Lee County Republican Tara Jenner won’t fight the Division of Elections for disqualifying her campaign for state Senate. But she said she hopes the Legislature takes steps so the democratic process becomes open to regular citizens and not just political insiders.
The conservative activist hoped to wage a last-minute challenge for a Senate seat only a handful of people knew would be open until halfway through qualification week.
“The process for filing local, state, and federal candidate forms is extremely onerous and, at times, trips up even the most seasoned candidates,” reads a release from her campaign. “This is evidenced by the number of individuals who, due to a variety of administrative reasons, failed to qualify for the upcoming election.”
Jenner had filed to run in Senate District 33, submitting her final paperwork on June 17 hours ahead of a noon qualifying deadline. But after flying to Tallahassee to submit documentation in person, officials say there was an error in her financial disclosures.
After consulting with counsel, Jenner was told that had that had she filed disclosures prior to qualification week, the problem could have been cured, and even if there were problems with papers filed on Friday, she would have the opportunity to fix those issues and perhaps pay a $25 fine for each day the properly completed forms were turned in late.
But Jenner hadn’t considered a run for state Senate this cycle until news broke that incumbent Sen. Ray Rodrigues would not seek a new term so he could take a job connected to Gov. Ron DeSantis’ administration. That day, DeSantis announced he would endorse lawyer Jonathan Martin for the open Senate seat, and Martin filed and qualified for office the same day.
Now, Martin has a virtually clear path to the Senate. He has automatically secured the Republican nomination, with no GOP candidates qualified for the August Primary. He faces only conservative activist Robert Valenta, who filed as a write-in candidate — many believe simply to close a GOP Primary between Jenner and Martin to Republican voters.
Jenner, a part of the Lee County Republican Executive Committee, and Martin have tussled over party issues before, most notably when Martin took a smartphone away from Jenner’s son earlier this year for livestreaming an REC meeting on Facebook. Jenner still believes DeSantis may not have publicly backed Martin had he known of discontent with the Republican’s leadership within the local party.
“I don’t think he got the best, most informed advice and counsel,” Jenner told Florida Politics.
In her release, Jenner criticized the rapid series of events that largely allowed a candidate to move into an open Senate seat without facing a genuine test at the ballot.
“Rodrigues’ announcement was coupled with the simultaneous disclosure of another candidate’s declaration that he had filed to run,” the release states.
“While a brilliant political maneuver, and within the bounds of the law, the timing of both effectively resulted in the coronation and selection of the single candidate who had clear advance notice. This tactic, however, did not afford others a chance to enter the race without facing a logistical nightmare. More importantly, it undercut the people’s opportunity to vote from a choice of candidates.”
Jenner said she will still campaign this year, but for other candidates she supports on the ballot. Those include Lee County School Board candidates Christy DeVigili and Denise Nystrom, House District 77 candidate Ford O’Connell and DeSantis, “the best Governor in America.”