By JOE REEDY, Associated Press
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) — Candidates in Florida’s primary election for attorney general have engaged in the kind of partisan infighting usually seen in the governor’s race.
The two Democratic candidates have filed lawsuits against each other, and the two Republicans are fighting over who is more conservative and best suited to carry out the policies of President Trump.
The winners on Tuesday will face off in the Nov. 6 general election to succeed Pam Bondi, who is unable to run due to term limits.
Republican candidate Ashley Moody said most people are surprised how nasty the race has become, because the attorney general role “really a standard bearer for truth and justice.”
Frank White, who served one term in the Florida House, has questioned Moody’s conservative credentials, noting she registered as a Democrat as a teenager before switching party affiliation five years later. He also says Moody was part of a family lawsuit against Trump in 2009 over a failed condominium project in Tampa.
Before running for the Florida Legislature, White was general counsel and chief financial officer for the Sansing auto group, which is owned by his wife’s family and has dealerships in three states, including Florida.
“The attorney general also needs to know how to run an agency,” White said. “The Attorney General’s office has 1,300 employees and 400 lawyers. I’m the only candidate with experience managing a large organization.”
Part of the attorney general’s office duties is managing consumer complaints. According to a records request, the Sansing auto group has had nine consumer complaints against them filed to the attorney general’s office since 2017. White has said there would not be a conflict of interest.
Both Republican candidates agree on banning sanctuary cities and refraining from any further curtailing of gun rights.
While Moody has the endorsement of Bondi and most of the state’s law enforcement groups, White had a huge early advantage in ad spending, with nearly $3 million of his own money going into the campaign. Moody has relied partially on public funding.
Moody is the only candidate from either party who has experience prosecuting and hearing criminal cases. Moody is a former federal prosecutor and stepped down as a Hillsborough County circuit judge in April 2017 to run for office.
“Voters want an attorney general that understands that they can cooperate with the federal government to ensure the laws are followed and that in many instances that leaders are refusing to do,” Moody said.
In the Democratic contest, state Rep. Sean Shaw may end up being the only one on the ballot. A Florida circuit court judge has ordered attorney Ryan Torrens removed from the ballot because Torrens relied on an illegal contribution in order to have enough money to pay the $7,738 qualifying fee.
Torrens, who earlier filed a countersuit for libel, is considering appealing the ruling. Both Shaw and Torrens are from Tampa and have said during the campaign that the office has become too partisan under Bondi.
Shaw, who is also a first-term Florida House member, is heavily favored to advance to the general election. The last Democrat to be elected attorney general was Bob Butterworth, who served from 1987 until 2002.
“I am not running to be the governor’s general counsel and that’s how you’ve seen it used,” said Shaw during a meeting with South Florida newspaper editorial page editors. “I am running to be an independent watchdog. This is the one office you can do that without seeking permission from the Governor.”
Torrens, whose law firm specializes in consumer protection cases, believes his experience going after corporations suits him well for the job as the state’s top prosecutor.
“I want to make this office the biggest consumer watchdog the state has ever seen,” he said during a meeting with South Florida newspaper editorial page editors.
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As Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi reaches her term limit, two attorneys, two state representatives and a judge face off to fill her shoes in the August election. Running for her office are candidates Ashley Moody, Jeffrey Marc Siskind, Sean Shaw, Frank White and Ryan Torrens.
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Attorney and Wellington resident Jeffrey Siskind hopes to be elected as Florida’s next attorney general. Running as an independent candidate, Siskind believes that his non-partisan candidacy will ultimately allow him to win in November.
“I do not think that the attorney general position should be filled by anybody with partisan connections,” Siskind told the Town-Crier. “I don’t mind partisan politicking at the federal level, but I think it should be a lot less important at the state and local levels, and nonexistent at the community level.”
As the only independent candidate, Siskind will be the only other name on the ballot with the winners of the upcoming Democratic and Republican primaries next month. Technically, he will be listed as “NPA,” which stands for “no party affiliation.”
“I was born a Democrat, I then matured into a Republican, and eventually began to think that I had enough understanding of issues to make independent decisions,” Siskind explained.
With bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Harvard University, and a law degree from Southwestern University, Siskind’s career in law dates back 20 years. He began his career in real estate law and eventually evolved into a litigation focus.
Siskind has lived in Wellington since 2001, where he and his wife, Wellington Councilwoman Tanya Siskind, are raising their three children, Samantha, Jack and Scarlett.
His wife, Siskind explained, served as his primary influence in his decision to run for attorney general.
“My observance of Tanya’s work [on the council] gave me the idea that I was acclimated enough to things political, to put my foot in the water,” Siskind explained.
Along with the influence from his wife, Siskind had one other big push this year that ultimately led him to decide to run for office: the deadly school shooting on Feb. 14 at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland.
“Prior to the Marjory Stoneman Douglas shooting, I had become more politically astute, but the gun [violence] really became the final straw,” Siskind said.
Siskind explained that the school shooting — along with the Pulse nightclub shooting in Orlando — forced him into a whirlwind of thought about ways in which gun violence could be addressed. Gun control has since become a foundational aspect of Siskind’s platform.
“I think I have a solution for gun control and getting semi-automatic weapons off the streets — which is the use of gun clubs,” he said. “This is sort-of an out-of-box idea, but [the central idea of the gun clubs] is that non-law-enforcement citizens would be able to keep their automatic weapons in secure facilities to be used at those secure ranges [only]. The clubs would serve as a perfect place for enthusiasts to enjoy their love of firearms without putting the rest of the public at risk. Personal protection weapons wouldn’t be reformed, people would still be able to keep those at home, but I am against open carry.”
