Interview with Senator Dan Gelber–(District 35) and Candidate for Florida Attorney General
Conducted by: West Orlando News
Date: May 4th 2010
WONO: Sen. Gelber could you please introduce yourself? Tell us a bit about Dan Gelber?
Dan Gelber: I will be 50-years old this year. I was a federal prosecutor for nearly a decade where I did mostly public corruption, civil rights and other public safety issues. I worked in the U.S. Senate for a few years where I ran a U.S. Senate Investigations Committee–mostly led a group that looked into counter-terrorism matters and did counter-terrorism investigations for the U.S. Senate. I came back to Florida where I have grown up and I met my wife who also was and still is a federal prosecutor. I’ve got three young children. I would say the thing that defines me more than anything is, I am a product of my dad who was a prosecutor and my mother who was a school teacher.
WONO: You were elected to the House in 2000 and in 2008 to the Senate. What has that experience been like and what prompted you to run for the position of Attorney General of Florida?
Dan Gelber: Well, it has been an honor to serve my constituents, but frankly, I think that the Florida Legislature has veered strongly to the right. I think that they are out-of-step with the people that they serve. One of the reasons I am running for Attorney General is that, I believe we need to change the direction of our state and this is a real opportunity for Floridians. Every single state-wide office lacks an incumbent right now and so, we can really get the kind of change that has eluded our state.
WONO: Florida loses as much as $3.2 billion annually in Medicaid fraud and the state has the second highest number of Medicaid recipients in the nation, but ranks 39th in convictions per person. Why does this multi-billion dollar Medicaid fraud problem persists and if you were to become Florida Attorney General, how would you tackle it?
Dan Gelber: First of all, there are lots of prosecutors in Florida–state and federal–working on this issue, but there is not enough coordination among those entities. The other thing I would do is urge the legislature to spend more money on prosecuting Medicaid fraud. You almost always end up getting that money back in multiples, owing to the elimination of misconduct and the return into the coffers of the state, that money that was stolen.
WONO: A recent report by the Mortgage Asset Research Institute has Florida topping the nation in terms of mortgage fraud in 2009. If elected Florida’s Attorney General, what measures would you propose to deal with this problem?
Dan Gelber: Florida has these issues because we have such vulnerable communities. We have lots of senior citizens, we have lots of immigrants and they tend to be the communities that attract this kind of fraud more than any other. So, the one thing the attorney general should do is educate those communities as to what to look out for. But, the other thing you’ve got to do is go after the bad guys and you’ve got to stay one-step ahead of them. I think as someone who has got a lot of experience as a prosecutor and in policy, as well, I am well equipped to help Florida stay ahead of these guys who are making their living ripping off people every day. We need to get them and we need to stay one-step ahead of them.
WONO: Recently, foreclosure legislation was passed in the Florida Senate. What’s the intent of the legislation and how do you see the foreclosure crisis play out?
Dan Gelber: Well, actually that was my bill and I did pass it out of the Senate, but the House unfortunately did not take it up. That bill provided rights to renters. Currently, in Florida, if your landlord is foreclosed on, you may end up being a victim with absolutely no notice and then you find yourself out in the streets with no rights. My bill would have simply given tenants their lease term or 90 days, whichever is greater, so they would not be turned out on the street. I thought that was a good idea. It would have protected their security deposits as well. But, as they do often, the Florida legislature really stiff-armed some of our citizens who really need their help right now.
WONO: Why didn’t the House take up the bill?
Dan Gelber: I think that frankly, there are more callous people there than not callous people. I just think that they didn’t want to bother with tenants, although they should be very wary of tenants because millions of Floridians are renters. I hope tenants take note of the cold shoulder the Florida House gave them.
WONO: The State of Florida, along with 18 other states, has filed a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the new Patient Protection Affordable Health Care Act. How do you view this?
