Consumer protection attorney Ryan Torrens is quite aware that he’s not an established political presence, but he says that should be an argument for his fledgling candidacy to become Florida’s next Attorney General.
“Look, I get it,” the 32-year-old told an audience who gathered Friday morning at Tampa’s Oxford Exchange to hear the Hillsborough County resident speak as part of the Cafe Con Tampa lecture series.
“I’m young. First-time candidate. A lot of people look at me and think, ‘Can he really win this thing? He’s never run for office before. He’s been practicing for five years? Come on.””
The answers are hard to dispute.
“In the Democratic Party in Florida, what we’ve been doing the last 20 years isn’t working.”
Torrens says he’s offering something different. Energy, passion, new ideas and the fact that he is decidedly not a politician, which he has surmised during his brief time as a statewide candidate is something that voters are hungry for.
A fifth generation Tampa native with Cuban roots, Torrens became the first (and still only) Democrat to file for Attorney General two months ago. Former Hillsborough County judge Ashley Moody and Jacksonville state Representative Jay Fant have filed to run in the GOP primary.
Under previous AG’s like Charlie Crist and Bob Butterworth, the position as Florida’s top cop was about being a consumer advocate for the people, something that Torrens says has been missing under Pam Bondi’s direction.
“A lot of people think it’s like the state attorney prosecuting murders and things like that,” he says of the AG’s job description.”That’s really not what the Attorney General does. If I’m Attorney General, I’m supposed to fight for all the people of Florida, and not simply take big contribution checks from companies and give them a pass.”
Working on the opioid epidemic he says will be a top priority in his administration, and if elected, he says he’ll sue the pharmaceutical companies for their role in perpetuating the crisis.
“They need to be held liable,” he says, “and we could use those proceeds from a settlement or a verdict to help get treatment from those who are currently suffering.”
Torrens recently outed himself as being a recovering alcoholic, and said that experience allows him to identify with Floridians working through their own addictions.
Referring to the controversy over the recent “school of hope” education bill, he talked about the state constitution, which says that the state must adequately fund public schools.
“I would like to see if the AG could possibly file a lawsuit against the Legislature, for not adequately funding the public schools, and fulfilling its constitutional obligation,” he said.
Torrens also says he’ll go after predatory student lenders and abusive debt collectors. But he insists that he’s not some “left-wing radical” who wants to pick on Wall Street.
“When I talk all over the state with Democrats and Republicans they want the same thing, which is, they need to follow the same rules.”
A political science major at the University of Tampa, Torrens sounds like an analyst when he told the crowd he understands that it’s been the Democratic party’s arrogance that led to the election of Donald Trump last November.
“They feel that the Democrats are not speaking to them. That we make promises that we’re going to fight for working class people, but we’re a bunch of hypocrites because we get into office and we don’t really fight for them,” he said, adding that “we have a tendency sometimes to talk down to working class people and they feel like we’re trying to dictate to them how they need to live their lives.”
Torrens will certainly be an underdog to the Republican nominee if makes it that far next year when it comes to fundraising. He announced that he had raised a little more than $22,000 after two months on the campaign trail recently.
Fant raised over $79,000, and Moody more than $600,000 between her own campaign and her political committee.