Term-limited state Rep. Michelle Rehwinkel Vasilinda, who will leave office this November, says she has quit the Democratic Party.
“This past Friday, I changed my voter registration from Democrat to NPA. No party affiliation,” she tweeted Monday morning, adding a red heart and U.S. flag emoji at the end.
And she later tweeted in response to a question about the switch, “Really no change in how I’ve felt, spoke, voted 4 the past decade as I’ve campaigned & served.”
Rehwinkel Vasilinda, who represents eastern Tallahassee and Leon County in House District 9, told FloridaPolitics.com she has “always worn the mantle of ‘Democrat’ very lightly.”
“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.”
Rehwinkel Vasilinda has described GOP presidential nominee Donald Trump as “fascinating,” though she did not vote in the March 15 Presidential Preference Primary.
Last year, she supported 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.
“It’s not a surprise—she was never a vote you could count on,” outgoing House Democratic Leader Mark Pafford said. “She hurt the caucus often in terms of our messaging … I respect her decision, though. It’s better for the party.”
Monday’s announcement led fellow state Rep. Chris Latvala, a Clearwater Republican, to chime in: “One step closer to joining the Grand Ole Party, my friend :)”
Indeed, some speculated whether she was following the reverse steps of former Gov. Charlie Crist, a Republican who became an independent before he turned Democrat.
“I think she has higher political aspirations that require her to be more conservative,” said incoming House Democratic Leader Janet Cruz of Tampa. “I was disappointed to see it … I wish her well.”
Indeed, Rehwinkel Vasilinda had briefly considered running for North Florida’s 2nd Congressional District being vacated by incumbent Democrat Gwen Graham after it had been redistricted to overwhelmingly favor Republicans.
When asked about those aspirations, and other possible party switches in the future, she laughed and said, “I can’t ever say ‘never’ … who knows?”
Rehwinkel Vasilinda, first elected in 2008, was the Democratic ranking member of the Higher Education & Workforce subcommittee.
She also sat on the House’s Education and Judiciary committees and the Energy & Utilities and Highway & Waterway Safety subcommittees, according to her House webpage.
She assumed the seat after her predecessor, Tallahassee attorney Loranne Ausley, had termed out. Ausley now is looking to retake her old state House seat.
“You will have to talk to her about her decision,” Ausley, a Democrat, said in a text message. “As for me, my Democratic roots go deep in North Florida. I don’t see that changing.”
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. She’s married to capital reporter and broadcasting veteran Mike Vasilinda.
Rehwinkel Vasilinda said there are others like her who now believe the two-party system is broken.
“I think the message to both parties is loud and clear that it’s not working anymore,” she said. “The ugliness is just too much.”