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Rep. Shevrin Jones makes history, wins crowded Senate District 35 Democratic primary

Miami Herald logo Miami Herald 8/19/2020 By Samantha J. Gross, The Miami Herald

Despite campaign smears, attacks targeting his sexuality and even a bout of COVID-19, West Park Democrat Shevrin Jones, one of the Florida Legislature’s few openly gay lawmakers, came out successful in one of the most crowded, competitive and closely watched primary races. He now has the inside track to replace term-limited Sen. Oscar Braynon representing parts of Miami-Dade and Broward counties in Senate District 35.

Jones appeared to be an early winner with a comfortable margin of more than 27 percentage points over the closest challenger, former state senator Daphne Campbell with more than 97% of precincts reporting Tuesday night.

Jones beat out three Tallahassee veterans — Campbell, Rep. Barbara Watson and former Rep. Cynthia Stafford — as well as Miami Gardens Councilman Erhabor Ighodaro and retired firefighter Wilbur Harbin in the crowded race.

In November Jones will face write-in opponent Darien Hill, an independent who has been essentially inactive in the race. If Jones wins, he will be the first openly gay member of the Florida Senate.

Jones told the Miami Herald Tuesday night that his win represents a tone shift in South Florida, where other young, queer and Black candidates were successful Tuesday night. In District 88, Lake Worth Beach Commissioner Omari Hardy who is also Black and faced anti-gay slurs beat incumbent Rep. Al Jacquet by a large margin. In District 95, Jasmen Rogers-Shaw, a young, queer Black first-time candidate, narrowly lost her race with more than 49% of the votes against incumbent Rep. Anika Omphroy.

“It’s a clear picture that people are tired of the divisive nature of where we are in this country and my message to anyone in politics is that the high road always wins,” Jones said. “It’s a glass ceiling broken.”

The race has been a messy one, complete with fake Barack Obama robocalls and a robotext and website that ripped off a Miami Herald story about Jones’ attempt to donate plasma after recovering from COVID-19.

The candidates, most of whom have held office and have their own base of voters, have been vocal about why they were the best choice. Some targeted front-runner Jones for his sexuality in an attempt to connect with religious voters. The blood donation robotext highlighted a Food and Drug Administration rule that men who have had sex with men in the last three months may not donate plasma, noting that Jones was turned away for donating.

At a campaign event in February, Ighodaro said he’s the best option for voters because “There is an image that God says a marriage should look like, that families should look like. And that’s what we’re gonna fight for.” He denies his campaign was behind the robotext.

Like Ighodaro, Watson and Stafford have represented slivers of the district before, and say their names are trusted in the community, where people want to vote for people they already know. While Campbell represented the neighboring Senate district in her time in the Legislature, her frequent appearances on local radio programming, her memorable songs and music videos and her larger-than-life community presence make her a name hard to forget, especially in the Haitian community that makes up a large swath of the district.

But even with a slate of candidates who all have their own following, Jones raised more money than all of them combined while growing a national profile of his own. After he was diagnosed with COVID-19, Jones took to major news networks like CNN and MSNBC as well as local media to criticize the state’s contact tracing program and discuss the state’s response to the pandemic.

The last fundraising period was Jones’ most successful, yielding more than $40,000 in the first two weeks of August. In that last period he also got significant in-kind contributions for text messages and calls, courtesy of the Senate Democrats’ fundraising arm Senate Victory, chaired by Lighthouse Point Democrat Gary Farmer.

“There is no greater champion for his community than Representative Shevrin Jones, who has fought for our public school students and education professionals, to ensure every Floridian has access to healthcare and to put a stop to senseless gun violence that has claimed too many innocent lives,” Farmer wrote in a statement Tuesday.

Jones told the Miami Herald that he hopes voters see the work he has done in his eight years in the House and expect he will perform the same in the Senate. He doesn’t want to be boxed into a label of just being Black or queer or young. But he says he’s happy to pave the way for other young people to garner the courage to run for office.

“Don’t allow what people say to deter you from moving forward and breaking through the finish line,” he said. “Times are changing. The young people will win.”

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©2020 Miami Herald

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