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Lesbian Florida Candidate Michele Rayner Ends Congressional Bid

Michele Rayner

Florida Democrat Michele Rayner-Goolsby, who would have been Florida’s first out U.S. representative, suspended her campaign for Congress Monday morning. She appears to be one of the victims of Gov. Ron DeSantis’s heavy hand in Florida’s redistricting process.

Rayner will now seek reelection to her seat in the Florida House of Representatives.

“It has been the joy of mine and Bianca’s life to be able to talk to neighbors throughout the county, talk to community members and find out what’s really important to them,” she said in her announcement, referring to wife Bianca Goolsby. “It’s been a special joy to me because I grew up here right in Clearwater.

“But as many of you know, we have a governor and we have a legislature that is out of control. They have drawn maps that are racist, that are partisan, and that I believe and frankly many people believe are illegal. And that’s what makes it difficult to have a free and fair election in Pinellas County for this congressional seat.”

Rayner was running to succeed U.S. Rep. Charlie Crist, who is now running for governor against DeSantis. President Joe Biden won Crist’s district by four percentage points, even though former President Donald Trump won Florida’s electoral votes.

DeSantis, after vetoing a map drawn by the Florida legislature, pressured lawmakers to pass a map his staff drew. That changed the seat from a Biden district to one Trump won by seven percentage points.

That splits Rayner’s home base in St. Petersburg into two districts. While the seat was not considered a Black access district, the Black community in St. Petersburg is split under the map.

A Florida judge has called for DeSantis’s map to be thrown out as unconstitutional for diminishing the ability of Black voters to elect candidates of their choice, though the state is appealing the decision.

But regardless, because of the proximity of Florida’s August primary — candidates for Congress must qualify by noon on June 17 — the courts are only considering throwing out the North Florida districts. That won’t affect the St. Petersburg-area district where Rayner was running.

Rayner did announce she still intends to run for office. She was elected to the Florida legislature in 2020, becoming the state's first out queer black woman state representative. During her time in the legislature, she has worked to codify marriage equality and has spoken out against the state’s  “don’t say gay” law. She now intends to seek reelection to the Florida legislature in her House district, which was also redrawn this year but remains safely Democratic.

“We’re going to take out fight back to Tallahassee,” she said. “Many of you know that I’ve recently been called Ron DeSantis’s worst nightmare. I’m his worst nightmare because I speak truth to power, I hold him accountable and I fight for the people ... that’s what I am going to continue to do in the state House.”

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