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Kristin Jacobs, Florida lawmaker from Broward County, dies of cancer at age 60

“She was an absolute warrior, a tireless advocate for what she believed in,’’ said Jared Moskowitz, a former colleague.
State Rep. Kristin Jacobs, D-Coconut Creek, speaks in the House chamber during the 2017 legislative session in Tallahassee.
State Rep. Kristin Jacobs, D-Coconut Creek, speaks in the House chamber during the 2017 legislative session in Tallahassee. [ Florida House of Representatives ]
Published Apr. 11, 2020

State Rep. Kristin Jacobs, a passionate environmental advocate and longtime Broward County leader, died Saturday morning after a battle with colon cancer.

Jacobs, 60, a Coconut Creek Democrat, was instrumental in the development of the Southeast Florida Regional Climate Compact, an initiative that brought together Broward, Palm Beach, Monroe and Miami-Dade counties to prepare for sea-level rise and the disruptions that came with it.

The compact, agreed to in 2009, put Jacobs years ahead of most Florida politicians in focusing on the impact of climate change and government’s response. In 2013, President Barack Obama asked Jacobs to serve on a task force addressing climate change and commended the regional compact “as a model not just for the country, but for the world.”

A mother and grandmother, Jacobs began her political career in 1998 when she was elected to the Broward County Commission. She served for 16 years, including a term as county mayor. She was elected to the Florida House of Representatives in 2014 and was re-elected in 2016 and 2018.

Jacobs was diagnosed with cancer three years ago and returned to the Legislature each year. In 2018, she was instrumental in working with other members of the Broward delegation to win bipartisan support for landmark legislation in response to the Feb. 14 shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas high school in Parkland that killed 17 faculty and staff.

Jacobs helped win support for legislation that raised the age for firearms purchases in Florida from 18 to 21, increased funding for mental health services and included a “red flag” provision that makes it easier for law enforcement to seize guns from dangerous people.

During the last session, Jacobs worked from her hospital bed, fighting to pass a bill with state Rep. Richard Stark that would ban the importation and sale of shark fins. After the bill passed, legislators gave her a standing ovation and commended her courage.

The same passion Jacobs brought to fighting her cancer, she also brought to her campaigns for living wage, domestic violence and the environment, her friends said.

“She was an absolute warrior, a tireless advocate for what she believed in,’’ said Jared Moskowitz, a former Democratic state representative from Coral Springs who now serves as Florida emergency operations center director.

He recalled how Jacobs fought to help pass the Marjory Stoneman Douglas reforms.

“Without Kristin, we don’t get that bill across the finish line,’’ he said. “In the House, we only got nine Democrats to vote for that and that included me and Kristin. Where I was combative, she was the gentle hand.”

State Sen. Lauren Book, a Plantation Democrat, called her “an amazing mother, grandmother, friend and fighter.”

“She was a calm steadying force. Moved people she could move — and worked and worked and worked on the people who didn’t share the same point of view.”

Jacobs made the environment a key issue during her political career, testifying before Congress in 2008 on the Clean Water Act, and before the U.S. Senate in 2013 on climate change. She fought to protect the Everglades from farming and fracking.

Steve Vancore, her boyfriend, said in an interview with the Florida Politics website that Jacobs’ passion for the environment came from her love of Florida’s springs, lakes and ocean and also for the movement that brought people together.

“To hear Kristin tell it, it was partly about protecting an area of the state she loved dearly,” he said. “But part of it was also for the people who put others first, who came together for a common cause and who set aside political, partisan, regional and personality differences to go out and put good things into the world. That was, to some extent, her legacy.”

Jacobs was also instrumental in Broward County’s living-wage ordinance, which raised the pay threshold for county employees and contractors.

Jacobs made an unsuccessful bid for Congress in 2012, losing to U.S. Rep. Lois Frankel in the Democratic primary.

“There was never a time I can remember that when seeing an injustice Kristin didn’t spring into action,’’ Book said. “She was my friend, she taught me a lot about being present, balancing, and immersing into any issue you take on. In the last few years I had the great honor of working alongside her on many many many difficult issues including sexual harassment, and the tragedy of MSD.

Book recalled how when someone made disparaging and sexist remarks about former Attorney General Pam Bondi, a Republican, Jacobs spoke out.

“From her hospital bed she was making calls to get legislative support to have that individual apologize,’’ Book said. “She was my friend and not only will I miss her love, advice, energy, I will miss battle with her. I’m devastated.”

Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried, also a Broward Democrat, called Jacobs “a friend, a tireless advocate for Florida” who “leaves behind a long legacy of protecting our environment and waterways. Her efforts to establish the Southeast Florida Regional Climate Change Compact and meaningfully address climate change, sea-level rise, land use, and domestic violence will live on for years to come. Her passion for the state we love will be greatly missed.”

Jacobs is survived by her sons, Richard Hames and Mitchell Jacobs; a daughter, Lauren Donaldson and her husband, Chris; grandchildren Tyler, Mirabelle and Kelsey; ex-husband Stu Jacobs; and boyfriend Steve Vancore.

Friends told the Florida Politics website that a celebration of her life is being planned “at some point” at Lake Kissimmee State Park, Jacobs’ favorite. She will be cremated and her family plans to have her remains flow into the headwaters of the Everglades.