Who knew that the Democratic race for Attorney General would pit two candidates who have had their eligibility to hold office questioned because of residency issues?
Since last week, all eyes have been on George Sheldon. After he learned that his Florida Bar license lapsed because he hadn’t completed and reported his continuing legal education. Sheldon signed an exemption from that rule last week that stated he had been a nonresident living in Washington D.C. from 2011 to October 2013 while working for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
The Florida Constitution requires AG candidates to live in Florida the preceding seven years, which Sheldon said he did, despite signing the nonresident exemption.
“I think it raises some serious questions,” said his opponent, House Democratic Leader Perry Thurston, D-Fort Lauderdale, last week. “He has to satisfy the legal requirement of being a resident.”
Alas, Thurston has had his own difficulties in proving his residency.
Thurston, along with several other South Florida Democrats, were flagged last year for potentially not living in their legislative districts.
As Miami’s WPLG 10 reported in June 2013, Thurston’s Fort Lauderdale home that he claimed to live in, at Northwest 7th Terrace, was rundown and showed little sign that the lawmaker lived there. A neighbor said Thurston didn’t.
Local 10 reporter Bob Norman, however, discovered that Thurston seemed to be living in “in his much larger longtime home in a more upscale neighborhood in Planation.”
Turns out the residency requirements for lawmakers were rather loose, and it was difficult to prove Thurston, or any other lawmaker, was breaking the law.
Unfortunately for Sheldon, Thurston’s residency questions don’t enter into the race for attorney general. Whether it’s been Planation or Fort Lauderdale, there’s no question he’s been a Florida resident.
Meanwhile, Sheldon finds himself weathering more attacks. On Monday, Libertarian Party of Florida attorney general candidate Bill Wohlsifer filed a complaint against him that seeks to take him off the ballot. He joins Henry Crespo, president of the Democratic Black Caucus of Florida, in trying to force Sheldon from the race. They both allege that Sheldon is violating the state constitution by running for AG.
In a complaint filed with the Secretary of State, Wohlsifer alleges that Sheldon didn’t meet two out of three state constitutional requirements to run for Attorney General -- a residency in Florida for the preceding seven years, and a membership in the Florida Bar the preceding five years. He argues that when his license lapsed, Shelon was no longer was an attorney.
“The two cannot be reconciled,” Wohlsifer states. “(I) take no pleasure in filing this complaint, but do so for the benefit of the Secretary of State’s review and preservation of the integrity of our electoral and qualifying process.”
Yet the Secretary of State, which oversees the Division of Elections, is unlikely to take action. Last week, a spokeswoman, Brittany Lesser, said determining a candidate’s compliance with the constitution is not a responsibility of the office.
Sheldon said he’s staying in the race. On Monday, Ron Meyer, his campaign’s attorney, said Wohlsifer’s compalint is “politics as usual.”
“He’s trying to build a fire under his campaign, and he’s doing so at George’s expense,” Meyer said. “Our position is that George has been, and continues to be, properly qualified.”