The four men and women who want to be the Republican nominee for attorney general convened Thursday afternoon in St. Petersburg for a debate at the Suncoast Tiger Bay Club.
Four, you might wonder? In addition to former Hillsborough State Attorney Assistant and spokesperson Pam Bondi, former Agency for Health Care Administration Secretary Holly Benson and Lieutenant Governor Jeff Kottcamp (who definitely looks better sans mustache) was Fort Lauderdale attorney Jim Lewis.
Lewis' candidacy might be a quixotic one, but then he's been there before. According to the Fort Lauderdale Sun-Sentinel, Lewis has unsuccessfully run for Fort Lauderdale mayor, Fort Lauderdale City Commissioner, Broward public defender, circuit judge and state representative.
But he garnered the most laughs of the afternoon when he (along with the other candidates) was asked his thoughts about Jim Greer, the former Florida Republican party chairman who was arrested yesterday and charged on six felony counts of fraud and theft.
"I never liked Jim Greer much," Lewis deadpanned, and then paused as he allowed the laughter to subside. But he wasn't gunning for guffaws as he said of the disgraced former party chair, "He wouldn't give me the distinction of meeting with me...I was told he had already anonited Jeff Kottcamp," which, considering that Greer's mug shot was plastered across the entire state this morning, was hardly an endorsement that he wanted repeated.
The other AG candidates certainly talked tough when it came to discussing Greer. Kottcamp hinted that the 47-year-old former party chair if found guilty in a court of law will find out what a "real" prison is like. Bondi labeled him "an embarrassment."
When it came to the question of gay adoption, Pam Bondi danced around the issue. She said that if the judiciary or the Legislature changes the current law (Florida is the only state in the U.S. that prohibits gays from adopting), she will abide by that law. But she did not say whether she supported the current legislation, as Benson and Kottcamp did.
Kottcamp was asked about published reports from a year ago that he tapped state travel funds for a Florida Highway Patrol car to get him to a Kenny Loggins concert in Atlanta. His response? A tart reminder that the citizen shouldn't believe everything he reads in the newspapers.
On the issue of House Bill 143, otherwise known as the "ultrasound" bill, Bondi stated correctly that under the proposed law (which House Republicans have yet to bring to Governor Crist's desk), women would have the right to decline to view the images, although they would have to sign a form acknowledging they did so. She supports it, as do Benson and Kottcamp.
Lewis does not. When asked if the corrupting culture of Tallahassee should lead Floridians to question the Republican Party of Florida, he said that the problems in the state capitol are "not a Republican or Democratic issue," and said "we've all put ourselves in this situation."
Bondi, who of all the candidates seems to have picked up the headwinds that the public is tired of politics as usual and so comes off as the change agent, said solemnly of the mishaps in Tallahassee that "I wasn't there." She also picked up on Holly Benson's mantra that businesses in the state are overegulated and underappreciated.
For her part, Benson said she never realized how onerous the regulations are for businesses in Florida until she ran state agencies, and said she would create a regulatory strike force to repeal such oppressive regulations.
In her closing remarks, Holly Benson said she is locked and loaded to take on the lawsuit initiated by Bill McCollum against the federal government for passing the health care reform bill that includes individual mandates to buy health insurance. She said, "What they're doing to the 10th Amendment is unconstitutional."
(After the debate, St. Petersblog 2.0 blogger Peter Schorsch reported that Bondi did not vote in either the 2008 Florida presidential primary or the GOP primary in the summer of 2008).