In wake of fake degree scandal, Melissa Howard withdraws from Florida House race

florida house melissa howard_1534101633374.jpg_51554378_ver1.0_640_360

A Republican candidate for the Florida House of Representatives who went to extensive lengths to prove that she had a college degree that she actually didn’t complete is abandoning her campaign.

“I have come to the realization that the right thing to do for my community is to withdraw from the race,” said Melissa Howard, who last week posted a photo of herself with what looked like a Miami University diploma after being accused of lying about her degree.

The Ohio university later sent reporters a statement saying she attended the school, but never graduated and the diploma Howard had a litany of inaccuracies, from the degree being one not offered by the university, to the signatures of university officials displayed on the degree being incorrect. The university’s statement proved damning, as the story went from a contained fire in the local news to a full on blaze that trended on social media and got the attention of many of the largest news outlets in the nation.

In a statement first provided to Florida Politics, Howard said she will withdraw from the race today. Her decision comes less than 24 hours after she issued an apology for the lie but said she planned to stay in the race for House District 73.

Her statement yesterday: “I would like to apologize to my family and my supporters for this situation. It was not my intent to deceive or mislead anyone. I made a mistake in saying that I completed my degree. What I did was wrong and set a bad example for someone seeking public service. I am staying in the race and intend to win and lead by example from now on.”

Tuesday, she took the next step.

“I made a terrible error in judgement,” Howard said in a statement. “I am thankful for everyone who gave so much toward my success, and I am deeply sorry.”

“Gave so much,” indeed. As of Aug. 3, Howard had reeled in more than $81,000 from donors, including nearly $55,000 in campaign funds and another $26,100 for her affiliated political committee, Citizens For Transparency In Government.

Those who chipped in to the campaign fund — 126 people at last count — shouldn’t expect a refund. That money is spent. The $82,120 left in the account is all thanks to a $100,000 loan that Howard staked her campaign with in the early going, and it’s likely that part of her decision to drop out came after realizing donations would slow to a trickle and it would be her own money on the line from here on out.

As far as the committee cash goes, maybe its donors can expect a pro-rated refund for their trouble.

While Howard’s exit ends some immediate story lines surrounding the race, such as what would happen if she won in spite of the lie, there are still plenty of question marks.

The biggest: Why lie in the first place?

Howard is by all accounts a successful person. She runs a medical trade show business with her husband that reportedly pulls in enough money for them to have five employees other than themselves on payroll. She has risen up the ranks in many groups, including serving as a board member for the Easter Seals of Southwest Florida; on the advisory council for Southeastern Guide Dogs; as a board member for Junior League; as co-chairwoman of [email protected] for the Jewish Federation ofSarasota -Manatee; as chapter president of the Gulf Coast Republican Women Federated; and as a court-appointed Guardian Ad Litem in Manatee County.

A prestigious degree from Miami University would have been nothing more than icing on top — the substance was already there. And there’s no indication that a degree even matters to voters in the first place. Senate District 8, which has one of the highest levels of educational attainment in the state Legislature, had no qualms electing Sen. Keith Perry, a successful businessman who skipped college altogether.

Another question: How does Manatee County Commissioner Vanessa Baugh really feel? She wanted the seat, she even filed for it, but she stepped aside for Howard and has been one of her most vocal supporters throughout the scandal. Now, Tommy Gregory — like him or not — will be the Republican nominee in HD 73. Many preferred him, to be sure, but many wanted someone different. Howard has defrauded Republican voters out of having a choice.

Even though she is dropping out, it’s too late to get her name off the ballot ahead of the Aug. 28 primary. Vote by mail ballots were sent out a month ago. HD 73 represents portions of Manatee and Sarasota counties, where about 20,000 Republican votes have already been cast. The seat is open due to current Rep. Joe Gruters decision to run for state Senate. Gruters served as treasurer for Howard’s campaign to replace him and was one of the first to react to her announcement.

“She made the right decision and saved the community and the party any additional heartache,” Gruters said after Howard’s announcement. “I hope she gets whatever help she needs. We wish her success moving forward and look forward to supporting Tommy Gregory.”

Gregory didn’t immediately respond to requests for comment.

He is now poised to go head-to-head against Democratic nominee Liv Coleman in the Nov. 6 general election, and he’ll be favored by a wide margin — GOP voters make up nearly half of the HD 73 electorate compared to a 25 percent share for registered Democrats.

