TAMPA — State Rep. Michele Rayner, who became the first openly Black LGBTQ woman to get elected to the Florida Legislature last year, is jumping into the race for the congressional seat now held by Rep. Charlie Crist.
Rayner (D-St. Petersburg) will formally announce her candidacy on Monday, throwing herself into a potentially crowded contest for a seat that may be targeted by changes by the Republican-controlled Florida Legislature. Her decision to run places an up-and-coming progressive candidate into what will be a highly competitive primary.
Rayner said in an interview that she is running for Congress as part an effort to hold on to a Democratic-held seat and to put herself in a place where she can “best serve” her community.
“Public service has been at the center of every decision I make,” Rayner said. “What we know about Tallahassee is that’s it’s very broken and it’s been broken for a very long time. … My whole life has been about my public service. … It comes down to where I can do the most good.”
Rayner becomes the second Pinellas County legislator to join the race for Florida’s 13th Congressional District, which includes much of the county including the city of St. Petersburg and the beachside towns along the Gulf of Mexico. State Rep. Ben Diamond of St. Petersburg, who was in line to be the state House Democratic leader, is already in the race.
Eric Lynn, who worked in the administration of former President Barack Obama, is another Democrat also running. Republican Anna Paulina Luna, who lost to Crist in the 2020 general election, is seeking the seat as well. St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman, who is term-limited, recently ruled out a run for Congress, but Deputy Mayor Kanika Tomalin told local media she is considering it.
Crist, who served one term as Florida’s Republican governor, first won the seat as Democrat in 2016, but in May he announced he would challenge incumbent GOP Gov. Ron DeSantis.
President Joe Biden beat Donald Trump in Florida’s 13th District by a 4 percent margin, but there are growing expectations that legislators could shift the district configuration during redistricting, which is scheduled to occur in early 2022.
Rayner, who won election to a legislative seat that includes south St. Petersburg as well parts of neighboring Hillsborough, Manatee and Sarasota counties, was undaunted by the prospect that the district lines could change.
“That was not a concern for me,” said Rayner, who added that redistricting came up when she talked about her candidacy with family members and community members. “I’m prepared to defend this seat.”
Rayner, 39, is a civil rights attorney who has taken part in several notable cases in the Tampa Bay area, including representing the family of Markeis McGlockton. McGlockton, who was unarmed, was shot and killed in a Clearwater convenience store parking lot by Michael Drejka. Drejka was initially not charged because of Florida’s contentious “stand your ground” law, but he was eventually convicted of manslaughter. Rayner worked on that case with nationally known attorney Benjamin Crump.
She won a four-way Democratic primary and had the backing of Crist as well as the Florida Education Association and Equality Florida in her lone legislative race.
During her first legislative session, Rayner was outspoken in opposition to several contentious bills, including one that banned transgender girls or women from competing in women’s sports as well as Florida’s “anti-riot” bill that was drawn up in the wake of racial justice protests that erupted last year after the killing of George Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer.
Rayner, who is married, sponsored a bill that would repeal Florida’s now-obsolete ban on gay marriage, but the legislation was never heard in committee. Rayner was successful in getting $370,000 in the state budget for a St. Petersburg urban youth farm, but the project was vetoed by DeSantis.