Interview with Senator Dave Aronberg–Candidate for Florida Attorney General
Conducted by: West Orlando News
Date: May 10th 2010
WONO: Senator Aronberg could you please introduce yourself? Tell us a little about Dave Aronberg?
Dave Aronberg: I am a native Floridian, born and raised in the Miami area. I went to public schools. Mom was a public school teacher and then I grew up wanting to be a lawyer. I thought one day I’d love to serve in public office. When I began practicing law, the job I loved the most was working for the Attorney General. I was an assistant Attorney General in the Economic Crimes Division, working under Attorney General Bob Butterworth. When I started working for him, it was like a light bulb turned on and I knew this was what I wanted to do in the future. I wanted to be Attorney General. Subsequently, I got a White House Fellowship, and I worked at the White House for one year. I then ran for the state senate and have been serving now for the last eight years. Most of my legislation has been geared toward privacy, consumer protection, and public safety issues, which the Attorney General should make his priority. I knew one day that I would return to run for that office and that day is here.
WONO: What has the experience been like as a Florida State Senator?
Dave Aronberg: It was a big learning curve, at first; -I had never run for office before. You have to learn to work within the minority. I am in the minority party — that is all that I have known. I’ve been able to pass a lot of bills despite my minority status, because I try to work across party lines. My district is a very competitive one, so that was a challenge from the very beginning. It is only about 38% Democratic. It cuts from West Palm Beach all the way across the State to Fort Myers and Bonita Spring; it goes all the way from sea to shining sea, as I like to say. It has been quite an experience–going back and forth, trying to listen and accommodate the needs of a diverse population living on both sides of the State of Florida. I think I’ve done that and I am proud of my record. I think I can do more as Attorney General, make a greater difference in our state. I think I’ve done some things as state senator, but I hope to have a greater impact on policy and the direction of our state as Attorney General.
WONO: Florida loses as much as $3.2 billion annually in Medicaid fraud. Moreover, the state has the second highest number of Medicaid recipients in the nation, but ranks 39th in convictions per person in its fraud unit. Why does this multi-billion dollar Medicaid fraud problem persists? If you were to become State Attorney General how would you tackle it?
Dave Aronberg: I want to add four attorneys to the Medicaid Fraud Division. Right now the Medicaid Fraud Division brings in more money than it cost; it is a net positive to our state. You just need to have the right priorities. The current Attorney General has a different set of priorities. Medicaid fraud will be one of my top priorities. We are going to fund it properly. I am going to shift things around the office to make sure that we have more attorneys and more investigators in the Medicaid Fraud Division because, we know where the Medicaid fraud is. There is more Medicaid fraud in Miami-Dade County than every other county in Florida combined. We know where it is, but we just haven’t had the political will to make it a top priority. That is going to change because, not only does the state lose when it comes to siphoning off precious aid dollars when there is fraud, but when we don’t go after the fraud, we also leave federal dollars on the table. The Federal government gives grants–matching funds three-to-one when Florida goes after Medicaid fraud and yet we’re leaving those dollars on the table by underfunding the Medicaid Fraud Division. That is something that is going to change. I am going to reassess the priorities of the office. We are going to make Medicaid fraud the top priority.
WONO: The State of Florida, along with about 18 states, has filed a law suit challenging the constitutionality of the new Health Care Act. How do you view this?
Dave Aronberg: I view it as political shenanigans. This is a frivolous lawsuit and it’s only being filed because of election-year politics. The Attorney General is playing to his hard-core political base at the expense of all other priorities of the office. I am different. I am not a politician using this office as a stepping-stone for a higher office. I came from the Attorney General’s office and I am running for Attorney General because I want to be Attorney General. I am not going to divert precious resources away from our core mission such as Medicaid fraud, toward a political folly that is just being used to gain votes in an upcoming election for another office.
WONO: Close to 800,000 children have no health care insurance in Florida, the second highest total in any U.S. state. What’s being done to right this unjust situation?
Dave Aronberg: Well, one thing, going back to Medicaid fraud is, when there is $3 billion of Medicaid fraud out of a $14-billion program, it just shows you that it is $3 billion dollars that we cannot afford to lose. If you wonder why children aren’t being covered, start with the $3 billion being wasted in our precious Medicaid budget. You can also look at the fact that we have a Kid Care Program that has not been well publicized, although there has been a recent attempt to get the message out. There should be no excuse for any child who is not insured. Every child should be insured in Florida, either through Medicaid or through Kid Care, that’s why we have these programs. We have to get the message out about these programs and we need to eliminate, as best we can, the fraud in these programs.