Material from the Associated Press was used in this post.

Peter Schorsch

Peter Schorsch is the President of Extensive Enterprises and is the publisher of some of Florida’s most influential new media websites, including Florida Politics and Sunburn, the morning read of what’s hot in Florida politics. Schorsch is also the publisher of INFLUENCE Magazine. For several years, Peter's blog was ranked by the Washington Post as the best state-based blog in Florida. In addition to his publishing efforts, Peter is a political consultant to several of the state’s largest governmental affairs and public relations firms. Peter lives in St. Petersburg with his wife, Michelle, and their daughter, Ella.


  • Barbara

    August 14, 2018 at 1:08 pm

    District 73 not 71

    • JDunam

      August 14, 2018 at 2:54 pm

      No…I’m pretty sure its 71

  • bulls bearspigs

    August 14, 2018 at 4:22 pm

    OY VEY !! OY VEY !! OY OY OY !!

  • Deb

    August 14, 2018 at 4:25 pm

    Nice to see she did the right thing. It’s surprising when all the other shamed & lying republicans just double down on the lie..

    • Steve

      August 14, 2018 at 5:22 pm

      But… but she did double down on the lie. Just yesterday.

  • Eric Miller

    August 14, 2018 at 7:11 pm

    FLORI-DUH – ok – so over the past few days a couple other things have been pointed out

    1. She actually committed a violation of Florida Statute by faking her diploma – it is called Forgery and voluntary fraud – will she be held accountable – really a fake diploma with your name on it did not fall from the sky. There is a statute dealing with things like this. Will anyone set an example for future candidates?

    2. Joe Gruters now running in Dist 15 for FL Senate served on her campaign as Treasurer – does he read the legislation and check things out in Tally the same way he does the people he endorses and chooses to stand beside? Just asking how serious he really is and how much is crony pocket lining !

    3. Seems there is a question of what TOTAL SERVICE RELATED DISABILITY means. Her Hubby sure does not seem to be the poster child for the qualification. 0$ property tax on a 1.6 million dollar home? Because he has claimed 100% service related total disability. I would love to be proven wrong on this one. However, I have to now wonder what else was forged. Like proof of disability maybe?

    4. The Republican Party has no spine – they would not condemn obvious ethical and moral character as not wanted in the ranks.

    This is like a made for TV film. Here is away out of this mess. It is at least an intelligent place to begin talking about how WE take the system back from the corrupt jerks that we elected !

    God Bless America.

    • Eric Miller

      August 15, 2018 at 8:22 am

      Hmmmm…. Call the Veterans Affairs Office of Inspector General Hotline toll-free at (800) 488-8244 between 8:30 a.m. and 2 p.m. (EST), Monday through Friday, to report benefits fraud over the phone. The VAOIG Hotline is closed on federal holidays … well – here goes nothing !

    • Brittany H

      August 15, 2018 at 5:36 pm

      Mr. Howard is hardly disabled. He’s a self proclaimed pickleball fanatic in LWR and runs a business (well, he did run a small business, but it closed down for good now that they don’t need it for her campaign resume). Their business that “yields 4M revenue for FL” was a lie just like the diploma and the “cardiac event” (what is that anyway?!) See Not one trade show was held or one dollar revenue to FL, and now 5 people are unemployed.

  • Iris

    August 14, 2018 at 10:04 pm

    Interesting that this woman resigned but Heather Manchin (daughter of Sen Manchin of WVa) lies about having an MBA from WVU but instead of being fired was promoted to CEO of Mylan Lab. Double standard?

    • Voice of Reason

      August 19, 2018 at 9:03 am

      Let’s see – one was running for public office, the other is an employee of a private corporation.

      If you’re too stupid to figure it out, then please don’t vote. This country is screwed up enough from morons like you.

  • Leigh Drury

    August 15, 2018 at 6:15 am

    Only reason she quit is because of some other nefarious skeleton in the closet she doesn’t want exposed and threatened too, guaranteed.
    Otherwise why stop? Florida is full of snakes like her who openly commit white collar crimes daily and still get elected. They know the systems rigged in their favor at the voting booths and in the courtrooms both here.
    Florida was the litmus test for repuke/Russian infiltration and has been marvelously successful for them both. Cept, now all their ocean front properties are becoming actual swamps cus of their sick, disgusting, illegal and unstable greed. The devil’s bed is smack dab in the middle of this dick shaped state. It’s where Russia and the GOP learned how to screw the entire country using lady Liberty as their handmaiden.