Dan Gelber: I think it is a politically motivated lawsuit that sides on behalf of insurance companies and not on the people. I think it is a bad idea and I would not have done it, had I been the Attorney General.
WONO: Quite recently, I think the Attorney General’s office had no idea how much this lawsuit will cost the taxpayers of Florida and I believe that AG Bill McCollum is using his former law firm as outside counsel. What do you make of this?
Dan Gelber: It is a political frolic. It has nothing to do with helping Floridians. The truth of the matter is that a great deal of attention in the Attorney General’s office has been spent on this frivolous lawsuit rather than on Medicaid fraud, or pill mills, or gang violence, or any of the many things that he ought to be focused on.
WONO: Close to 800,000 children have no health care insurance in Florida, the second-highest total in any U.S. state. What is being done to right this unjust situation?
Dan Gelber: Nothing by the State. The State is absolutely failing to address the health care problem that we have. There are almost four-million people without health care, along with 800,000 children. These are not the poorest, and they are obviously not the oldest. These are working men and women who can’t find affordable insurance and accessible health care in Florida. Unfortunately, the government of our State has done absolutely nothing meaningful to address this problem.
WONO: Municipalities across Florida have put in place draconian residency restrictions for convicted predators, making it virtually impossible for offenders to find housing. A “child protection zones” bill was passed recently. Will this new legislation make a difference to the homeless sex offender problem, for example, as in the Miami-Dade County?
Dan Gelber: The issue in Miami-Dade County has been resolved. We no longer have encampments under the bridge that many people were reporting in the last year. I do think the child protection zones will help, but I have three children under the age of 11. It is something my wife and I think about on a daily basis and I will tell you that the best prevention is vigilance from parents and from citizens who keep a watchful eye, because the predators that are out there are emboldened. The Internet has given them organizational tools and you have to be vigilant. It isn’t like it was 30 or 40 years ago. I think we live in a different age. The only true way to prevent it is to be vigilant as parents.
WONO: Beyond the homeless sex offender problem, isn’t there a more generalized one with the growing homeless population in Florida. Why is there not the political will to do more in this area?
Dan Gelber: Well, first of all, I think the homeless are not a politically powerful group and they are our most vulnerable citizens. Now, I have been doing Service Days around the State of Florida where I undertake a service in the community. A lot of those days have been done at homeless shelters and food lines. Some of these people aren’t even homeless; they just can’t make ends meet in a tough economy. Many of the homeless want jobs, they want to work. I think the legislature ought to have a longer-term view of trying to give them the tools with which they can alleviate their issues or provide the mental health care that they need, which the state doesn’t provide either. Many of the homeless often do have mental health issues.
WONO: Governor Crist recently vetoed the very contentious Teacher Merit Pay Bill. Did he make the right call?
Dan Gelber: Of course he did. That was a horrible bill. I have three kids in the public school system and I will tell you this, that bill was born out of a right-wing think tank. It really would have hurt our schools even worse than the FCAT because, it would have created high-stakes testing in every single class at the beginning and at the end of the school year, which I think, is a mistake. So, I am glad he vetoed it, although I don’t think it was a tough call. But, I do think people should be awakened to know that this is what the state legislature is capable of and they really need to think about who they are electing.
WONO: Florida voters put the Class-Size Limits in the constitution in 2002 and yet voters would be asked in November to change the Constitution’s current “maximum” class size to school-wise “average” class sizes? What do you make of this?
Dan Gelber: I don’t want larger classes. We had them and it wasn’t such a good thing 10-years ago. I think the Republicans failed to properly fund and implement it and now they are saying: “What can we do about it?” Well, there is an old saying, “Your procrastination isn’t my problem.” They should fund class sizes so our classrooms are smaller and our children get the best education possible. They should do it and they shouldn’t continue to make excuses.
WONO: The view is a wide-spread that there is a culture of corruption, particularly in South Florida, and last October Governor Crist asked for a grand jury to investigate public corruption throughout the state. Will this investigation change anything and what can be done to fight public corruption more effectively?