WONO: Recently, Gov. Crist vetoed the very contentious Teacher Merit Pay Bill, SB-6, did he make the “right” call?
Dave Aronberg: Absolutely. I was one of the first voices against this bill. This bill was dangerous and would have sent our good teachers packing to find a school that respects them properly. This bill was an unfunded mandate on local governments. It treated all teachers like they were bad teachers and the bill was rightly canned by both Democrat and Republican voters. Unfortunately, the Republican legislators did not vote that way and passed the measure. But, make no mistake, this measure was not a conservative bill because it removed local control, it elevated the state bureaucracy, and it relied on federal stimulus money for its funding. Everyone should have voted against this bill. It blamed our state’s education problems, not on the lack of funding, but on teachers who continue to do more with less.
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-wide “average” class sizes. What do you make of this?
Dave Aronberg: I opposed the attempt to send it back to the voters. The voters spoke clearly and we have to respect the will of voters. I think the class-size amendment was not funded properly and if it had been, you would not have to go back to the voters and say, “Are you sure?” Remember, the same voters who voted for me and my colleagues are the same voters who put the class-size amendment into law. So, I am skeptical about putting this back to the voters. I think, the other part of it is, the problems of class size can be fixed through a statute. You don’t have to repeal the whole thing; don’t throw the baby out with the bath water. You can pass statutes to fix any problems that exist; the Supreme Court says so. You don’t have throw it all out.
WONO: The view is widespread that there is a culture of corruption in Florida, particularly South Florida and I think last October Gov. Crist did ask for a grand jury to investigate public corruption. Will this investigation change anything and what can be done to fight public corruption more effectively?
Dave Aronberg: I am proud that my Ethics Bill passed this session. I wish it wasn’t the only ethics bill to pass, but it was the only one. I am proud that I was able to get it through the Legislature this year. But more needs to be done. You need to have strong enforcement of the existing laws. The state attorneys are equipped to go after political corruption, so it’s not just the Feds. Right now the state’s attorneys come in and do it. I was able to pass a law to increase the penalties at the local level that the state’s attorney will now enact. A lot of it is enforcement. These legislators need to give the prosecutors the tools; our laws are only as good as the prosecutors allow them to be, unfortunately.
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, arrest and prosecution of allegedly undocumented persons?
Dave Aronberg: It would have to be looked at on a case-by-case situation, but I can tell you that the Federal government needs comprehensive immigration reform. State and local governments are feeling this pressure because the Federal government refuses to act. It will take some political courage. So, it starts with the Federal government. I worked on this issue at the state level and found that the Federal government was not very responsive on trying to work with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) on juveniles who are legals and were arrested. ICE was very difficult to deal with. I understand why state governments are doing what they are doing and I wish we could fix this at the federal level and avoid laws like the one in Arizona. We need some balanced immigration reform and we are only going to get that at the federal level.
WONO: Up until April there was a federal ban on offshore drilling in Florida and I know the issue has been hotly debated for decades in this state. What is your view, particularly in light of the current oil spill? Given the fragility of the Florida’s economy are you concerned about the environment and economic impact of the oil spill?
Dave Aronberg: Yes I am. I am the chair of the Senate Military Affairs and Domestic Security Committee that oversees emergency operations and as such I have been involved with this issue and trying to make sure that Florida has the proper response to the crisis. I believe that the companies involved in this–BP, Halliburton, and Transocean need to pony-up $1 billion dollars because, $25 million is inadequate to resolve claims. There needs to be a $1-billion fund in escrow to avoid the situation that we had in Alaska after the Exxon Valdez spill, where it took two decades to resolve claims. We don’t want that to happen here. As for offshore drilling, I have consistently been opposed to those plans and now you see why.
WONO: Governor Crist recently announced that he was running as an Independent for the U.S. Senate. Would you care to weigh in on this?