Acknowledging the diverse ideas and opinions on guns and gun control in Florida, Siskind believes his idea of encouraging and establishing gun clubs would allow the public to continue using firearms in a safer and more responsible manner.
“Gun control is certainly cause for a lot of division, but this gun club idea might just become popular and take many of the dangerous weapons out of circulation, without depriving people of the right to own and use them,” Siskind explained.
Another main goal for Siskind would be to work on ways to promote a statewide method to increase support for and community involvement in Florida schools.
“An [important] conversation is how we can provide means through which our communities can embrace our schools,” he said. “I’d implement what I call an educational center of excellence program.”
Siskind’s proposed educational centers would entail forming a unique strategy to benefit schools so that they become and remain vital parts of all cities and towns across Florida, and in turn receive necessary volunteerism, participation and respect from the public.
Essentially, this would combine all beneficial aspects of schools to be part of a larger strategy to provide more meaningful output, he explained.
“By doing this, we would be able to join our schools with our surrounding communities,” Siskind said. “The goal is to make schools an essential part of the community.”
Along with his proposed focus on gun control and school safety, Siskind hopes to be elected in order to focus on prominent issues affecting Florida, such as the opioid and heroin epidemic, elder abuse, law enforcement and fire-rescue benefits, healthcare, faulty property insurance and environmental issues.
When asked what Siskind could bring forward as attorney general, his answer was mainly centered on increasing and encouraging community collaboration.
“Florida is very diverse. There is a huge difference between Miami, West Palm Beach, Orlando and the Panhandle because what works in one corner of the state is not necessarily what works in another,” he said. “Solutions to big issues are best determined at the local level, and a good attorney general will tend to the duties of his or her office, while always being open to the ways in which the office can interact with other state agencies and community-based organizations to bring about positive change.”
Siskind aims to implement what he has watched and learned from Wellington’s tight-knit community across other communities in the state.
“I believe that I can convey my positive experience in Wellington to communities across the state,” he said. “We have a well-intentioned and compassionate council and a wonderful and caring staff in our village government. I’m not saying that we don’t make mistakes, but I do think places like Wellington should serve as a model to a lot of other places in the state.”
Siskind’s hope is that his ideas and beliefs will allow him to make a difference and start important conversations as Florida’s next attorney general.
“I hope people will vote for me in November, as I hope [the public] will recognize the value of my ideas and demand more from an attorney general than just running an office,” Siskind said. “The attorney general must have an ear to the ground and be open to change, while adhering to the mandate of the office, which is to serve as the state’s highest chief law enforcement officer.”
Incumbent Attorney General Pam Bondi is leaving due to term limits. Tampa State Rep. Sean Shaw (D-District 61) and Tampa attorney Ryan Torrens are seeking the Democratic nomination, while Hillsborough County Circuit Court Judge Ashley Moody and Pensacola State Rep. Frank White (R-District 2) are seeking the Republican nomination. The winners of the Aug. 28 primaries will join Siskind on the November general election ballot.
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Posted: 4:50 p.m. Wednesday, June 27, 2018
WELLINGTON —Attorney Jeffrey M. Siskind, husband of Wellington Councilwoman Tanya Siskind, is running for state office.
Siskind qualified to run as an independent candidate for Florida attorney general on June 22, according to Florida Division of Elections records. Four other candidates also qualified for the seat: Republicans Ashley Moody of Tampa and Frank White of Pensacola, and Democrats Sean Shaw of Tampa and Ryan Torrens of Odessa.
Siskind considered running for attorney general for about a year, he said, but the mass shooting in Parkland on Feb. 14 moved him to set the wheels in motion. “My final decision had a lot to do with issues around gun control in Florida,” he said. “We’ve got to get these semiautomatic weapons off the streets.”
If elected, Siskind said he would lobby the legislature to pass laws so semiautomatic weapons would have to be kept at gun clubs and shooting ranges “under lock and key.” Exceptions would be made for law enforcement officers, he said.
Initially, Siskind said, he became interested in running for attorney general because he feels the court system is underfunded. “You have two good judges that have to share a clerk,” he said. “When each of those judges has 2,000 cases, how are you going to provide adequate support?”
He said he also wants to push for more funding for law enforcement agencies, teachers and other public servants.
On education in particular, Siskind sees an opportunity to look at schools and communities holistically to hopefully prevent tragedies like the one in Parkland, where 17 people were killed and 17 more injured at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School on Valentine’s Day.
Siskind’s campaign is Wellington-based. He lists as his primary address the 8,100-square-foot home where he, his wife of 28 years and his three children live in Wellington’s Southfields neighborhood. His campaign account is listed with Florida Community Bank’s Wellington branch on Greenview Shores Boulevard.
While he currently is his own treasurer, Siskind hopes to have a campaign manager and treasurer selected by July 4. He said the difficulty in choosing both is that he wants to have more a grassroots campaign. “For an independent to get elected in Florida is an uphill battle, so that makes it more challenging to find someone,” he added.
He attended Harvard University, earning a bachelor’s degree in 1982 and a master’s in 1983. He graduated from Southwestern University in 1996 with his law degree.
Because Siskind qualified as an independent, he will not need to defeat a primary challenger. His name will appear on the Nov. 6 ballot alongside the Republican and Democrat who win the Aug. 28 primary.
The winner of this year’s election will replace current Attorney General Pam Bondi, who is term-limited and cannot run for re-election.