Republican Ford O’Connell has relied on Washington consultants to promote his candidacy in state House District 77. Now, critics wonder if that’s because the District of Columbia serves as his actual home.
The national pundit, who has appeared on Fox News and Newsmax, listed a Washington condominium unit as his home address on financial disclosures. Washington property records show he bought the unit in 2012 for $800,000, and continues to claim a homestead exemption on the property for his 2023 property taxes, as he has done since at least 2018.
That could be a problem should O’Connell win an open House seat, as state law requires Florida Representatives to be residents of Florida for two years prior to their election.
Much of O’Connell’s professional life has centered around Washington politics. He worked on John McCain’s presidential campaign in 2008 and later served as a media surrogate for former President Donald Trump. Since 2015, O’Connell’s wife, Sarah Valerio, has worked as corporate counsel for Washington-based Afiniti.com. She’s previously worked for the U.S. House and for the federal Department of Health and served for a period as creative director for Washington Life.
O’Connell’s campaign dismissed the concern about where he lives.
“While Ford O’Connell has a place in D.C., he is a resident of Lee County,” reads a statement provided by O’Connell’s campaign to Florida Politics.
“Ford has been a resident of Southwest Florida since 2015. Ford was involved in the re-election of President (Donald) Trump as a surrogate for the campaign and for the White House, which did require Ford to be in the D.C. area from time to time. President Trump’s re-election campaign was based in the D.C. area.”
For his part, O’Connell has changed his voter registration to a unit at The Grove at Portofino Vineyards, a Fort Myers apartment complex within the House district. He also lists the Cresenzo Court unit as his personal mailing address on disclosures and on a partisan candidate oath filed with the state. But the Washington home remains the most valuable asset listed on his disclosures with the state Division of Elections.
O’Connell has been registered to vote in Florida since 2015. He has listed his official campaign address at a Lehigh Acres post office box. Meanwhile, elections officials in Washington say he is listed there as an “inactive voter” in the district. He voted in several elections in Washington starting in 2008 but hasn’t voted there since the 2014 General Election.
His residency in Fort Myers, though, is more recent. When O’Connell ran for Congress in 2019, he listed a Port Royal address in Collier County as his address. The Kings Town Drive home is owned by Laurie Champion, his mother.
O’Connell is not the only candidate in the race to have received criticism over residency. Republican opponent Tiffany Esposito just moved into a home in San Carlos Park around the time she filed for the open House seat, leaving a nearby home in Estero.
But Florida law only requires Representatives to live in their district at the time they take office, at midnight upon their election, so long as they have been residents of the state for at least two years.
House District 77 shifted to become a Lee County seat under a new map passed by the House as part of a once-a-decade redistricting process. It covers most of east Lee, including Lehigh Acres, Buckingham and San Carlos Park.