House District 70 candidate Mark Oliver’s recent voter registration was a point of contention at a Friday afternoon Tampa Bay Tiger Bay forum.
The forum, which hosted Oliver and fellow HD 70 candidate Michele Rayner, kicked off with a question about Oliver’s recent change in voter status — the 28-year-old candidate only registered to vote in June 2019.
The question: Why should the voters trust you care about their concerns if you have only recently registered to vote yourself?
Oliver tackled the question, saying when he was younger, he did not believe his voice mattered. The disability rights advocate said it was not until he became involved with the special needs community that he saw the impact of politics.
“There’s a lot of people in the same position, where they think their voice isn’t heard,” Oliver said. “When I got involved with the Special Olympics and the special needs community, I saw how everything we do revolved around politics, and I did what I have always done my entire life — I dove right in.”
The candidates also addressed recreational marijuana, both agreeing they would support a bill legalizing it.
Rayner, who currently leads the race in fundraising, discussed her experience as a criminal defense attorney.
“I see how folks, particularly black and brown folks and poor people, are often criminalized because of marijuana,” she said. “We need to move to those steps to decriminalize marijuana and recreational marijuana. And obviously, there needs to be some type of limits with that.”
Oliver also discussed his experience with the issue as a disability rights advocate.
“As an individual who works with people with disabilities and seeing how it helps them on a daily basis, and how it’s really saving their lives, yes I would,” Oliver said in support.
Felon voting rights were also on the table at the forum, with Oliver and Rayner agreeing with nearly two-thirds of Florida voters who voted in 2018 for felons to have their voting rights restored after they’ve served their time.
“We know that this fight is going to be in Tallahassee, come next session, and I’m prepared to fight that fight,” Rayner said. “I’ve been doing this work for quite a long time, being able to look at the law, understand the law and be able to make sure that we can move forward so our returning citizens can access the right to vote.”
Two of the four Democrats running for HD 70, Keisha Bell and Michelle Grimsley, were unable to attend the forum. The four candidates will be up for election in the Aug. 18 primary. The election will be a universal primary, which is open to all voters regardless of party affiliation, because only Democrats are running in the left-heavy district.
The candidates running to replace Rep. Wengay Newton, who is not seeking reelection and instead running for Pinellas County Commission.
The district represents parts of Hillsborough, Manatee and Pinellas counties.