TAMPA — Former Department of Children & Families Secretary George Sheldon has announced he’ll run against Attorney General Pam Bondi, criticizing her judgment and performance in office.
Two incidents raise questions about Bondi, Sheldon said — an execution delayed at her request because it conflicted with a campaign fundraiser and acceptance of a $25,000 contribution from Donald Trump at a time when Trump is accused of ripping off consumers based partly on complaints from Florida.
“It sends a message that, ‘I’m really not serious about the office,’” Sheldon said in an interview.
In his announcement on Facebook, Sheldon didn’t mention Bondi by name but clearly referred to her.
“Taking on predatory lenders, human traffickers and those who engage in deceptive practices is the job of the Attorney General,” he said, “not working full time trying to deny health insurance to children and anyone with pre-existing conditions.”
He added, “It is time to restore integrity in the Attorney General office.”
In 2012, Bondi led an unsuccessful lawsuit by several states asking the U.S. Supreme Court to overturn the Affordable Care Act, also known as “Obamacare.”
“This race is about character,” Sheldon said. “Who has the experience and character to use the office of attorney general for general good rather than as a personal, political, partisan platform.”
Sheldon, 66, a Democrat and former state House member from Tampa, has a long history in Florida government including a long working relationship with former Attorney General Bob Butterworth.
To run for the attorney general’s office, he quit his position as acting assistant secretary for the Administration for Children and Families at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
A New Jersey native, Sheldon grew up in Plant City and received undergraduate and law degrees at Florida State University.
He began his career in politics as an aide to then-state Sen. Reubin Askew, later governor, and worked in Askew’s administration at the Department of Health and Rehabilitative Services, the forerunner to today’s Department of Children & Families. He later became executive director of the Hillsborough Association for Retarded Citizens.
In 1974, Sheldon was elected to the state House representing Tampa, serving until 1982, when he ran unsuccessfully for Congress against former Rep. Mike Bilirakis.
After working as a lawyer and consultant in Tampa, he became deputy attorney general for central Florida under Butterworth in 1999.
He ran unsuccessfully against Charlie Crist for Florida education secretary in 2000 and for attorney general in 2002, then worked for Butterworth as associate dean of Miami’s St. Thomas University law school.
In 2007, Crist, then governor, hired Sheldon back into the Department of Children & Families. Sheldon earned praise for leading the often-criticized department, and left it to join HHS in 2011 when Crist left office.
Sheldon is the only prominent Democrat in the race.
Some Democrats hoped former state Sen. Rod Smith would run, but Sheldon said Smith told him he will not run. Smith didn’t return a call for comment Monday.
Bondi, 47, was criticized for asking Gov. Rick Scott to postpone for three weeks the execution of Marshall Lee Gore, a former escort service owner who murdered two women, so she could host a fundraiser at her home in Tampa for her re-election. She later apologized.
New York attorney general Attorney General Eric Schneiderman is suing Trump for $40 million, saying the his “Trump University” business promised to make students rich, but instead steered them into expensive, useless seminars, and citing complaints in Florida.
Bondi hasn’t joined the lawsuit. Shortly after Bondi’s spokeswoman said her office was reviewing it, the Tampa Bay Times reported recently, Trump’s foundation gave $25,000 to a political committee supporting Bondi.
Sheldon said Butterworth, as attorney general, returned even small contributions from anyone the office had ever investigated.
Bondi didn’t respond directly to Sheldon’s comments. In a news release, her campaign manager Pablo Diaz said Bondi and Sheldon “have very different credentials and points of view, and we welcome the opportunity to show the voters in Florida that they will have a clear choice between two distinctly different candidates.”
Florida Republican Party Chairman Lenny Curry said in a news release that Sheldon was “offering no positive policy agenda for Floridians” and “doing what Washington politicians seem to do best: do little, accomplish even less, but always attack your opponent.”