While Democrats may not have been fans of Attorney General Pam Bondi, she’ll leave office early next year viewed as a rock star with the Florida GOP, having won both of her statewide races by wide margins.
Republican nominee Ashley Moody – a former federal prosecutor and Hillsborough County circuit court judge – wants to follow in Bondi’s footsteps in terms of policies and priorities.
As Moody has said, ‘I have very, very, high, high heels to fill.”
She plans to focus first and foremost on criminal justice and other issues Bondi has championed, from the opioid epidemic to human trafficking and elder abuse.
On the other side of the aisle is Democratic opponent Sean Shaw, a property insurance claim attorney and Tampa state representative who is running as a change agent.
Shaw believes Floridians are weary of the policies that Bondi and Gov. Rick Scott have advocated for since 2011.
“People, I think, are fed up,” Shaw told the Florida Phoenix in a recent interview.
“If you want public education protected, either from the governor’s office to the Attorney General’s office, you gotta hire different people. If you want someone who wants to go after corporate polluters, you gotta hire someone and elect someone who will do it, and those are different types of people than you’ve had there before,” Shaw says.
“They’ve had their chance to address these issues. They have not. Florida voters are ready to elect some people who are running on a platform of doing something on these issues.”
The race is significant because of the office itself. The Attorney General is the state’s chief legal officer as well as a member of the state Cabinet, and the job can deal with a range of legal issues, from education to health care to criminal justice.
The two candidates will battle it out Nov. 6, with polls indicating that it will be a close race. A recent poll now shows Moody with a six-point lead, 43 percent to 37 percent, the biggest margin in the race thus far.
The poll also showed that 20 percent of voters were undecided.
Republican Ashley Moody: The establishment choice
Since quitting her job as a judge on Hillsborough County’s 13th Circuit Court early last year to run for Attorney General, the 43-year-old Moody has attempted to prove her conservative bona fides to Republican voters, while maintaining a non-political persona, befitting her history as a former prosecutor and jurist.
She was attacked early and often in her contentious primary race for the Republican nomination, fending off attacks from her male opponents who claimed she was weak on the Second Amendment and had a liberal background — she had registered as a Democrat in college before registering with the GOP at the age of 23.
Moody graduated from the University of Florida’s Levin College of Law.
She was always the establishment choice of the state Republican Party, illustrated by her early endorsement from Bondi and the overwhelming choice of Florida sheriffs up and down the state.
Moody hails from strong judicial roots. Her father, James Moody Jr., has served as a federal judge in Tampa since 2001, after being nominated by President Bill Clinton.
Democrat Sean Shaw: The unabashed progressive
Shaw is also the descendant of a judge. His father, the late Leander Shaw Jr., was Florida’s first black Chief Justice of the Florida Supreme Court.
Shaw also graduated from UF’s Levin College of Law.
The third time was the charm for the 40-year-old Shaw making it into the Florida Legislature.
He unsuccessfully ran for the state House in 2008 (when he still lived in Tallahassee) and in 2014 in Tampa, when he lost a contentious Democratic primary to Ed Narain, whose supporters labeled Shaw a “carpetbagger” from Tallahassee.
Shaw also has experience from the inside, having served as the state’s Insurance Consumer Advocate from 2008 to 2010.
Shaw has run as an unabashed progressive in the race, saying that if elected he’ll investigate Donald Trump’s Florida businesses for possible Russian laundering as well as teaming up on a lawsuit with other Democratic Party attorneys general who accused the president of violating the foreign emoluments clause of the Constitution.
The candidates disagree – a lot
Moody has taken exception to Shaw’s comments that he would be an activist Attorney General, criticizing him as an inexperienced politician without a prosecutorial background.
“The state of Florida does not need a person at the helm of law enforcement making decisions based on political preferences or bias,” Moody recently told WESH-TV in Orlando. “They are craving and want and need someone who will approach the decision to litigate whether that’s criminally or civilly without regard for political preference but with all regard to the protection of Floridians.”
Current AG Bondi has been aggressive in joining with Republican AG’s in opposing the Obama administration on a number of fronts during her time in Tallahassee.
That includes a lawsuit against the Affordable Care Act that Moody says she’ll continue if elected.
“That lawsuit is about pushing back on Washington overreach,” Moody said during the recent and only debate held by the two candidates.
Shaw has lambasted the lawsuit as a “partisan stunt.”
The Moody campaign has been airing a television ad that goes hard after Shaw, calling him a “radical” who “backed reduced punishment for a cop-killer.”
Shaw pushed back immediately, saying that the idea that he “would support cop-killers is gross and reckless,” and that he believed such “crass and irresponsible attacks” were beneath Moody.
When asked what they were referring to in the ad, the Moody camp cited Shaw’s comments demanding that Gov. Rick Scott rescind his order removing Orange & Osceola County State Attorney Aramis Ayala from the prosecution of Markeith Loyd, who has been accused of gunning down an Orlando police officer in January of 2017.
Ayala infuriated Florida Republicans when she announced after she had been elected that she didn’t believe in the death penalty and would not seek it in any case in her jurisdiction, beginning with the Loyd case. In response, Scott reassigned not only the Loyd case but all of Ayala’s first-degree murder cases to another prosecutor.
Shaw defended Ayala at the time, saying that the death penalty was a “link to the sordid past of Florida where lynching was used to terrorize our community.”
Shaw has hardly been timid in going after Moody.
His most vociferous criticism has come in connection with Moody’s acceptance of contributions from the GEO Group — a controversial Boca Raton-based private prison corporation that has been criticized for making billions of dollars by detaining undocumented immigrants over the past decade. The company also has faced lawsuits and allegations of human-rights abuses.
During October, The GEO Group contributed $25,000, and then $20,000, to Moody’s political action committee called Friends of Ashley Moody, state campaign finance data show. The GEO Group also contributed to Moody’s individual campaign account — $3,000 in October 2017 and $3,000 in October 2018.
“Some things you don’t do for campaign contributions, and I think that’s one of them,” Shaw told the Phoenix last week. “She likes to always talk about her experience. If that’s how you’re going to handle the Attorney General’s office, then I don’t think that’s a good sign.”
Moody has declined to respond to Shaw’s criticism about receiving the contributions.
Moody supports the state’s controversial Stand Your Ground law; Shaw wants to repeal it.
Shaw supports passage of Amendment 4, the Constitutional Amendment that would automatically restore voting rights to more than 1 million Florida felons.
Moody told WESH-TV that she supports “streamlining” the process by allowing automatic restoration of rights in connection with “some nonviolent” felonies, but says the Amendment goes “too far” as currently written.