Democrat Rebekah Jones will face U.S. Rep. Matt Gaetz in the battle for Florida’s 1st Congressional District race, according to early results.
Jones beat out Peggy Schiller, who tried unsuccessfully to get Jones removed from the primary ballot alleging Jones had been a registered “unaffiliated” for a crucial two-month period while Jones lived in Maryland.
Last week, Leon County Circuit Court Judge John Cooper ruled that Jones did not meet the requirements to run as a Democratic candidate in the primary because she had not been a registered Democrat for a full 365 days before qualifying in June. Florida’s First District Court of Appeal overruled that finding Monday morning, writing a candidate’s sworn statement of party affiliation cannot be challenged as a basis for disqualification.
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Jones came to national prominence during the early phase of the COVID-19 pandemic after she was fired from her position with the Florida Department of Health. Jones said she was fired for speaking out about what she said was the state’s manipulation of COVID-19 data, while state officials said she was fired for insubordination.
Jones was granted whistleblower status by the Florida Office of Inspector General as it investigates Jones’ claims.
After her firing, Jones became an outspoken critic of Gov. Ron DeSantis and his administration’s COVID-19 response.
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The attention from her COVID-19 advocacy gave Jones a platform on social media and attention from news outlets.
“I’ve been trying to find a way to make a difference, and I thought for the longest time that that would be by being a public advocate for science, and bringing people information and data,” Jones said.
Like Gaetz, Jones is also facing legal trouble, conducting her campaign while facing felony charges from the state of Florida.
In December 2020, the Florida Department of Law Enforcement executed a search warrant on her Tallahassee home. A month later, she was charged with a felony accusing her of illegally accessing state computer systems to send a mass text message using the state emergency alert system to more than 1,700 people calling on state employees to speak out on COVID-19.
Jones has denied any wrongdoing.
Jones said she originally planned to run as a non-party affiliated candidate, but the controversial change to Florida’s election law last year carried a provision that requires candidates to run as the same party listed on their voter registration.
Jones is now looking to defy the odds to win as a Democrat in Northwest Florida.
“I’m the only one who can win this against a Republican, Gaetz or otherwise, and I’m certainly the only one who’s taken on the GOP in the state and beat them,” Jones said.
Jones decided to run in — and felt the most connection to — the Pensacola area in Florida after growing up in Louisiana and taking vacations to Pensacola Beach.
“I didn’t want to just run for something in a place where I’ve never been, and I have no connection with,” Jones said. “I got asked to run for a lot of different places.”
Schiller, a resident of Seacrest Beach, announced her candidacy in February, saying her decision to run to supplant Matt Gaetz was originally fueled by anger.
“I ran because I became angry. I feel the people of District 1 are not being represented in Congress,” Schiller said. “Matt Gaetz is not only not putting forth good policy, he’s not putting forth any policy. I am appalled by Matt Gaetz and his representation of District 1.”
Schiller worked as a corporate lawyer for several years in New York City before joining her husband in managing a small business.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism