All for one -- after the primary, that is
By AMY WIMMER, Times Staff Writer
ST. PETERSBURG -- State Sen. Buddy Dyer, Deputy Attorney General George Sheldon and Tallahassee Mayor Scott Maddox want to be the next attorney general of Florida.
But more important, they say, they want to make sure a Democrat fills the office.
"Regardless of which one of us wins, the people of Florida will be the winners," Sheldon told about 60 people gathered Saturday morning at the Sanderlin Family Services Center for a meeting of the South St. Petersburg Democratic Club. "The next attorney general will be a Democrat," he said.
The three attorney general candidates turned out for the club's political forum.
The field of Democratic candidates is crowded in the attorney general's race, as Democrats statewide focus on keeping one of their own in the office Democrat Bob Butterworth has filled for 16 years. Term limits are forcing out Butterworth, the only Democrat in the Cabinet, leaving three Democrats and three Republicans competing for his seat.
Democrats say they need to keep the attorney general's seat because of its far-reaching powers, both through the legal system and through its prominence.
They also question whether the Republican candidates for attorney general -- Education Commissioner Charlie Crist, Solicitor General Tom Warner and Sen. Locke Burt of Ormond Beach -- would emphasize prosecution of white-collar crime and civil rights abuses.
During Saturday morning's political forum, as each Democrat tried to explain how he would find more resources for the attorney general's civil rights division, Dyer suggested that Republicans would not see its importance.
"Their question wouldn't be, 'How do we expand the civil rights division in the Attorney General's Office?' " Dyer said. "It would be, 'How do we shut it down?' "
Dyer is a state senator who was born in the Orlando district he represents. Maddox, raised in Miami-Dade County, is now mayor of Tallahassee and was president of the Florida League of Cities last year. Sheldon is a former lawmaker from Tampa who is now deputy attorney general, overseeing the operations of Central Florida and the west coast of the state.
And while the three can point out the differences between them and the Republicans, discerning what distinguishes them from one another is more difficult.
The three said they questioned whether Florida's death penalty was being administered justly but would not support a moratorium on executions until the system was fixed.
Each said he wants to pursue crimes that affect consumers. Each said the attorney general should play a premiere role in ensuring that Florida's election system was repaired.
All candidates said they would support whoever wins the Democratic primary in the general election.
"How many times have we seen where we had a good field of candidates in the Democratic Party, and we circled the wagons and shot inside instead of outside?" Maddox said.
Maddox said he was different from the rest of the field because of his experience as a mayor, in which he visited all 405 municipalities in Florida. Sheldon said his current job within the Butterworth administration would mean a smooth transition.
"I don't think you can wait six months for someone to get up to speed," he said.
Dyer pointed out Saturday that he had received a high score the first and only time he took the Florida Bar exam, while Crist, a Republican candidate, had failed the exam twice.
Though Dyer didn't mention Maddox and Sheldon, the joke was also a subtle jab at the two candidates, who also had to take the exam twice before passing all the sections.
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From the Times state desk
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