Attorney Michele Rayner announced Thursday she will run for Florida House District 70 to replace incumbent Wengay Newton who is not seeking reelection.
Rayner is a civil rights and social justice attorney in the Tampa Bay area and has tried both local and national high-profile cases in Pinellas County.
She was one of the attorneys who represented the McDonald’s employee attacked by a customer in south St. Pete. Video of the attack went viral after the employee fought back against her attacker, who was later arrested.
She also represented the family of Markeis McGlockton, a man gunned down in a Clearwater parking lot in 2018 whose case reignited debate about Florida’s “Stand Your Ground” law.
She’s joins two other Democrats in the race to replace Newton who is running instead for Pinellas County Commission.
“I am excited to announce my candidacy to serve our residents in the Florida House. Growing up in Pinellas County, I was deeply impacted by both the love and support I received from our community but also the inequity I have experienced and that continue today for so many others around me,” Rayner said.
Rayner founded and served as lead counsel for Civil Liberty Law. In that role she said she has seen the impacts of systemic inequality and failed leadership on the lives of residents throughout the district.
The district spans parts of Hillsborough, Pinellas and Manatee counties including several underserved areas.
“I am running because District 70 needs a strong advocate to stand with and fight for our community. And sadly, because of years of failed leadership under an increasingly hateful political climate, far too many families in our community continue to struggle against systemic barriers,” Rayner said. “My campaign platform will center around the needs and voices of the most vulnerable in our community. I will fight to ensure that our children have access to a quality education and that our teachers have the resources and support they need.”
Rayner plans to tackle issues like affordable housing and health care.
“I will be that strong voice, who isn’t afraid, to tackle the tough issues of the growing number of residents being displaced because they can’t secure and retain stable, affordable housing and access to quality healthcare,” she said.
Rayner also takes issue with the Amendment 4 implementation so far, which has included a protracted legal battle over whether or not to require financial fines and fees as part of restoring voting rights to non-violent ex-felons who have paid their debt to society. An appeals court recently upheld a lower court ruling that the state cannot tie fines and restitution to rights restoration, but Gov. Ron DeSantis is continuing the fight, asking for a full hearing after a smaller, three-judge panel handed down its ruling.
“The stakes have never been higher and District 70 needs a leader who has always fought for them. I will work hard every day to earn our community’s support and votes. I have always been a community and legal advocate and now it is time to take my advocacy in action to Tallahassee for the residents of my district,” Rayner said.
Rayner will face persons with disabilities trainer Mark Oliver and Keisha Ann Bell in the primary election. Republican Sharon Russ is also running. However, the district leans heavily Democratic and is expected to be an easy win for the eventual Democratic nominee.
“I am no stranger to taking on tough issues, as an attorney, I have tried some of the toughest social justice and civil rights cases right here in Pinellas County,” Rayner said. “I have stood with residents in the district in moments where the community decided to fight back and push for change. And as the next member of the State House, that is exactly what I will do in Tallahassee for every resident of District 70.”