LAKE BUENA VISTA — Former Tampa state House member George Sheldon opened up his campaign for attorney general against Pam Bondi at the state Democratic Party’s pre-election conference during the weekend, saying Bondi should have resigned over an execution that was delayed so she could host a political fundraiser.
But Sheldon also picked up a primary opponent when the state House minority leader Perry Thurston, D-Lauderhill, told reporters he’ll also run for attorney general.
Sheldon, who’s likely to be a financial underdog in the race, was hoping to boost his profile at the weekend gathering of 1,500 Democrats at a Disney resort for the biannual conference opening up the 2014 campaign season.
In a speech Sunday morning, he blasted Bondi, the Republican incumbent, for leading a lawsuit against the Affordable Care Act, opposing expansion of Medicaid with federal funding in Florida and actions he said were unprofessional — including what he called “the inconvenient execution.”
In September, Bondi asked Gov. Rick Scott to postpone the execution of Marshall Lee Gore, who murdered two women, so she could host a fundraiser at her Tampa home. She later apologized.
“Regardless of where you stand on the death penalty, when she delayed an execution because it conflicted with a fundraising cocktail party … she should have resigned,” Sheldon said in his speech.
“I will never use the resources of this office to bring misery to working families (or) as a political tool or to make a political point,” he said.
Bondi campaign manager Pablo Diaz responded in an email statement, “It is ironic that he chooses to attack the Attorney General on an execution-related issue, when she is a strong supporter of the death penalty, something which he is on the record opposing. ... We look forward to a true debate on issues.”
Sheldon, with a long history in state politics and government, is well known to Florida Democrats but has been off the electoral scene for more than a decade. Most recently he held a high-level administrative position in the federal Department of Health and Human Services.
Thurston, with a political base in Democrat-rich Broward County and the loyalty of black voters, could be a formidable opponent.
But Sheldon has backing from prominent party figures including former Attorney General Bob Butterworth, who introduced him for his Sunday speech.
He also said experience and qualifications argue that he’s the better primary candidate. He served as deputy attorney general under Butterworth for four years and has overseen large government agencies, including the Florida Department of Health and Rehabilitative Services, now the Department of Children and Families.
Republicans already have sought to attack Sheldon by linking him to the problem-plagued rollout of the Affordable Care Act, or “Obamacare.”
Bondi allies “are already trying to nationalize this race,” meaning link it to national issues, Sheldon said. “That’s fine. I think her having been on the forefront of trying to take down the Affordable Care Act, which has allowed people to get coverage who couldn’t get it before, and preventing expansion of Medicaid are appropriate issues.”