Democrats Perry Thurston and George Sheldon take similar policy stance as they look to unseat Attorney General Pam Bondi

01/17/14 Janelle Irwin
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Tags: Perry Thurston, George Sheldon, Attorney General, Pam Bondi, Tiger Bay


Former DCF Secretary George Sheldon is facing state Rep. Perry Thurston in Democratic Primary to unseat Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi.

photo by Janelle Irwin

Two Florida Democrats are facing off for the chance to unseat Republican Attorney General Pam Bondi. Former Department of Children and Families Secretary George Sheldon and current South Florida Representative Perry Thurston agreed on issues surrounding Florida policies like the controversial Stand Your Ground law.

As residents in the Tampa Bay area are buzzing over whether or not that defense can be used in the Wesley Chapel movie theater shooting that left one man dead after an argument over texting, Sheldon said the Stand Your Ground law needs to be looked at and changed.

“I support the second amendment as much as anyone, but the reality is we’ve got to bring some sensibility back to our statutes as opposed to what we’re seeing … and stop demogoguing. You can have reasonable restrictions on guns that don’t impede on the second amendment while at the same time protecting people.”

Sheldon and Thurston fielded questions from members of the Tiger Bay Club of Tampa during a meeting Friday. Thurston added to his opponents statements on Stand Your Ground there are other laws in place to protect individuals who are trying to protect themselves.

“Prior to Stand Your Ground, I’ve used justifiable use of deadly force which worked … there’s been right to self defense in the State of Florida forever.”

The two candidates in the August 27th primary admitted they saw eye to eye on most policies. They also agreed that Pam Bondi has got to go – repeatedly criticizing her partisan positions on things like medical marijuana and the federal healthcare law. But on one issue they laid off the political mudslinging.

“The Tampa Bay area – the five county area – ranks either two or three depending on the poll in this tragic robbing children of their youth …”

That’s occupational therapist Toni Thompson. She asked both Sheldon and Thurston what more they would do to tackle the problem. Thurston said he’d continue collaboration with investigators and prosecutors championed by Bondi.

“There are a lot of partisan things that I think this current Attorney General is doing that are awful. I think her collaboration on some of this stuff … is one of the things that she’s probably doing right.”

His opponent, Sheldon, took a harder stance on the issue – calling Bondi’s work rhetoric.

“My view, if you’ve been forced into prostitution, you’ve been raped …it’s an area I think we need to get into … what I want to see is strong prosecution of traffickers as well as the kind of victim services … if you talk to a prosecutor, in order to prosecute a case, you have to have a willing victim.”

Eight people convicted on crack-cocaine charges including one man from Tampa had their prison sentences commuted by President Barack Obama last month. Prior to the 2010 Fair Sentencing Act crack offenses carried much longer sentences than cocaine. The move raised questions about the effectiveness of mandatory minimums. Thurston said discretion over sentencing should be given back to judges.

“Everyone [doesn’t] deserve 3, 15 years in prison and the circumstances and that’s why we have qualified judges … the young lady in Jacksonville … she didn’t deserve to go to prison for 20 years … but the judge says his hands was [sic] tied.”

His opponent agreed for the most part, but still supports a mandatory minimum of three years for people who use a gun during the commission of a felony. Sheldon also weighed in on restoring rights to those individuals who have served their sentences. Right now in Florida, ex-felons have to wait either five or seven years depending on the crime they committed before they can even apply to have their rights restored. Sheldon said most returning citizens should have their rights automatically restored unless they were convicted of first degree murder or a sexual offense involving a minor.

“By not restoring felon rights, it restricts their ability to get a … a good job, it restricts their ability to vote. So, there’s a way to do this and frankly, if you look at the importance of the Governor’s and the Attorney General’s …will control the cabinet.”

Thurston supported automatically restoring rights to ex-felons who have served their time without any caveats. His response got cheers from several people in the crowd of about 50. The winner of the Democratic primary will face Pam Bondi in the November 4 General Election.

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