Dan Gelber: I spent many years as a corruption prosecutor in the U.S. Attorney General’s Office. I was a federal prosecutor who did public corruption work. A lot of that is not just about statutes and prosecuting. It is about campaign finance issues. We have very, very lax campaign finance laws. We allow the State Legislature to operate really, in the shadows. We don’t give our state attorneys the best statutes they can have. I have introduced a package and some of those measures were addressed in the Senate but the House again, decided they didn’t want to do anything to address their own conduct or ethics. So unfortunately, I think the governor should call us back into special session on this issue.
WONO: Immigration is a hot topic these days. What’s your view on immigration raids by local law enforcement deputizing as federal agents for the round-up, arrests and prosecution of allegedly undocumented persons?
Dan Gelber: I don’t like roundups and I don’t like what has happened in Arizona. I don’t think it is a very American thing to say to someone: “Show me your papers.” I think that changes dramatically the nature of our society and the democracy that we have built up. I think the Federal government has got to get a handle on this because, states and local cities are taking extreme measures because of the frustration they feel. It does not excuse wrong-headed ideas, but it should be a signal for the Federal government to get more serious about immigration enforcement.
WONO: Would you say it is good public policy and a wise use of prosecutorial resources to go after injured undocumented workers who seek help in emergency rooms, using a false social security number?
Dan Gelber: No. I think there are a lot of better uses for our prosecutors, especially since we haven’t given them a raise in five years or increased their numbers. Florida has a real violent crime problem. The state has a white-collar crime problem and we need to address those issues and not go on these demagoguery kind of frolics—taking on an undocumented worker who is in an emergency room, where care has to be provided under any circumstances. You just can’t leave someone to die in the streets and if there are children, it is not even an issue. So, I think it is not a very good use of prosecutors’ resources.
WONO: A recent Pew Center survey showed that Florida was one of 23 states that saw its prison population increase over the past year; 26 states’ prison populations declined. How do you feel about policy options such as early release of non-violent inmates who complete risk reduction programs or community supervision and re-entry programs? Should Florida be looking to implement similar programs to cut its prison population and reduce cost, while still continuing to protect public safety?
Dan Gelber: I come from a family of both prosecutors and school teachers, so we see the opportunity and achievement of people, and we also see the mistakes and bad decisions that they make. I think it is important that we deter people through some level of punishment. I think that non-violent offenders should be treated differently than violent offenders. My view always has been that if there is any extra money in the system it should be directed into the front end. I’ve been in the Big Brother’s program for 25 years and with the same kid for 21 years. I firmly believe that if you want to help a child from taking the wrong turn, you must involve yourself in his life. I am a believer that the front end can really make a difference in the community and a child. That is where our focus should be.
WONO: Up until last April there was a federal ban on offshore drilling in Florida and I know that issue has been hotly debated for decades in this state. What is your view in light of the current oil spill? Given the fragile state of the Florida economy, how concerned are you about the environmental and economic impact of the oil spill?
Dan Gelber: I am extremely concerned about this oil slick that, hopefully not, may be approaching our coast. Frankly, I didn’t need it to have an opinion. Long before this happened I was unalterably opposed to near-shore drilling. I think it is wrong; it makes no sense. I have always spoken out against it even when many of my colleagues were saying we should study it, or we should do it. The one thing that truly makes Florida extraordinary is its natural gifts. To be endangered simply because we need a little money right now, I think is a false promise. I opposed it before and of course, I will oppose it now.
WONO: Senator Gelber, Governor Crist recently announced he would be running as an independent for the U.S. Senate. Would you care to weigh-in on this?
Dan Gelber: I wish him luck. I have always gotten along with the governor. We have agreed on some things and not on others. He is a nice guy. But I hope he doesn’t have too much luck because I will be supporting the Democratic nominee.
WONO: Senator Gelber, if elected Attorney General what would be your four or five top priorities upon taking office?
