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Monique Worrell

Down Ballot - Central Florida

Criminal justice reformer Monique Worrell wins Orlando’s State Attorney primary

Worrell enjoyed a huge advertising push from outside groups in closing days.

Another shockwave went through Florida’s 9th Judicial Circuit Tuesday as yet another outsider candidate running on a criminal justice reform platform upset the establishment in the race for the State Attorney’s office.

Monique Worrell, a former law professor who allied herself with the racial and criminal justice street protests this spring and summer, rocketed to JC 9 State Attorney Democratic primary victory, riding more than $1 million of late advertising run by outside groups supporting her.

With the Democratic primary victory, Worrell will be heavily favored in the November General Election. There are no Republicans running. She faces only independent candidate Jose Torroella.

In Tuesday’s primary, Worrell led four Democratic candidates in both Orange and Osceola counties, defeating former JC 9 Chief Judge Belvin Perry Jr., who finished second in both counties, JC 9 Chief Assistant State Attorney Deborah Barra, and Ryan Williams.

Worrell took 44% of the vote in Orange, to 32% for Perry. She took 37% of the vote in Osceola, to 30% for Perry. Barra finished third, and Williams a distant fourth.

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“I got into this race to bring real reform to our criminal justice system – to end cash bail, end the school to prison pipeline, end mass incarceration, hold police accountable, and create a system that truly values people,” Worrell said in a written statement. “Tonight, our community said loudly and clearly that they embrace my vision for justice, fairness, and reform.”

Worrell’s candidacy got a big boost in the closing days before the primary when a new political action committee created by Amendment 4 backers spent more than $1.5 million, mostly on television commercials in the Orlando market to back her candidacy.

Most of the money appears to trace back to George Soros, the New York billionaire and progressive Democratic backer who invested heavily in Orlando’s State Attorney election in 2016.

Leaders of the Florida Rights Restoration Coalition, Desmond Meade and Neil Volz, chair and treasurer of  Our Vote Our Voice Political Action Committee, all but overwhelmed the advance campaign advertising. The money was transferred into the PAC from FRRC through a project with Tides Advocacy,  and another $1 million from Democracy PAC.

An identical pattern occurred in the 2016 election for State Attorney in JC 9. That year, incumbent State Attorney Jeff Ashton was seeking reelection against an outsider candidate pushing a criminal justice reform platform, Aramis Ayala. She had little campaign money of her own, but in the weeks before the Democratic primary, two PACs funded by Soros poured $1.4 million into advertising supporting her. She won.

Initially, the 2020 State Attorney contest looked like one between two accomplished, veteran prosecutors: Williams, who was a prosecutor in JC 9 before his objections to Ayala’s policies led him to transfer to JC 5 in 2017; and Barra, a prosecutor in JC 9 for 17 years, who rose to become chief assistant state attorney under Ayala.

But hardly anyone outside the legal community knew Williams or Barra. When Perry entered the race, he brought celebrity status.

When Worrell entered the contest, she brought a movement, as she allied with the street protests decrying racial injustice in the wake of the George Floyd killing in Minneapolis. And that movement attracted outside money, which paid for a flurry of TV and radio ads during August.

Written By

Scott Powers is an Orlando-based political journalist with 30+ years’ experience, mostly at newspapers such as the Orlando Sentinel and the Columbus Dispatch. He covers local, state and federal politics and space news across much of Central Florida. His career earned numerous journalism awards for stories ranging from the Space Shuttle Columbia disaster to presidential elections to misplaced nuclear waste. He and his wife Connie have three grown children. Besides them, he’s into mystery and suspense books and movies, rock, blues, basketball, baseball, writing unpublished novels, and being amused. Email him at scott@floridapolitics.com.

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