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For attorney general

A Times Editorial
Published October 22, 2006


As the state's chief law enforcement officer, the attorney general is enormously influential. The attorney general sets priorities for the state by targeting certain types of criminal behavior and consumer issues. He also is a member of the Cabinet, which deals with such issues as clemency and civil rights restoration and oversees the state pension fund and the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, among other duties. By any measure, Democrat Walter "Skip" Campbell would best serve the interests of average Floridians.

For the past 10 years Campbell, 57, has been an effective state senator with a moderate voting record. He can work across party lines, and his success as a trial lawyer has earned him the profession's highest peer-review rating.

Republican Bill McCollum is a former member of Congress who is an attorney and lobbyist in the Orlando area. He represents a variety of big business clients, including the Verizon telephone services company and Provider Synergies, a prescription drug list management company. McCollum, 62, spent two decades in the U.S. House amassing a dismal record of acting on behalf of the banking, insurance and credit card industries to the detriment of consumers. He has a record as a fierce partisan and may be best remembered as being one of the most aggressive protagonists in the impeachment of President Bill Clinton. Voters considered McCollum's record to be too extreme when he made an unsuccessful bid for the U.S. Senate in 2000, and nothing has changed.

Campbell is a Broward County trial lawyer who offers a nonideological set of priorities for the office that would focus on the use of the Internet by sexual predators (a priority he shares with McCollum), expanding the Medicaid fraud unit to recoup billions of tax dollars and establishing task forces to hunt down those who target the state's seniors.

While he is a Democrat and a trial lawyer, he has cast conservative votes on some abortion and death penalty issues. He also has supported legislation opposed by the trial lawyers, although he generally opposes tort reform efforts.

Campbell has a reasonably good record of consumer protection, working to rein in the exploitative elements within the payday loan and furniture moving industries. Earlier this year, Campbell filed a lawsuit with a colleague to force the state to disclose the applications of those who grade the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test. The state was forced to acknowledge that a large proportion of the temporary workers hired to grade the exam were not properly qualified.

While in Congress, McCollum often was hostile to consumer interests. The Consumer Federation of America in 1999 gave him a rating of 8 out of a possible 100. That year, McCollum was the leading House recipient of campaign contributions from banks, credit card companies and other financial sector businesses.

As a longtime member of the House Banking Committee, McCollum pushed a bankruptcy reform measure that would have made it significantly harder for Americans to be relieved of crushing debt. The changes were a priority of the financial services industry, and a version of it eventually passed.

McCollum also supported the ability of loosely connected banks, insurance companies and brokerage houses to share personal client information. He voted against an effort that would have barred the exchange of medical and financial information without the customer's consent.

On civil liberties issues, McCollum has shown little regard for the protections of the Bill of Rights. He once sponsored a bill to grant law enforcement officers the ability to collect evidence through an illegal search if they were acting in good faith. McCollum then fought an amendment that would have inserted into the bill the words of the Fourth Amendment that protect us against unreasonable search and seizure.

Regarding restoring civil rights to ex-felons, the differences between the candidates could not be clearer. Despite the backlog of applications by people trying to regain their full citizenship, McCollum is against automatically restoring the right to vote and obtain professional licenses to those who have served their time. Campbell calls what we have "an antiquated clemency process" and says he would push for the automatic restoration of civil rights for all ex-felons after they have been released and made restitution, with the exception of those convicted of capital crimes or sexual predators.

McCollum's name may be more familiar to voters because he has run for statewide office before. But Campbell would be a far more moderate, consumer-friendly attorney general who would respect the constitutional rights of all Floridians. For state attorney general, the Times strongly recommends Walter "Skip" Campbell.

[Last modified October 22, 2006, 07:03:16]

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