Michele Rayner beats three others, winning Florida House District 70 seat

“It really has been a people powered campaign,” said Rayner, who said she sees her victory as “pushing back on patriarchy.”
Michele Rayner.
Michele Rayner. [ SHAUNETTE STOKES | Michele Rayner-Goolsby ]
Published Aug. 19, 2020|Updated Aug. 19, 2020

Michele Rayner, a local civil rights attorney, will represent District 70 in the Florida House with no challenger on the Republican side in the general election on Nov. 3. Rayner will be one of the first openly LGBTQ women of color elected to Florida’s Legislature.

“It really has been a people powered campaign,” said Rayner, who said she sees her victory as “pushing back on patriarchy.”

“We ran with integrity. We ran with transparency and we ran with accountability.”

Rayner won with about 30 percent of the vote in a crowded race against three opponents. Trailing behind by about 1,000 votes was Keisha Bell, a third generation St. Petersburg resident, who ran on a platform that focused on environmental justice and climate change. Next was Michelle Grimsley, a former legislative aid to current House District 70 Rep. Wengay Newton, D-St. Petersburg, who also endorsed her. Mark Oliver, a first generation college student and a disability rights advocate, came in at just under 20 percent of the vote.

“I’m proud because this win represents a new day,” said Rayner in a news release after her victory.

“We’ve run a campaign focused on putting people over politics and that’s rooted in a commitment to working with and for residents until the change they seek is a reality,” said Rayner in the news release. “This win proves that this community is ready tired of business as usual and ready for change, and I’m so grateful and humbled that the voters of District 70 have elected me to represent them in Tallahassee to move us closer to the change we all deserve.”

Throughout the race, Rayner has been the fundraising frontrunner. Her campaign raised just over $116,900. Oliver, who collected the second highest amount of campaign contributions, raised nearly $50,000. Bell and Grimsley remained under $30,000.

Rayner also racked up notable endorsements from Equality Florida, the Florida Education Association, the Democratic Progressive Caucus of Florida, and U.S. Congressmen Charlie Crist.

“Michele Rayner has just shattered another glass ceiling by becoming one of Florida’s first out Black queer women ever elected to any office in our state,” said Nadine Smith, Executive Director of Equality Florida. “This is a victory to be celebrated by everyone who values equality and the voices of Black women.”

Oliver was endorsed by the Stonewall Democrats of Pinellas, a move that stirred controversy surrounding LGBTQ advocacy.

Rayner will replace Newton, who is running for Pinellas County Commission. Rayner says her first move, now that she’s elected, will be to connect with Newton as she prepares to enter the state legislature. At the forefront of her mind is the response to the coronavirus pandemic.

The district, which is nearly 60 percent Democratic, covers the southern end of St. Petersburg and parts of Hillsborough, Manatee and Sarasota counties.