Disclaimer: In 2014, Kartik Krishnaiyer served as the statewide Deputy Campaign Manager for the Democratic nominee for Attorney General, the late George Sheldon. Sheldon’s GOP opponent was Attorney General Pam Bondi.
The reaction to Florida Attorney General Ashley Moody’s decision to join Texas’s lawsuit related to the 2020 Presidential Election reinforces what an important post the Attorney General is and the mistake Florida Democrats have made for years by focusing far more heavily on the Governorship than the AG’s office.
Bob Butterworth, Florida’s last Democratic Attorney General demonstrated the office can be an important pedestal for protecting consumers through various lawsuits and programs. The Attorney General’s office under General Butterworth also advocated policies that benefited the state treasury while protecting our fragile environment through enforcement of growth management laws and suing polluters among other things.
Charlie Crist, then a Republican continued Butterworth’s consumer advocacy in his one term as Attorney General, rejecting the efforts of his party to use the office a repository to prosecute political grievances and ideological crusades. This tenor left Republican operatives and insiders miffed, beginning the process of Crist’s drift from Republican to Independent to Democrat. Contrary to the narrative of political writers who like to take shots at him as an opportunist, Crist really didn’t leave the party, the GOP left him.
For years, the Attorney General’s offices throughout the country were targets for the Republican Party. Even before the Federalist Society became the dominant force it is today, the GOP saw opportunity in capturing state AG’s offices.
As the Republicans solidified their hegemony over this state during the late 1990’s, they badly wanted a partisan Attorney General who would implement a doctrinaire conservative interpretation of the law and would take on a Democratic President if required. In many cases conservatives misinterpret the law, manipulate its intent while misrepresenting the debate and discussions behind the passages of these laws. This should not come as a shock considering we are discussing a political party that has actively promoted anti-intellectualism as a part of its appeal to voters, culminating with the Trump election in 2016 and his increased Florida margin in 2020.
As we saw during the Obama years when Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi helped lead the charge against various administration initiatives, using the court system to her advantage and that of the ideologues she represents, a Democratic Attorney General in Florida could prove to be an effective check on a future Authoritarian Republican President like Donald Trump.
In an era where a majority of Republican officeholders deny science, seem indifferent to a global pandemic, use state offices to promote partisan and ideological causes while parroting absolutely mad conspiracies related to election fraud, the Democrats need to win the Florida Attorney General’s office more than ever.
Americans witnessed Trump’s excessive use of Executive Orders designed to reshape America in his authoritarian image instead of being pushed back upon from this state, being used as models for how to govern down here. While winning the Governorship in 2022 is arguably more important in terms of direct governance of Florida, controlling the Attorney General’s seat may just be more critical in the national picture and in protecting Florida’s citizens from a future authoritarian President, and preventing further partisan advocacy against a Biden Presidency as we’re seeing now from Moody. Simply put, the Attorney General’s office matters more than many Democrats acknowledge.
The greatest defense the American people had to constitutional protections in the Trump era were the willingness of Attorney General’s at the state level such as Bob Ferguson in Washington and Xavier Beccera in California to take on the unconstitutional acts of this administration in the courts. Here in Florida, in Ashley Moody, we have the opposite – an Attorney General determined to further her predecessors blatantly partisan legacy.
Moody’s predecessor Pam Bondi, who now serves as a prominent lawyer for the President, previously burnished her credentials by frivolously attacking Obama’s initiatives. Not surprisingly Bondi in 2017 and 2018 turned a blind eye to the authoritarian nature of Trump’s actions. Then, in 2019 and 2020, Bondi became a national celebrity as an attorney for the President, demonstrating a shrillness known to Floridians for a decade but that became the butt of jokes for comedians and late night comics nationally.
This is no surprise considering Bondi’s prior claim to fame was as a conservative hack on FOX News’ Sean Hannity program, which is one hour of pure right wing drivel, which in some cases could be characterized as reflexively anti-American. Bondi and her surrogates waged a campaign of fear and demagoguery about “Obamacare,” ” radical feminism”, “activist” judges and “radical environmentalism,” to ride to election in 2010 and reelection in 2014.
As Attorney General, Bondi was a handmaiden for the utilities industry in the state as well as any ideological crusade the right has undertaken. In concert with other Republican Attorney General’s throughout the country she regularly sued the Obama Administration on ideological grounds, hiding behind elements of the law in order to score political points. General Moody has more quietly but effectively continued this legacy.
With Republican excesses out of control at the state and national level, having a plan to elect an activist, aggressive Democratic Attorney General might be the most important thing the Florida Democratic Party can do this coming cycle. Fighting against the excesses of the right requires a fearless defensive strategy that uses the court system to the advantage of those of us seeking to defend American values and democratic processes. It requires a willingness to fight at a very high level, understanding of the law.
It takes someone like Bob Ferguson, Richard Blumenthal or Elliot Spitzer, willing to engage the right in a battle to protect the citizens of Florida and the United States. While we will not misinterpret the law the way Moody and Bondi have, we can take a page out of her book and that of conservatives around the country – and thus use the anchor of state Attorney General’s to fight against a reckless and dangerous Presidency.
Winning the Attorney General’s office gives a greater anchor and weapon to fight Republican authoritarianism, undercuts a potential DeSantis second term and arguably does more nationally than winning the Governorship. Granted the position may have less relevance within the state but might just be more important as American values remain under assault in an era when one of the two major political parties has embraced authoritarianism.