Attorney General candidates toe party lines on health care legislation listen07/16/10 Kate Bradshaw
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This election year is shaping up to be one of the most unpredictable in recent memory, but one statewide race has yet to see any major drama. Contenders for the Attorney Generalâ€™s office fielded questions on a range of issues today at a Tiger Bay Club of Tampa luncheon, though one candidate was glaringly absent.
Five of the six prospective Attorneys General showed up at the Straz Center. Absent was Republican Pam Bondi, who reportedly had to be a witness in court. The candidates took up issues one would expect in Florida, like pill mills and the death penalty. But in a year where many candidates are locking in with their parties on national issues, it didnâ€™t take long for the focus to go federal. The elephant in the room was health care reform. Republican Attorney General Bill McCollum, who is running for governor, is suing the fed over that issue. Republican Holly Benson said she supports the lawsuit.
"It is unconstitutional and violates the Commerce Clause and the Tenth Amendment. And in order to prevent further violations of the constitution by the federal government, I think we need to stand up to this."
Until she announced her AG bid, Benson served as Secretary of the Agency for Health Care Administration. But State Senator Dan Gelber, a South Florida Democrat also in the race for Attorney General, offered a rebuttal.
"Well, you're wrong."
He said thereâ€™s nothing unconstitutional about the health care overhaul Congress passed in March.
"Four million Floridians without health care. 800,000 children have to be so sick that they've got to be taken to the emergency room for pediatric care, and that's a shame. It's a moral shame and it's wrong. Health care should a right, not a privilege."
Gelber said the current Attorney Generalâ€™s lawsuit over health care reform was a frivolous political stunt, and anyway, to have so many uninsured people costs more in the long run.
"Who is paying for those four million people in Florida right now? you are, for your property taxes. So why not tell people that they have to have health insurance? And all this Congress clause, how many of you have your FICA taken out of your salaries? Every single person in the room. You know what that's for? It's for your Medicare when you grow older. It's not a violation of the Commerce Clause. It was a frivolous lawsuit politicizing the Attorney General's office, and the moment I am Attorney General I will recede from it."
Democrat Dave Aronberg, also a South Florida State Senator who worked under former AG Bob Butterworth, said the office has lost its direction.
"Nowadays, the AG office, you can't even name any major lawsuit, any consumer fraud, any bit of public safety that the AG has done, except for spending precious dollars to file a frivolous lawsuit against the federal government. This is exactly the kind of backwards priorities we have with our current Attorney General and if we don't depoliticize this office, he will continue to be used as just a political play thing."
Jim Lewis, a prosecutor whoâ€™s running without party affiliation, said the suit is a waste of resources.
"To hire outside lawyers for hundreds and thousands of dollars, we could use that money a lot better protecting Floridians; hiring more police; more first responders; putting more Assistant Attorney Generals in the attorney general's office to do a job."
But Lieutenant Governor Jeff Kottkamp, a Republican, said McCollumâ€™s lawsuit is about more than health insurance.
"But this lawsuit's not about health care. This lawsuit's about freedom. Does the Constitution mean what is says? Does the Tenth Amendment mean what it says? Are we as a people going to draw a line in the sand where the federal government is and say, enough is enough? We're tired of it moving further and further and further into our daily life. That's what's at stake here. It's not about health care at all."
Party lines seemed to guide much of the conversation, though most of the candidates agreed the death penalty should stay legal. Lewis, the only candidate not belong to a party, was the only one who disagreed.
"For every person that we have executed in the last twenty years, we have payed $23 million in attorney fees. Is it really worth it? Wouldn't it read better to have that money to have more cops, more judges? The death penalty doesn't serve. I agree, there are some crimes that are so horrendous that seemingly the death penalty is the only right punishment, but we've got to do things differently. We can't just keep throwing money the way the old problems that we have. Families deserve justice. But at what cost? If we can't get the system right; if we can't move these people through the system so that innocent people don't end up on death row and that the guilty aren't there for twenty years, then maybe it's time to really look into abolishing the death penalty and using that money in other ways."
The primary elections for the attorney generalâ€™s race will take place August 24.