State Rep. James Grant, an architect of Florida’s controversial Amendment 4 law, is leaving the Legislature to take a job as the state’s chief information officer.
In a corresponding move Wednesday, Grant ended his re-election bid for House District 64 “effective immediately,” according to a letter he sent to Secretary of State Laurel Lee obtained by the Tampa Bay Times. Grant was slated in November to face a lone opponent for the Tampa Bay area seat — Democrat and teacher Jessica Harrington
Grant now steps into a role that he was personally involved in shaping. A bill passed this year, sponsored by Grant, rearranged the office and its responsibilities. But it also changed the qualifications, eliminating a requirement that the state chief information officer “must be a proven, effective administrator who must have at least 10 years of executive-level experience in the public or private sector.”
The bill, which became law, now says the officer must have at least 5 years of experience “in the development of information system strategic planning and development or information technology policy, and, preferably, have leadership-level experience in the design, development, and deployment of interoperable software and data solutions.”
According to his LinkedIn profile, Grant has been the “Chief Strategy Officer” at ReViable Surgical since March.
Grant said that his bill this year was not connected to his sudden job appointment.
“Anyone who thinks I created a job for myself can’t read policy and is just throwing out cheap political shots,” Grant said. “Instead of running a data center, the CIO now has to make sure data moves across agencies and he sets the table for cyber security reform.”
The state hired its first chief information officer in 2014 after the legislature create the Agency for State Technology. For years, the office was marred by accusations of overspending and mismanagement and debilitating vacancies. Grant’s predecessor, Eric Larson, left the job shortly after Gov. Ron DeSantis took office. DeSantis didn’t appoint a replacement during his first 20 months in office, and he proposed moving the state’s information technology infrastructure under the Department of Management Services.
“I’m taking on a job that no one has been able to make work,” Grant said. “I’m excited about that.”
Grant’s departure from the Legislature leaves a vacancy in the race for District 64. No other candidate filed to run in the Republican primary against Grant by the deadline. Per state law, the executive committee members of the Republican Party in the affected counties — Pinellas and Hillsborough — will decide who will fill the vacancy.
Jim Waurishuk, chairman of the Hillsborough County Republican Party, said in a text he was aware of Grant’s resignation but that he didn’t, as of yet, have any candidates to replace him.
Harrington said she was “not scared of any person they can put in that seat. They can bring it on.”
“District 64 voters are ready to send a teacher to Tallahassee and that’s what we’re going to do,” Harrington told the Times on Wednesday.
Grant, a Tampa Republican, is the son of a long-time state lawmaker John A. Grant, Jr., who spent 20 years in Tallahassee in the 1980s and 90s.
The younger Grant was first elected to the Legislature in 2010 and he served until 2014, when his re-election victory was vacated by a judge who ruled that another candidate was erroneously removed from the ballot. The seat briefly sat vacant for months, leaving residents without representation during that year’s legislative session, until Grant won a special election in 2015.
Grant gained prominence recently as an author of SB 7066, the bill that implemented Amendment 4, the 2018 constitutional amendment approved by voters that restored the voting rights of non-violent felons who served their time. Under Grant’s bill, felons must pay all fines, fees and restitution before they earn back the right to vote, an interpretation of the amendment that significantly cracked down how many people would benefit. Opponents of Grant’s bill have sued, and the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit will hear arguments on Tuesday.
Grant also authored a bill that made if more difficult for citizens to change the state constitution by ballot referendum.
Though he filed to run for re-election, Grant appears to have been severing his ties to the area since last year. He sold his Tampa home in September 2019, according to Hillsborough County property records, and on his state ethics form, filed June 9, he listed a P.O. Box as his home address.
Times/Herald reporters Lawrence Mower and Kirby Wilson contributed to this report.