Health care and immigration show major differences between Republican & Democratic candidates for Attorney General in Tampa

Share on Nextdoor

A topic that has come up at most of the forums with the AG candidates has been the huge number of prescription drugs abuses in Florida.

Kottkamp mentioned the Prescription Drug Monitoring bill, passed last year but which won't go into affect until this December as a much needed piece of legislation.  "This will help us a lot, because we'll know who's prescribing the drugs, and who's abusing them," he said.  He called it an epidemic, and said seven people in Florida die a day from such usage.

Dave Aronberg followed up on Kottkamp's remark by saying, "can you imagine if we had seven manatees a day washed up on our shores dead? There would be an outcry, there would be an investigation, if we had seven of our young people die in  a day and we ignore it.  I can't allow the Attorney General's office to ignore this any longer, it's about enforcement now," said Aronberg, who worked in the state's AG office back when Democrat Bob Butterworth ran the office at the turn of the century.

Gelber said the entire "pill mill" industry is awash with criminals.

The most over-the-top lines came from former South Florida prosecutor Jim Lewis, who was running in the GOP Primary but has dropped out to run as an independent.  He attacked the legal profession, saying, "You know what the biggest problem with our criminal justice system is?  We have too many lawyers, he said to some laughs and perhaps one or two people applauding.  "We have 90,000 lawyers.  When I was a law student thirty years ago we had 5 law schools.  Now we have 11.  And they're pumping them out like cockroaches." He then paraphrased Shakespeare, saying there's too many lawyers, "so let's kill a couple," leading to a few gasps in the audience.

On the issue of the death penalty, all of the candidates but Jim Lewis said they supported capital punishment.

Completely off topic but still of mild interest was an indirect question about Rick Scott, and the 20 million he has spent so far to place him atop most current polls in Florida race for Governor.  Although he’s doing well with the public, he is not a favorite of the Florida Republican party.

Benson said “the voters haven’t spoken yet.”  She said that she hoped the electorate wouldn’t make their decisions based on 30 second television ads.  Kottkamp said "I hope it never becomes a process that simply whoever has the most personal wealth is the victor."

Gelber said, "I don't think anger is a policy."  He also joked that he wasn't a household name, "even in my own household."

One interesting note:  Though there has been a war of words between Democrats Gelber and Aronberg in the past two weeks over Gelber's former lawfirm now defending oil giant BP here in Florida, the issue was never raised today, because neither candidate mentioned it, nor were there any questions from the fifty or so people in the Tiger Bay audience.

This afternoon all but one of the candidates running for Attorney General in Florida this year engaged in an at times spirited debate at a Tiger Bay event held at Ferguson Hall in downtown Tampa.

Only Republican Pam Bondi was absent.  Tiger Bay official Joe Citro said that Bondi could not be present because of a conflict (she apparently needed to appear at a trial, though he also said he only learned that after attempting for over a month to get confirmation from her camp).

The Bill McCollum lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the federal health care law drew the widest distinctions between the candidates, though there were also strong differences of opinion regarding Republican calls in Florida to ape Arizona's controversial anti-illegal immigration law, a law that the U.S. Justice Department has already challenged in court.

Perhaps the fiercest exchange was after Republican Holly Benson blasted the health care bill signed by President Obama this spring.  The former head of the Agency for Health Care Administration called the law unconstitutional and said it violated the Commerce Clause and 10th Amendment, the same legal theory that has led McCollum and other (mostly Republican) Attorney Generals of the U.S. to go to court over.

Gelber, sitting right next to Benson, stood up and said, "You're wrong!", drawing cheers from the obviously Democratic leaning crowd.  "There are 4 million Floridians without health care, 800,000 children that have to be so sick that they have to be taken to an emergency room for pediatric care, and that's a moral stain, that's wrong, and health care should be a right, not a privilege!"

Gelber then challenged the legal claim of the bill violating the Commerce Clause,  asking rhetorically how many people had  FICA taxes taken out of their salaries. "You know what that's for?" he asked, his voice rising, "It's for Medicare when you grow's a frivolous lawsuit, and the moment I become Attorney General I will recede from it."

On illegal immigration, both Benson and Lieutenant Governor Jeff Kottkamp said Arizona's situation was unique because of their proximity to violence near the Mexican border.  He said Florida was "blessed" not to have the Mexican drug war situation but he said that as much as 30% of the space in Florida's jails are filled with illegal immigrants.  "You as taxpayers are incurring millions and millions of dollars in expenses, on our health care system, on our prison system, in our jails because the federal govt. is not securing the borders, and if I was the Attorney General, I'd sue the federal govt. to get every penny of your money back..."

Indie candidate Jim Lewis said he disagreed, while Holly Benson said she liked the 'Zona law, saying laws are meant to be upheld.  She said in her discussions with legal immigrants along the campaign trail, she said they all said one of the reasons that they wanted to come to America is because we are a nation of laws, and not selected ones at that.

Dave Aronberg and Gelber are both against the law, and said they couldn't see how it would be enforced without the police engaging in racial profiling. 

Scroll to read more News Feature articles


Join Creative Loafing Tampa Bay Newsletters

Subscribe now to get the latest news delivered right to your inbox.