    • Eric Miller

      August 15, 2018 at 8:12 am

      @Leigh Drury well written – I like the prem – a little one sided – cuz Lady Liberty bent way the hell over for the last Admin. She goes both ways you know.

      It is both sides that are the devils minion – we both existed here before their invasion – there is a way back – care to try? – beats having to bitch about it.

      • Leigh

        August 15, 2018 at 12:00 pm

        Lol God is the one raising hell to finally end it for good. No stone left unturned, book of revelation.

        We’re oil and water, we don’t mix, and the other ingredients necessary to begin making us mix, you’re regurgitating just like any other rw pharisee Christians in the hopes that it’ll somehow make different breads than whats already been baked, sold and crammed down our collective throats. With zero nutritional value whatsoever. As long as sheep buy it and you get rich, all that matters.

        The real God is seeing to it that this state turns into the actual swamp of trump’s dreams environmentally.
        First mistake all psuedo libertarians and repukes alike make is in ruling from your own ego’s.
        Second mistake is assuming you’ll be saved regardless of how much you destroy and or decieve others of either spiritual or material moneys in your quest of trying to convince others that your God really exists, honestly folks, he does!
        Snark, but also I’m a whole spirit so i know whole truths not holy ones, only half truths written in half truth bibles. Maybe one day I’ll write about it? Oh wait, almost forgot! Oil and water don’t mix and the other ingredients can only come from my whole god not just holy ones so alls i can really do is wait for your extinctions. Cus I’m not grabbing the god reins, my ego won’t let me. Jesus understands that whole truth too btw. He refused an ego throne as well and when asked what had happened by world leaders at that time he too remained silent. So I’m already in good company but thx for playing!
        We’re heading towards the whole bible dude, not more of the holy one. Might wana check your thrusters on your space capsule cus those won’t get you where I’m going and i don’t mean having to die to get there, I’m talking cosmos here. Where they already know how to mix oil and water without harming anyone or feeding them crap that doesn’t have any value, nutritional or otherwise. Js

    • Brittany H

      August 15, 2018 at 5:41 pm

      Yes, skeletons like pretending to be philanthropic conservatives but not paying property taxes to Manatee County on their 1M + house. He’s not too disabled to play frisbee at the Ritz beach club or polish his Bentley

      • Leigh

        August 16, 2018 at 12:19 pm

        Dang girl, you find skeletons with skin still attached to em!? That’s awesome, you keep rocking, you got this!

  • Eric Miller

    August 15, 2018 at 3:01 pm

    @Leigh Drury – Allllll…… righty then – see ya on the other side – God’s speed – I will pray for you.

    • Leigh

      August 16, 2018 at 12:01 pm

      Please don’t. lol. You’re still under the holy spirit, not the whole one. I’m fine though, promise, thx anyway!🙂

  • Tom Rask

    August 17, 2018 at 9:13 am

    Peter Schorsch surely can not be serious when he writes about “a prestigious degree from Miami University.” It’s a total party school, so there’s nothing prestigious about such a degree.

    I personally know someone in Cincinnati who would not let her kids attend Miami University of Ohio precisely because it’s a party school. I personally parked outside of a house called “Party Central” this past summer, just half a block off of campus. Other houses have cute names like Miss B. Haven, Absolut Angels, Stagger Inn, Ship Faced, and Tailgate. Get the picture?

    Heavy partying may explain why Howard never graduated, despite attending for four years.

Comments are closed.


Florida Politics is a statewide, new media platform covering campaigns, elections, government, policy, and lobbying in Florida. This platform and all of its content are owned by Extensive Enterprises Media.

Publisher: Peter Schorsch @PeterSchorschFL

Contributors & reporters: Phil Ammann, Renzo Downey, Roseanne Dunkelberger, A.G. Gancarski, Anne Geggis, Kelly Hayes, Joe Henderson, Ryan Nicol, Jacob Ogles, Scott Powers, Gray Rohrer, Aimee Sachs, Jesse Scheckner, Christine Sexton, Andrew Wilson, and Mike Wright.

Email: [email protected]
Twitter: @PeterSchorschFL
Phone: (727) 642-3162
Address: 204 37th Avenue North #182
St. Petersburg, Florida 33704

Sign up for Sunburn