Questions about whether the residency status of George Sheldon should disqualify him from the Attorney General's race have exposed a rift in the Florida Democratic Party.
On Friday, the president of the Democratic Black Caucus of Florida, Henry Crespo, said Sheldon should step aside in his Aug. 26 primary race against House Democratic Leader Rep. Perry Thurston of Fort Lauderdale.
"Recent questions about his residency and bar license are overwhelming," Crespo stated in a release. "(Attorney General) Pam Bondi is our target. If we allow the Sheldon campaign to continue it will become a distraction on winning the Attorney General's Office, which for African Americans is critical with issues like 'stand your ground,' voting rights and clemency board within the scope of the attorney general's office."
Earlier in the week, Sheldon's Florida Bar license lapsed. To reinstate it, Sheldon signed an exemption that stated he had been a nonresident living in Washington D.C. from 2011 to October 2013 while working in his $179,000 job at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
The Florida Constitution requires that candidates who run for Attorney General live in Florida the preceding seven years. If Sheldon is stating he's a nonresident with the Florida Bar, how does he qualify for AG?
When told about the conflict on Thursday, Sheldon said there's no problem. He maintained a home in Tallahassee, paying property taxes, was registered to vote in Florida, and had a Florida's driver's license. He said there's no question he was a Florida resident, but he would get a lawyer's opinion.
On Friday, he did. Democratic attorney Ron Meyer issued a three paragraph statement dismissing the issue.
"Accepting an appointment to serve our nation in Washington D.C. did not require George to give up his Florida residency," Meyer stated. "George Sheldon is qualified under Florida law to serve as Attorney General."
In the same statement, Sheldon chimed in.
"This is a political issue, not a legal issue," Sheldon said. "My situation is the same as with members of Congress, members of the military, ambassadors, and others who perform service to their country in Washington or overseas, while Florida remains their home," Sheldon said. "Lawton Chiles, for example, served the people of Florida with great distinction in the U.S. Senate from 1971 to 1989, and then returned home and was elected Governor in 1990. My circumstances are no different.
"This sudden question about my eligibility to continue is nothing more than a distraction from the serious issues facing Florida," Sheldon said.
Before Sheldon's statement was released, Thurston said he wasn't asking Sheldon to step aside. He said he knew nothing of Crespo's statement.
"We'll have to see what Mr. Sheldon decides to do," Thurston said.
For now, at least, he's staying in the race.