As long expected, Michelle Rehwinkel Vasilinda is pulling a reverse Charlie Crist.
The former state representative for Tallahassee, who quit the Democratic Party and became an independent shortly before being term limited out of office last year, now has officially become a Republican.
Rehwinkel Vasilinda, 56, officially announced the switch at the 2017 Leon GOP Lincoln Day Dinner held in Tallahassee Thursday night.
“We are excited to welcome (her) into the Republican Party,” Leon County GOP chairman Evan Power said. “Her switch really shows how the protest and identity politics from the left is driving people from the Democratic party.”
One person who predicted the move is state Rep. Chris Latvala, a Clearwater Republican, who last year tweeted: “One step closer to joining the Grand Ole Party, my friend :)”
She follows the reverse footsteps of former Gov. Crist, who left the Republicans to become an independent, then joined the Democrats.
Rehwinkel Vasilinda is the newest addition to join the GOP under the state party’s “Project Majority Red” initiative, “which seeks to increase the number of Republican registered voters throughout our state, in order to overtake the Democrats in voter registration,” Florida GOP Chairman Blaise Ingoglia said in a statement.
“Michelle has honorably served her constituents for the past eight years and has a history of siding with Republicans on several issues,” he added. “I believe she has been a great public servant for the State of Florida and led efforts for a more robust economy, lower taxes and an increase in job creation. We welcome Michelle to the Republican Party and we look forward to working with her.”
Rehwinkel Vasilinda, who represented the House District 9 seat now held by Democrat Loranne Ausley, told FloridaPolitics.com last year she had “always worn the mantle of ‘Democrat’ very lightly.” She once called President Donald Trump “fascinating,” but said she did not vote in the Presidential Preference Primary.
“I have never felt good in a partisan space, where people feel they have to knock down the other party,” she said. “I just try to do what’s right for my constituency.”
Yet she also has followed her own beat, on one hand supporting a bill to allow guns on college campuses, saying she had used a handgun to defend against an attacker when she was a college student, but on the other filing legislation to get rid of Florida’s death penalty.
“It’s not a surprise—she was never a vote you could count on,” former House Democratic Leader Mark Pafford said in an interview last year.
And current House Democratic Leader Janet Cruz of Tampa, also in an interview last year, surmised that Rehwinkel Vasilinda “has higher political aspirations that require her to be more conservative.”
Rehwinkel Vasilinda is a New York native who got her undergraduate and law degrees in Florida. She’s now a professor of Legal Studies and Applied Ethics at Tallahassee Community College, and married to capital reporter and broadcasting veteran Mike Vasilinda.