LARGO — State Rep. Michele Rayner, the first openly LGBTQ woman of color to serve in the Legislature, announced Monday that she’s running for Charlie Crist’s seat in Florida’s 13th Congressional District.
Rayner, 39, just finished her first session in the Florida Legislature representing House District 70. She becomes the third Democrat to enter the 2022 primary to replace Crist, who is running for governor.
“We know that Tallahassee is broken,” Rayner told the Tampa Bay Times. “I think it’s become more clear every day how broken it is and we need leadership on the federal level.”
Her decision to run for Congress instead of another 2-year term in her Florida House district, she said, “really came down to where I can do the most good.”
She officially announced her campaign at the Lighthouse Church of Jesus in Largo — a church built and founded by her grandparents.
The location, she said, was chosen in part to honor her father who passed last December. Her mother, Harriet Singletary Rayner, was in the crowd during Monday’s announcement.
Rayner launched her political career last summer when she won the House seat that covers the southern end of St. Petersburg and parts of Hillsborough, Manatee and Sarasota counties — a district flush with equity issues, particularly for its large Black community.
After one session in Tallahassee, she’s making a run for Congress.
Crist was elected in November to a third term in the U.S. House of Representatives. But in May he announced that he will not run again and instead launched a campaign for governor, to return to the job he held from 2007 to 2011.
Rayner is announcing her congressional campaign during Pride month. Florida’s LGBTQ community has criticized Republican lawmakers for passing a bill that bans transgender females from women’s and girls’ scholastic sports and Gov. Ron DeSantis for signing it into law on June 1, the first day of Pride month. Then on Pride’s second day, DeSantis vetoed $150,000 to fund mental health services for survivors of the 2016 Pulse nightclub attack days before the fifth anniversary, which was Saturday. The governor says the timing was unintentional and that he has expanded the state’s mental health funding.
Rayner noted those setbacks for the LGBTQ community and other new laws that critics say disproportionally impact Black Floridians. Those include the passage of HB1, the governor’s “anti-riot” bill that critics say is an anti-protest bill that infringes on free speech, and restrictions to mail-in voting and the use of drop boxes despite a smooth 2020 election.
“While it was a challenging session, it also reinvigorated me in a way and really deepened my commitment to making sure that the people that I am privileged to serve know they have an advocate in me,” she said.
If the Legislature is unwilling to budge on equity issues like improving jobless benefits and pandemic protections for workers, Rayner said, then Congress will have to step in.
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“We’re going to have to federally take the lead on a lot of things that our state is unwilling to do,” she said.
She also wants to focus on environmental justice issues, increasing the federal minimum wage and ensuring accessible health care.
In the Democratic primary for Crist’s seat, Rayner joins State Rep. Ben Diamond, who represents the Pinellas-focused House District 68 north of her district and was once slated to be next year’s minority leader, and Eric Lynn, a former congressional aide and adviser on Barack Obama’s 2008 presidential campaign who served under former Secretary of Defense Robert Gates.
It’s unclear what the 13th Congressional District will look like after lawmakers redraw its boundaries using recent U.S. Census data. Republicans are leading the process, so the new district may become easier for conservative candidates to win in future elections.
Rayner says redistricting is not a major concern at the moment: “I will be ready, if I make it through the primary, to defend the seat.”
The Foundation for a Healthy St. Petersburg provides partial funding for Times stories on equity. It does not select story topics and is not involved in the reporting or editing.