Dan Gelber: Well, the first thing is to make sure the office is focused on protecting the consumers in the State of Florida. That is job number one for any Attorney General. I feel like the current guy has not been as focused as he should be. The Attorney General is your lawyer and he is the one making sure you are not being charged for something you shouldn’t be. He is the one making sure that police are organized in efforts to secure our neighborhoods. That is what an Attorney General does. So, the first thing I would do is re-establish that position, as the consumers’ lawyer. I also would look at some of the very specific areas this Attorney General has neglected. We can encourage or weigh-in on health care issues. I think the Attorney General can weigh-in on public education issues, because I do believe that Florida’s constitution demands we have a high quality system of public education, and I don’t think we have one. So, I think the legislature is violating our constitution and these are the kinds of issues I would look into. I’d want to be the fiercest consumer advocate you can have. I want to be this fighter that the people want–to make sure they are getting health care and proper schools. I’d also continue with some of the areas in which the office has made its mark, like the predators, because I think that is also important.
WONO: Senator Gelber, final question. How is your campaign going and will we be seeing Dan Gelber, Florida Attorney General come November.
Dan Gelber: I think I will be the next Attorney General of Florida. I travel around this great state and I have met so many terrific people. A lot of them are really trying to make their way in a tough economy. Some have real challenges. I believe it would be an incredible honor to be Florida’s Attorney General, so that I could be their lawyer, so I could fight for them. I think the quality that makes me best equipped for this job is, I am not afraid to pick a fight with anyone if it is a fight over principle. I think that is what you are looking for in an Attorney General. Someone who will fight for you and will stand up for you and won’t take anything from anyone on your behalf; that is what you want. I expect to be that person by the end of the year.
WONO: Thank you.
Dan Gelber: Thank you, too.
More About Senator Dan Gelber
Dan Gelber has led a life of exemplary public and community service. The son of a prosecutor and a schoolteacher, he grew up in Florida – in Miami and in Tallahassee.
Chosen as Florida’s Truman Scholar when he was in college, Dan was appointed one of the nation’s youngest federal prosecutors when he joined the South Florida U.S. Attorney’s Office.
For nearly a decade, Dan handled some of Florida’s most significant public corruption, civil rights and narcotics prosecutions. He rose to be head of the civil rights division ultimately becoming a top deputy where he managed hundreds of prosecutors and thousands of investigations.
Dan was noticed by then U.S. Senator Sam Nunn who asked him to take the helm of the United State Senate’s investigations committee as its Chief Counsel and Staff Director. Dan led delegations around the world and throughout the former Soviet Union where he investigated terrorism and worked on ways to stop dangerous weapons and weapons technology from being smuggled to terrorist groups and rogue nations in the Middle East. He also led investigations and hearings, published reports and testified before the congress on a wide array of domestic security issues.
In 2000, Dan was elected to the Florida House and in 2006, he was unanimously selected by his Democratic colleagues as their Democratic Leader. In 2008, he was elected to represent the residents of district 35 in the state Senate, where he serves today. In his decade in the legislature he has been one of the most prominent advocates for public education, health care and children’s issues.
Dan is an accomplished attorney who has the highest rating (AV) from the Martindale Hubbell rating service and has been recognized in various peer–review publications including Best lawyers in America and Florida’s Legal Elite.
Dan has been a Big Brother volunteer with the Big Brothers, Big Sister program for 25 years, including 20 with his current little brother Travis. He has also spent nearly every summer at a camp he helped create 25 years ago for children afflicted with cancer. Dan lives with his wife, Joan, a career federal prosecutor, and their three children, Sophie, Hannah and Max in Miami Beach.
Contact Senator Dan Gelber
801 Arthur Godfrey Road
Miami Beach, Fl 33140
226 Senate Office Building
404 South Monroe Street
Tallahassee, FL 32399-1100
Senate VOIP: 5121
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