Clearwater civil rights attorney Michele Rayner announced Thursday she’s running for a seat in Florida’s House of Representatives.
Rayner, 38, is seeking to represent District 70, which covers the southern end of St. Petersburg and parts of Manatee, Sarasota and Hillsborough counties. The seat is currently held by Wengay Newton, D-St. Petersburg, who is vacating his seat to run for Pinellas County Commission.
“District 70 needs and deserves a strong leader,” she said. “I’ve looked around and realized that there’s a special moment that not only I have but the residents of District 70 have to do something really special.”
Rayner is known for taking on cases dealing with racial and social justice. That includes advocating for the family of Markeis McGlockton, a 28-year-old unarmed black man who in 2018 Michael Drejka shot and killed in a convenience store parking lot.
Drejka, who is white, said he was acting in self-defense under Florida’s stand your ground law but was later arrested and convicted of manslaughter.
Rayner has also advocated for victims of alleged police brutality. Most recently, that includes 70-year-old Barbara Pinkney, who a Manatee County Sheriff’s deputy used a Taser on last year while searching for her grandson.
Like in the McGlockton case, Rayner is working with prominent civil rights attorney Benjamin Crump on the Pinkney case. Crump represented the parents of Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown and other unarmed black men killed in encounters with authority figures.
In 2016, Rayner signed on to represent the mothers of two out of three teenage girls who died in 2016 after the stolen car they were driving plunged into a cemetery pond. The mothers sued the Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office, claiming deputies chased the girls into the cemetery then didn’t help them as the car sunk into the muck.
Rayner’s clients dropped out of the lawsuit in 2018. A judge in January dismissed the case but gave the remaining plaintiff, Yashica Clemmons, a chance to refile an amended complaint, according to federal court records.
The lawyer-turned-candidate plans to focus her campaign on affordable housing, stable living wages and education. She will also work on restoring voter rights for felons under Amendment 4, a process that has stalled after Republican lawmakers required that felons pay back court fines before they could register to vote. That requirement is facing mounting legal challenges.
“I’m not someone who backs down from a challenge, who backs down from a fight,” Rayner said.
She lives in St. Petersburg and is married to Bianca Goolsby, a former Hillsborough County educator who is now an education advocate and digital strategist.