AG candidate focuses on consumers
Ryan Torrens isn’t afraid to admit he doesn’t have a lot of big-dollar donors — or that he hasn’t been elected to anything in his life.
“I’m not in politics and I’m actually proud of that,” Torrens, an attorney, said Monday in a conversation with the Chronicle. “That means I don’t owe anybody any favors. I’m not taking big corporate contributions.”
Since filing in May 2017 to run for the attorney general post being vacated by term-limited Pam Bondi, Torrens has raised just under $98,000 from about 1,200 donors. Just 21 of those donors — and no corporate entities — gave $1,000 or more, according to campaign finance reports.
The other Democrat in the race, former state Rep. Sean Shaw, has raised a little more than $240,000 from just over 300 donors since filing in January. Of those, 118 gave between $1,000 and $3,000, including Dosal Tobacco Corp., TECO Energy Inc., Verizon, insurance company Asurion and Walmart Stores Inc., campaign finance reports show.
Torrens, whose law practice specializes in consumer protection, wants to bring that emphasis to the Attorney General’s Office.
“We need an aggressive, tenacious attorney general who will go back to basics — putting consumers first,” Torrens said. “We haven’t had a strong consumer-protection attorney general for a long time in this state.”
That slight against Bondi wasn’t the only one Torrens made — he’s not shy about slamming the outgoing AG for what he sees as a lack of energetic support of Floridians during the recession and housing crisis.
“I would have been much more aggressive going after the banks that got busted,” Torrens said. “I would have tried to obtain much larger settlements to help people save their homes.”
He also wants to pursue lawsuits against pharmaceutical companies, which he believes are partially responsible for the opioid crisis.
“Where the AG can make a direct difference is...holding big pharmaceutical companies accountable for their role,” he said. “In my mind, the real drug pushers are the pharmaceutical company executives who knew that these drugs were addictive and had been lying to consumers for a long time.”
The large settlements he’d aim for — “in the hundreds of millions,” he said — would go toward reimbursing the state for incarceration costs, policing, Medicaid, and to help people get into treatment programs.
“This is not the type of situation where you arrest the addict and throw away the keys,” Torrens said. “As long as they’re willing to get better, they need to have access to treatment.”
That could mean using the weight of the attorney general’s office to pursue additional funding for mental health resources from the Florida Legislature.
Torrens has first-hand experience with the system. A member of his extended family has been diagnosed paranoid schizophrenia. She spent time in jail without adequate care for her illness, resulting in months of setbacks, according to Torrens.
“Most people who have an addiction issue have some kind of underlying mental health condition,” he said. “Most addicts will need some kind of mental health counseling. I think the AG can be a very significant voice for more mental health funding, and can pound away at the Legislature to get more funding for this.”
Torrens said the attorney general’s position should be above partisan political bickering.
“One of the things I’ve heard over and over again is...they’re real tired of partisanship, the bickering, the political gamesmanship,” he said of people he hears from at events. “They do not expect their AG to be a partisan.”
They’re also tired of scam phone calls, he said.
“That hits everyone, it’s not partisan at all,” he said of calls from scammers. “What I’ve pledged to do is come up with some kind of strike force led by the AG to get the telephone companies involved. If we can send a man to the moon...we can certainly stop scammers.”