THE NEWS SERVICE OF FLORIDA: Outgoing AHCA chief Benson joins Attorney General race

October 29th, 2009

THE NEWS SERVICE OF FLORIDA published this article on October 29, 2009


THE CAPITAL, TALLAHASSEE, Oct.29, 2009........Outgoing state health care agency head Holly Benson announced Thursday that she is jumping into the race for state attorney general, challenging Lt. Gov. Jeff Kottkamp for the GOP nomination.

Benson announced her candidacy in Pensacola Thursday afternoon after being a rumored candidate for months. A few weeks ago, she announced her resignation from the Agency for Health Care Administration after Gov. Charlie Crist asked her to step down if she intended to run for the state's top legal job.

"At a time when government needs to be at its most effective and responsible, people are deeply troubled that government is even more out of touch, more out of control and is expanding its power, while abandoning the principles that make Florida a great place to live, work and raise a family," Benson said in a news release announcing her candidacy. "Every elected official has a choice to make and a role to play. Few positions will be as critical to the future in this state as Attorney General."

Benson, a graduate of Dartmouth College and the University of Florida's law school, served as a state representative from 2000 to 2006 when the newly elected Crist named her as the new Department of Business and Professional Regulation chief. He then appointed her to head AHCA in February 2008.

She also practiced municipal bond law with Miller, Canfield, Paddock and Stone, P.L.C. from 1996 until 2007, when she started her job at DBPR.

Benson's entrance into the race makes her the third Republican to seek the nomination. Kottkamp declared his candidacy over the summer, and Fort Lauderdale lawyer Jim Lewis signaled his intention to run in May.

None of the candidates have major name recognition - Kottkamp and Benson trump Lewis because of their state-held positions. But both Kottkamp and Benson likely appeal to different constituencies. Kottkamp, a trial lawyer, is viewed as more moderate, while Benson is considered solidly conservative.

The lieutenant governor released a statement shortly after Benson's announcement, welcoming her to the campaign and saying he thinks of her as a "nice and pleasant" individual.

"Political competition is the foundation of a successful and vibrant democracy," Kottkamp said in the release. "I salute Ms. Benson's desire to serve and welcome her to this year-long political marathon."

Democrats were not as kind in their remarks. Neither Democratic candidate - Sen. Dan Gelber, D-Miami Beach, or Sen. Dave Aronberg, D- Greenacres - released individual statements, but the state party sent out a missile aimed at both Benson and Kottkamp.

Florida Democratic Party spokesman Eric Jotkoff called Kottkamp a "political lightweight," but also said that voters shouldn't jump on the Benson bandwagon and called her candidacy a "long-shot."

"Benson has never prosecuted a case or sent a criminal to jail," the release said.