BY BUDDY NEVINS
Tallahassee trial lawyers have dumped one of their long-time supporters in the Florida House for one of their own.
State Rep. Jim Waldman, a Coconut Creek Democrat who has been a champion of legislation favorable to lawyers, has lost the backing of the Florida Justice Association for his 2016 state Senate race.
The association and many in the Trial Bar are instead set to back Parkland lawyer Gary Farmer, a former president of the FJA.
Farmer and Waldman — two multi-millionaire lawyers – are vying for a west Broward Senate seat open in two years.
Waldman is hurt and feels betrayed by Farmer jumping in the race.
“For the past five years, I’ve been the go-to guy for the trial lawyers. I was their biggest supporter,” Waldman says.
Farmer, of Parkland, explained to Browardbeat.com why he would run against Waldman: “I’ve got the bug. I can be an effective advocate for my district and I live in the district.”
Because of the wealth of the candidates and their extensive contacts throughout Florida, the race is sure to be a drawn-out bloody contest costing millions.
Farmer is new to campaigning, but not new to politics.
He has been an advocate for the legal profession in Tallahassee, including his stint as president of the FJA. The FJA consists of many lawyers who represent plaintiffs suing companies, physicians and others for wrongdoing.
Farmer, a Democrat, went to court a decade ago to fight successfully against efforts to destroy the contested ballots from the 2000 Presidential election.
“I’m passionate about civil justice issues, protecting the rights of people, protecting the rights of labor,” he says.
Farmer says it is time to give something back to the community.
With a string of multi-million dollars verdicts for clients in his pocket, Farmer will have the cash to compete politically. So will Waldman.
The former mayor of Coconut Creek, Waldman is a veteran in Broward politics. He won his House seat in 2006 after a stint on the Coconut Creek City Commission. He is the general counsel of Keiser University and comes from a family of homebuilders.
Waldman is best known in Coconut Creek as negotiating a deal requiring the Seminole Tribe to pay the city annually for services relating to their casino. He also has proven he can work with Republicans in Tallahassee, having passed a $1 billion-a-year cigarette tax.
Up for grabs is State Senate District 29’s seat, which has been held by state Sen. Jeremy Ring of Parkland since 2006. Ring is termed out in two years.
A heavily Democratic district, it runs east of the Sawgrass Expressway and south along Interstate 75 through Coconut Creek, Parkland, Miramar and portions of Deerfield Beach, North Lauderdale, Tamarac, Sunrise, Weston, Davie, Southwest Ranches and Pembroke Pines.
Open Senate seats are prized. Because there are only 40 senators, each vote is more important than in the House. Democrats have some influence in the Senate.
The Senate Republican leaders even appoint Democrats as committee chairs. Ring is chair of the Government Oversight and Accountability Committee.
So any open seat is fiercely fought over.
To give readers an idea of what’s coming in the future in District 29, the three-way 2008 campaign that propelled state Sen. Eleanor Sobel, D-Hollywood, into the state Senate was a $2 million scorch-and-burn contest. That was eight years ago!
Farmer versus Waldman will have plenty of fodder for negative ads.
For instance, Farmer was a lawyer at jailed scam artist Scott Rothstein’s law firm for 11 months.
He was hired after winning a major whistle-blower case against a pharmaceutical company.
While at the firm, he was asked by Rothstein to make contributions to various political candidates, including Republicans. He and his wife Stacey gave $37,000.
He fully cooperated with the federal investigations into Rothstein, he told the Miami Herald.
Waldman also has dirt in his closet.
He claimed to have lived in a manufactured home in a trailer park during the first years he was in the Legislature. He has a sprawling estate of several acres in a part of Coconut Creek, which was outside the district at the time.
Plus Waldman has eight years of votes in the Florida House. Farmer’s political operatives can surely find some votes which can be presented in an unfavorable light in ads.
What may further complicate this race is the rumor that it will become a three-way fight before it reaches the ballot box. County Commissioner Kristin Jacobs may be the the third candidate.
Jacobs, who is running for the Florida House in 2014, denies she will run for the Senate in two years.
But the persistent rumor has dogged Jacobs’ House race.
Campaign Has Started
For now, it is just two candidates.
Farmer and Waldman met in Tallahassee last week.
“I told him I am not running against him,” Farmer said. “I’m running for an open seat.”
He said he would formally open a campaign account after the current session of the Legislature ends in May. Waldman has had an account open for the 2016 race since last year, raising just under $100,000.
Farmer didn’t let his interview with Browardbeat.com end before this thinly veiled attack:
“I don’t think only professional politicians should continue to hold office.”
Waldman has held political office since 1993.
“He had no problem coming to this ‘professional politician’ for years when he needed something done in the House,” Waldman fired back.
It’s going to be that kind of campaign…for the next two years.