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Rayner declares bid for Congressional seat

Brian Hartz



State Rep. Michele Rayner will seek the U.S. Congress seat held by Charlie Crist. Screen grab from campaign video.

Florida State Rep. Michele Rayner, D-St. Petersburg, on Monday declared her intention to run for Congress. She is seeking the 13th Congressional District seat held by Charlie Crist, who earlier this year announced a campaign for governor of Florida.

In 2020, Rayner made history as the first openly gay Black woman to be elected to the Florida House of Representatives. Last month, she hinted, in an interview with Adam Smith, that she would run for Congress.

“I didn’t run for office just to make history,” she said in a campaign announcement video that debuted on Monday. “I ran because I wanted to make a difference for people.”

Rayner hails from Clearwater and announced her bid for Crist’s seat at a church that her grandfather built.

“I am truly honored and grateful for the opportunity to make my case to the people of Florida’s 13th Congressional District,” she said in a prepared statement. “Pinellas County is my home — I was born and raised here in Clearwater. My mother was among the first Black social workers in St. Petersburg, one of my uncles was a state representative for the district I now serve, another was the first Black secretary of the Florida Department of Corrections.”

Rayner will be running against fellow Democratic State Rep. Ben Diamond, who declared his candidacy in early May. Eric Lynn, a former national security advisor during the Obama administration, also announced he would be running for Crist’s seat in Congress as a Democrat. Anna Paulina Luna, a veteran and former opponent to Charlie Crist, plans to run as a Republican.

Rayner, an attorney by training, worked as a public defender in Pinellas County before going into private practice, specializing in criminal defense, civil rights and personal injury cases, as well as family law. Her firm, Civil Liberty Law, is affiliated with the practice of Ben Crump, a well-known trial lawyer who has represented the families of Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown, Breonna Taylor, Jacob Blake, Ahmaud Arbery and George Floyd.

Rayner, in her campaign announcement, positions herself as a crusader for civil rights and social justice.

“I was taught from a young age to always do good, to strive to serve others and to serve my community,” she said. “That’s why I became a public defender, that’s why I became a civil rights attorney, and I have been honored to continue this path of public service as a state representative. However, despite our best efforts, Democratic attempts to provide economic relief, racial justice and public safety for the people of Florida have been stymied time and time again by far-right, partisan Republicans in Florida’s Legislature. The systemic nature of the issues we are facing had me looking at where I can make the most impactful changes.”

In the Florida House, Rayner is a member of the Collective Bargaining and Health & Human Services committees. She represents District 70, which includes parts of Pinellas, Hillsborough, Manatee and Sarasota counties. Along with civil rights, Rayner, in her campaign announcement, said quality public education, affordable housing, accessible health care and economic opportunity will be her priorities if elected.

“I am running for Congress because I believe that is where I can do the most good for my community: the community that raised me, the community that I love,” she said. “We need representatives in Congress who understand that politics is a calling to public service, not self-service.”

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