Thurston looks to make history as first Black Attorney General
For Perry Thurston, the Aug. 26th primary may be his first step on the way to history. If elected this year, Thurston would be the first Black Attorney General and the first elected Black cabinet officer since Reconstruction.
“I believe that with success comes an obligation to serve,” said Thurston. “I am blessed to have had opportunities in my life and I want to use those opportunities to improve the lives of others. Pam Bondi and Rick Scott have wrecked our state and I want to be part of repairing the damage.”
Thurston graduated from Morehouse College in 1982 with honors in finance. He worked at a bank for two years but left after witnessing injustice in the workplace. As a result, he went to law school and graduated in 1987. He served in the Broward County Public Defenders’ office before entering private practice in criminal defense and public finance.
“I made a promise when I became a defense attorney – I would always do my best and respect my clients’ wishes,” said Thurston. “I had seen too many people rolled over by a system that did not care about them. I think everyone deserves some-one that will fight for them.”
In 2006, Thurston was elected as a State Representative for Fort Lauderdale and Broward. He focused on voting rights, protecting education and raising the minimum wage. Thurston has been at the fore-front of the battle in the Florida legislature. He has sponsored legislation to make voter registration easier and require the Courts to rule on the constitutionality of any changes to voting requirements. He also regularly sponsored workshops from 2007-2010 to help ex-offenders get their rights rein-stated.
He was forced to stop when, as their first act in office, Governor Rick Scott and Attorney General Pam Bondi ended the restoration of rights process. The decision drew widespread condemnation from civil rights groups. Voting rights have be-come a political football in recent years as Republican state legislatures across the country have attempted to reduce early voting, the number of voting sites and require identification at the polls. Meanwhile, the Republican dominated Supreme Court drastically reduced the Justice Department’s power to enforce the Voting Rights Act.
“Voting is our most basic right,” said Thurston. “And it took the sacrifices of millions – from the American Revolution to the Civil Rights generation to guarantee voters’ rights. The Attorney General should be protecting those rights, not attacking them. “It’s a disgrace,” said Thurston. “One quarter of all disenfranchised ex-offenders live here in Florida. Rick Scott and Pam Bondi changed the rules to make it easier for them to win elections even while increasing recidivism rates. As Attorney General, I will work towards a process for automatic restoration of rights.”
At the time, Bondi argued that the changes would be “fair and restore a proper respect for the rights of law-abiding citizens.” However, a study by the Florida Parole Commission appeared to show the success of the restoration of rights process. The Commission examined 31,000 released prisoners from 2009 to 2010, and found around 11 percent of those who regained their civil rights was reincarcerated. In contrast, the recidivism rate for ex-offenders who did not have their civil rights restored was about 33 percent.
Progress Florida named him a “Middle-Class Champion” based on his voting record. In 2012, his colleagues elected him Democratic Leader.
Thurston has achieved notoriety for his aggressive style. Last year, the Sunshine State News editorialized that he “never hesitated in taking the fight to Republicans.” During the 2013 session, he master-minded a “read the bills” strategy that brought the House to stand still until the body acted on Medicaid expansion. In 2014, he forced a vote on repealing Stand Your Ground Laws despite pundits declaring the issue dead.
“Perry is a fighter,” said Chris Smith, the Democratic Leader in the State Senate. “He has stood up to Rick Scott, Pam Bondi, and the entire Republican leadership in Tallahassee. For sure he doesn’t just go along to get along.”
Polls have consistently shown Thurston statistically tied with his Republican opponent Pam Bondi. But strategists say turnout will be critical.
“We need high African-American turnout,” said Jon Nixon, Thurston’s field coordinator. “Not just on Nov. 4, but in the Democratic primary on Aug. 26. We can’t miss this opportunity to make history.”
First, Thurston has to win the August 26 Democratic primary. Prognosticators are expecting a close race and Black turnout to play a crucial role. Early voting begins this week.