Dave Aronberg: It shows that the Republican Party is a tough place for moderates these days. The Tea Party movement has dominated the Republican Party and it’s led to the departure of moderates like Governor Crist. We saw Senator Bennett in Utah being thrown out just a couple of days ago by Republican voters. It was no surprise that Governor Crist did this out of political survival and that’s because the Republican Party has changed in the last couple of years.
WONO: If elected as State Attorney General what would be your first four or five top priorities upon taking office?
Dave Aronberg: Public safety and consumer protection would be top priorities. Also, I would go after the gang problem; we have a real gang problem in our schools and our communities. It is not just an urban problem; it’s both urban and rural. I want to go after prescription drug abuse, the pill mills that continue to act as licensed drug dealers and kill thousands of our citizens every year. So, it’s gangs, prescription drug abuse, Medicaid fraud—those issues that affect consumers, including public safety. I want to tackle mortgage fraud. I want to make sure that our state isn’t at the top of mortgage fraud. So, these are top priorities. I want to continue doing what I have been doing for the last eight years as state senator on these types of issues.
WONO: Senator Aronberg, how is your campaign going? Will we be seeing Dave Aronberg, Florida Attorney General come November?
Dave Aronberg: It is going very well. I started the race as the underdog and now we are considered by many as the frontrunner. We’ve received 14-out-of-14 sheriffs’ endorsements. We’ve received every Clerk of Court endorsement. We have energized groups of people who may not otherwise participate in the political process. We have gone after young voters and we have made great inroads with the Haitian community. We’ve been going throughout this state. I am getting support in places that don’t normally support Democrats and I am very encouraged by our broad-based support. And last but not least, we are the top fund-raiser in this race. We have exceeded all of our expectations for fundraising, beating every candidate in this race, Democrat or Republican. Right now I think we are doing really well. If your readers haven’t met me yet, I will be coming to their communities soon.
WONO: Senator Aronberg, thank you.
Dave Aronberg: Thank you, too.
More About Senator Dave Aronberg
Referring to State Senator Dave Aronberg, the Orlando Sentinel stated, “If you’re looking for new leaders, try starting here.” The Fort Myers News-Press said that Senator Aronberg “is considered to be the strongest consumer advocate in state government.” The Naples Daily News called him “the real deal,” and Governor Charlie Crist has praised him as “a rock star.”
In his seven years in the State Senate, Dave Aronberg has passed major consumer protection legislation that safeguards our privacy against identity theft and financial schemes. As part of a Medicaid task force, Dave successfully fought for reforms to combat fraud and abuse that will save taxpayers millions of dollars.
As a rare Democratic committee chair in a Republican-led Senate, Senator Aronberg led the Senate’s efforts to secure federal funding for Everglades restoration. In addition, he oversees a consumer protection project in his Senate office that has returned more than four million dollars to Floridians who have called with consumer complaints.
In 2008, Senator Aronberg was named Chair of the Military Affairs and Domestic Security committee, where he works with members of local, state and federal law enforcement to protect Florida’s ports and to ensure proper treatment of our State’s veterans and those serving on active duty.
Dave Aronberg was born and raised in South Florida and attended public schools before going off to Harvard for college, then Harvard Law School, where he graduated with honors in 1996. As an attorney, he worked closely with Insurance Commissioner (now U.S. Senator) Bill Nelson to investigate European insurance companies that refused to honor World War II-era policies sold to victims of the Holocaust. In 1999, Dave became a Florida Assistant Attorney General for economic crimes. Among other cases, he headed the State’s lawsuit against “Miss Cleo,” the “Jamaican Shango Shaman psychic” who had become an international celebrity among late-night television viewers.
In 2000, Dave was selected to be one of 15 White House Fellows from across the country. In this non-partisan position, Dave served in two Presidential Administrations as Special Assistant to the Secretary of the Treasury Department for international money laundering.
Elected to the Florida Senate in November 2002, Senator Aronberg represents a challenging, diverse district that stretches from eastern Palm Beach County through Glades, Hendry and Charlotte Counties all the way to Lee County on Florida’s gulf coast. Even though Democrats comprise only 38% of his district, Dave was re-elected in 2008 with 59% of the vote.
Contact Senator Dave Aronberg
P.O. Box 540872
405 Senate Office Building
404 South Monroe Street
Tallahassee, FL 32399-1100
Tel: (850) 487-5356
website: www. flsenate.gov
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