TAMPA | Rep. Sean Shaw (D-Tampa) pledges to fight “for the people, not the powerful” if elected as Florida’s next attorney general.
Shaw, a Sunshine State native who studied law at the University of Florida, has represented District 61 for the State House of Representatives since 2016. While in office Shaw supported The Florida Competitive Workforce Act and voted to ban conversion therapy statewide.
Now the liberal lawyer has his eyes set on the attorney general’s office, currently held by Republican Pam Bondi. Bondi has been the state’s AG since 2011; she is term-limited this year and not able to run for re-election.
If elected, Shaw says Floridians can expect a stark contrast between what Bondi brought to the office and what he intends to.
“People ask ‘What are you going to do that’s like Pam Bondi?’ Nothing. I’m not afraid to say that,” Shaw says.
Bondi has not been a big supporter of the LGBTQ community while sitting at the AG desk. During her time in office she fought against same-sex marriage in the state, costing Florida taxpayers more than $250 million in legal fees.
Shaw vows to be active and swift to fight for all civil rights, including equal rights for LGBTQ people, something he says Bondi hasn’t done in her time as AG.
“My record speaks for itself on these issues, and that’s the record I’m going to take to the attorney general’s office,” Shaw says. “You don’t even have someone you can talk to now. [The LGBTQ community has] zero relationship with [Bondi], as do a lot of groups in the state that are marginalized and need protection. She’s let her conservativism get in the way of being fair and being equitable and you’re going to get 180 degrees different with me. That’s how we’re going to run this office, and I’ll stand by my word on that.”
Along with defending civil and equal rights, Shaw’s campaign platform covers issues from cracking down on Medicaid fraud to supporting medical marijuana, something he says Florida voters already said they want. But he says that we should take it a step further.
“I think the hypocrisy of how we treat marijuana versus alcohol is wrong,” Shaw says. “I’m a huge proponent of criminal justice reform, and the amount of people in jail because of pot offenses, I think they don’t need to be there. We need to do something else. I think, quite frankly, we’re about to open this industry up, for medicinal purposes, and I see no reason we should not open it up for recreational purposes as well.”
Shaw says he’s a supporter of gun safety and he doesn’t agree with arming teachers. His stance was supported in March with his “no” vote on Senate Bill 7026, the gun reform legislation spurred by a shooting that left 17 people dead at a Parkland high school.
“I’m not putting more guns in schools and cloaking teachers with possible stand-your-ground immunity,” Shaw says.
Shaw says the Florida Legislature doesn’t always follow the will of the people, yet nobody is challenging lawmakers, something he plans to do as the state’s AG.
“When we pass these constitutional amendments, and the Legislature chooses not to do what the people have voted to do, there’s no other entity that’s going to hold us accountable than the attorney general’s office,” Shaw says.
Shaw referenced the 2014 Florida Water and Land Conservation Initiative, which was meant to shift about a third of the net revenue from excise tax on documents to conserve and maintain natural lands. But Shaw says it’s not being done.
“I can guarantee you the legislature is going to have a conflict with me the minute I get there because I think it’s just the way we’ve been acting is out of whack,” Shaw says.
Shaw says within 48 hours of being sworn into office he will join the lawsuit that claims the Florida Legislature inadequately funds public schools and join the environmental lawsuit that stemmed from the aforementioned conservation initiative.
“Those two things are easy, and then we’ll figure out all the other lawsuits we need to file against people, but particularly the Legislature needs to be held accountable,” Shaw says.
Shaw plans to have a transparent office, one built off the ethics his father—Leander J. Shaw Jr., the first African American chief justice of the Florida Supreme Court—instilled in him. Shaw says his father taught him that his word is his bond, and once it’s been broken, it’s lost forever.
“You may disagree vehemently with where I land on an issue, but it won’t be because of campaign contributions,” Shaw says. “It won’t be because [President Donald Trump] told me not to investigate and then gave me money. It won’t be because we’re having a fundraiser when we’re having an execution.”
Shaw is firmly grounded by his viewpoints—such as his disagreement with the death penalty, but he says he will uphold the responsibilities of the attorney general and follow the law.
“If it it’s the law of the land and there’s no way for me to attack it, I have to enforce it,” Shaw says. “Even if I disagree with it 100 percent, that’s the nature of the job.”
Shaw also acknowledges other difficulties that come along with the position.“You’re going to get in fights,” he says. “You’re going to disagree with people. You’re going to have to sue people.”
But ultimately Shaw says the freedom and ability to take quick action are what make the attorney general the “best office in Florida.”
Shaw is not alone in this race. Democrat Ryan Torrens, an attorney who focuses on foreclosure defense and consumer protection litigation, is also running, as is Rep. Jay Fant (R-Jacksonville), Republican and former circuit court judge Ashley Moody and Rep. Frank White (R-Pensacola). The official list of candidates will be released once the June 22 candidate filing date passes.
The Florida AG primary election is Aug. 28 and the general election will be held Nov. 6.
Additional reporting by Jeremy Williams.