By Jim Saunders
The News Service of Florida
TALLAHASSEE — In the first major development of qualifying week, state Rep. Jay Fant, R-Jacksonville, announced Tuesday that he is dropping out of the race for attorney general and will apply to become Florida’s top financial regulator.
Fant had been vying with two other Republicans and two Democrats to replace term-limited Attorney General Pam Bondi. But Fant, who raised relatively little campaign cash in recent months, said in a prepared statement that he will seek to become commissioner of the state Office of Financial Regulation.
“Businesses in Florida must operate on a level playing field, and our willingness to fight for that is vital to the success of free enterprise,” Fant said in the statement. “These beliefs led me to run for the Florida House, and then last year to run for attorney general. The recent opening for commissioner of the Office of Financial Regulation, however, is the position most in line with my experience in banking, law and policymaking and I will seek that appointment. My passion is to see that limited government be fair for all Floridians.”
Fant made the announcement on the second day of formal qualifying for this year’s elections.
Two candidates for attorney general had qualified as of Tuesday evening: Republican Ashley Moody, a former Hillsborough County circuit judge, and Democrat Sean Shaw, a state House member from Tampa. Other candidates who must qualify by a noon Friday deadline are Republican Frank White, a state House member from Pensacola, and Democrat Ryan Torrens, a Hillsborough County attorney. State Rep. Ross Spano, R-Dover, also initially planned to run for attorney general but decided to run for an open congressional seat.
The job of commissioner of the Office of Financial Regulation became open May 31 when Commissioner Drew Breakspear announced he was stepping down after pressure from state Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis. Gov. Rick Scott and the state Cabinet, which includes Patronis, are accepting applications through Friday and could make an appointment to the position June 27.
Fant formerly led First Guaranty Bank & Trust, which his grandfather founded, but the bank went out of business after the recession. In the statement Tuesday, Fant acknowledged the bank’s failure — but pinned at least part of the blame on the federal government.
“After years of work in the private sector, I first decided to pursue elected office because I experienced first hand what wayward government policy does to business,” Fant said in the statement. “I was running a small community bank during the Great Recession and Florida real estate crisis. Our company, like all banks and financial firms, suffered tremendously. The federal government intervened by passing a massive bank bailout that helped the largest banks and left the small community banks out in the cold. Sixty-four banks in Florida alone, including ours, went out of business. Wall Street won. Main Street lost.”
Fant, who was first elected to the House in 2014, reported a net worth of $2.4 million as of Dec. 31, 2016, according to a financial-disclosure report. He loaned $750,000 to his attorney-general campaign last year. He had raised an additional $277,863 for his campaign but had brought in only about $16,200 since January, a finance report shows. Fant’s political committee, known as Pledge This Day, had raised $114,000 this year.