Q: What was the spark that made you want to concentrate on consumer protection and foreclosure defense?
TORRENS: When I came back home to Tampa after being in Washington D.C. for 4½ years, I worked on a federal government-mandated foreclosure review process that was operated through the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency. And that was a federal government-mandated project where these consultants, me being one of them, had to review the toxic loans that Bank of America and other lenders had made. So I worked on the Bank of America site in Tampa. I saw a lot of abuses that had been committed by Bank of America. I saw a couple of cases where people had been foreclosed upon while they were serving our country; foreclosures that had taken place without proper notice. That’s when I was kind of exposed to the area of consumer law. And I saw the difference that a good lawyer could make.
Q: You have talked about the Attorney General’s Office needing to be the state’s top consumer advocate and protector. What consumer directives have been neglected and what changes are needed?
TORRENS: One consumer directive that the current attorney general has neglected is to hold pharmaceutical companies liable for the opioid crisis that Florida is facing right now. Another consumer area that our current attorney general is ignoring is that our banks are foreclosing on our homeowners while they’re also telling them that they’re considering them for a loan modification. That’s illegal. And she has not brought an action to enforce that. There are also a lot of problems in the student-loan industry, and she has not been involved in holding student lenders liable for their predatory practices.
Q: Where do you stand on the legality of Gov. Rick Scott’s effort to remove cases from a state attorney who will not pursue the death penalty?
TORRENS: The cases where the death penalty is an issue for the attorney general’s office are few and far between. But just as a general policy I would not adopt an across-the-board policy to not pursue the death penalty. I am personally opposed to the death penalty. I have been for many years. But I would still review the cases on a case-by-case basis.
Q: You’ve never run for any office before. You’re don’t have what insiders would say is a household name. Yet you’ve decided to take on a statewide campaign in a state where your party hasn’t had the greatest track record the past couple of decades. How do you expect to get any message out to, first, emerge as your party’s candidate, and then take on what many would expect to be a much better-funded candidate in the general election?
TORRENS: We will be employing a 67-county strategy. What we’ve been doing the past 20 years in Florida hasn’t been working, as you just noted. I think the fact that I’m young. I have a lot of energy. I’m not jaded. I don’t owe anyone any favors. I’m not a politician. And combined with my consumer-protection background, that makes me a unique candidate with a lot to offer.
I think that we as a party have been at fault on messaging. I think that we have been ignoring people, like a lot of people in this area where we are now (Torrens was in Tallahassee on Saturday). A lot of hard working class Floridians, who feel like they are being ignored by our party, and we sometimes have a tendency to come across like we’re talking down to them, instead of talking with them in a way that resonates. So we’re going to focus on talking to them on issues that are important to them, not trying to dictate how they are supposed to lead their lives. We’re going to change things up.
As for the second part, they (Republican candidates Ashley Moody and Jay Fant) are both well-funded. We will overcome that. I will never out-raise them, but I believe that we will raise enough to run a good campaign to run the operations of a campaign and get our message out. And I think we will have enough money to work hard enough to show the voters across the state that I am the candidate who has a proven track record of fighting for the people. And we’ll be very aggressive talking about the issues and showing the stark contrast between what we offer to do for our people and what the Republican candidates are offering to do. I think it will be very clear that I’m the one who’s looking to fight for our hard-working consumers.
(You mentioned a 67-county approach. Are there benchmarks for every county?)
We’re not under any delusions. We know it’s impossible to win every county. But I think in a lot of those areas that would be considered red areas, from the people I’ve talked to the last month and a half, I’m noticing that a lot of the voters are not necessary partisan. Some of them may usually vote Republican or Democratic, but they’re just looking for a candidate who’s going to fight for them. For me to hit my win number, I’m going to need a certain number of votes. We’re going to try to draw voters from all areas, even in counties where I may not have a realistic chance of prevailing.
Q: Why the need to open your past, in terms of battling alcohol addiction, and is there anything else that could appear negative if exposed first by a competitor or the media?
TORRENS: It’s important to show the voters that I’m being honest with them. And I think it’s also important because I hope to inspire some Floridians who may secretly be suffering addiction to come out of the shadows, so to speak, and to seek help. There is very much a stigma right now for people who are suffering with addiction. They think if they come out and seek help and people find out they may be deemed to be losers. I want them to see that I had the same struggles and I’m running for the office of Attorney General. There is really nothing to be ashamed about.
I also, I think, it’s important to show leadership. I think people are desperate for leadership on this issue. We intend to provide that. By me coming out, publicly, it shows that I can personally relate. I’ve had some folks already come up to me and privately share their past experience. They were inspired by what I had to say.
Will you be hearing more? Yes. It’s not like I’m going to talk about my own personal struggles every time I give a speech. At some point people will have heard enough of that. But people are going to be looking to see what I’m going to propose to actually do about this problem. We’re going to be coming out with some concrete proposals to address this crisis.