldon, 67, is a Democrat and New Jersey native whose family moved to Plant City when he was a child. He’s been an aide for former Gov. Reubin Askew, a state legislator, an assistant secretary with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and head of the state’s child welfare agency. He thinks Bondi’s conservative ideology has politicized the attorney general’s office. He says her unsuccessful fight to have Obamacare declared unconstitutional, and her efforts to uphold the state’s same-sex marriage ban, represent resources wasted on causes that appeal to her conservative political base.

He questions why she didn’t take a leading role in challenging the flawed redistricting map the Republican-controlled Legislature approved but that was later found unconstitutional.

He says he would take politics out of the office and represent what’s in the people’s best interests.

Bill Wohlsifer, 60, is a Libertarian and New Jersey native who moved to Florida full time in 1985. The Tallahassee attorney says he would push to end the war on drugs and is an advocate for an open-carry firearms law.

Wohlsifer is well-meaning, but his Libertarian ideology is ill-suited for the job. Sheldon has a solid record as a public servant and experience working in the attorney general’s office. We have no doubt he would perform well.

But Bondi’s good work on critical public safety issues such as pill mills and human trafficking should earn her another term. For attorney general, the Tribune recommendsPam Bondi.

Agriculture Commissioner

The commissioner of Agriculture and Consumer Services has a wide range of responsibilities beyond the promotion and protection of the state’s critical agricultural interests.

The office oversees energy policy, protects auto owners from unscrupulous mechanics, inspects food markets and rides at county and state fairs, makes certain service station pumps are calibrated to deliver a full gallon of gas, and generally looks out for the good of consumers.

Adam Putnam, 40, is a Republican and Bartow native with a family history in the citrus and cattle industries.

He is a former state legislator and member of Congress and is finishing his first term as agricultural commissioner. He says he wants to continue promoting agriculture and will work with lawmakers to develop policy that protects our water resources.

He is leading the charge to slow or eradicate the citrus greening scourge threatening that industry and is working to diversify energy sources in the state. He supports bringing a new pipeline into Florida to capitalize on the potential for natural gas.

Putnam has fostered a nutrition program that brings Florida-grown foods into school lunchrooms, and expanded access to the popular do-not-call list, a consumer issue that hits home for millions of Floridians.

Thaddeus Hamilton, 64, is a Democrat from South Florida who retired after 36 years with the U.S. Department of Agriculture and ran unsuccessfully for agriculture commissioner in 2010. He served in the U.S. Army and is chair of Broward County’s land preservation advisory council. He promises to protect agriculture and the environment from pollutants and to protect consumers from fraud.

Putnam has made an impact in his first term, and his plan to focus on water quality in a second term is exactly the focus his department should be taking. He shows an impressive command of all aspects of the job and is deserving of another term. For agriculture commissioner, the Tribune recommends Adam Putnam.

Chief Financial Officer 

The state’s chief financial officer, or CFO, is the state’s accountant and is responsible paying the bills and auditing government agencies. The CFO acts as a fiscal steward for taxpayers, keeping tabs on pension investments and cracking down on insurance fraud.

Jeff Atwater, 56, is a Republican and Florida native who served as CEO of a Broward County bank before being elected to the state Legislature and becoming Senate president.

He was elected CFO in 2010, and under his watch the state’s debt has dropped and reserves have grown. His work with law enforcement on auto insurance fraud has resulted in a dramatic reduction in that crime, which affects Floridians’ insurance rates.

He initiated a much-needed review of all state contracts with outside agencies to root out unnecessary expenses, and is upgrading the office’s technology to better connect the various state agencies with his office.

His unsuccessful bid to become president of Florida Atlantic University earlier this year raises questions about his commitment to the CFO job. He says he was heavily recruited for the job, which would have brought him home to run an institution close to his heart. He says he won’t accept any jobs that might be offered if he wins a second term.

Will Rankin, 54, is a Democrat and Ohio native who moved to Florida in 1999 and has a varied professional background that he says makes him uniquely qualified.



He is the former director of asset management for the Ohio State Treasury, where he managed $120 billion in public funds, and a U.S. Army veteran who investigated white-collar crime, arson and contract fraud. A former Republican, he lives in Deerfield Beach and runs a number of business ventures. Rankin says Atwater is a passive CFO and that he would use his training to root out fraud.

Rankin has insight into the job, but his criticisms of Atwater are off-base. Atwater has introduced accountability measures and worked to reduce auto insurance fraud. He’s pushed for government transparency and maintained the state’s AAA credit rating.

 For chief financial officer, the Tribune recommends Jeff Atwater.

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published this page in News 2014-10-28 22:57:10 -0400
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