Florida judge disqualified Rebecca Jones of the difficult representative. Matt Gaetz for his seat in Congress.
Judge of the Circuit Court of Leon John Cooper of the bench said Jones could not run as a Democrat because she had not been a registered Democrat for 365 days before qualifying as a congressional candidate.
“I don’t think I can come to any conclusion other than that,” Cooper said. “Jones was not a registered member of the Democratic Party for nearly two months during this time.”
This means Peggy Schiller wins the Democratic primary in Florida’s 1st congressional district by default, though Jones will likely appeal the decision. Her name will appear on the ballot, but votes cast for her will not count.
The hearing was marked by tense moments.
When his decision was released, Cooper had to expel Jones from the trial for a short time for interrupting his decision. He allowed her to come back a few minutes later, and she said she thought her Zoom software was muted when she shouted at his statements and said she had proof that her identity had been hacked. .
When Cooper allowed her to resume the hearing, he told her she couldn’t even complain about the mouth or he would kick her out of the trial again.
The move makes Jones the latest candidate overridden by a new Florida law requiring long-standing and consistent political party membership. Republican Ashley Guy gave up of a State House race this year over similar concerns, as did Democrat Curtis Calabrian of an open congressional race from South Florida.
Republican Austin Brownfield was also started by a Pinellas County judge in a run for the State House because he was listed with no party affiliation a year before qualifying. Cooper cited the ruling in making his own ruling about Jones.
Schiller, Jones’ Democratic primary opponent, sued in Leon County Circuit Court to evict Jones from the ballot. Schiller’s lawyer. Juan Carlos Planasa former state representative, argued in court that Jones could not run due to a new state law requiring candidates to be party members for one year before qualifying as a as a candidate.
Jones, during his own testimony, argued that outsiders had fraudulently sent the paperwork to change his status as a Maryland voter.
“Someone else tried to change my voter registration,” she said.
Planas pointed to a number of documents filed by the Federal Election Commission in which Jones identified herself as an independent or unaffiliated candidate for Congress. Additionally, Jones first announced that she would run for Congress with no party affiliation, then changed plans based on the new law passed by the Legislative Assembly and ran as a Democrat out of necessity.
Lawyer Jones Ben Kuhne asked her about it when she was on the stand and pointed out that Florida law historically allowed candidates to run without party affiliation, whether or not they were registered party members. This has often been the route of candidates who want to qualify for a general election without winning a party primary.
Jones said she didn’t want to run within the confines of partisanship.
“I wanted all voters to feel like they could talk to me and that I would listen to them,” she said.
However, none of this had to do with the fact that she was living in Maryland when she filed her federal candidacy papers, or that her individual party registration in that state fluctuated between Democratic and unaffiliated.
Planas noted that the period Jones’ registration changed from Democratic to unaffiliated in Maryland coincides with when she publicly stated that she would run without party affiliation. He became a Democrat again just as Jones announced she would run for the Democratic nomination.
“It makes no sense, the argument she’s making,” Planas said.
Regardless of whether Jones consciously or intentionally changed her registration within a year of qualifying, she was still not in compliance with the law, Planas said. “She was not a member of the Maryland Democratic Party.”
Kuehne argued that the law does not rely on party registration, but simply says that candidates must be members of a party. Many states do not even have voters registered as party members.
“A member of a political party is not established by voter registration, although that is helpful,” Kuehne said.
But Cooper said the timing of Jones’ party registration changes proved too convenient to believe she had been the subject of a hack or other political misconduct.
He said only a political party can determine that a candidate is not a member, and unlike other cases, the Florida Democratic Party is not a plaintiff in the case against Jones.
Jones, a former Florida Department of Health data scientist, drew national attention when she said she was fired for refusing to manipulate COVID-19 data, but an inspector general in May determined his allegations were groundless and unsubstantiated.