Michele Rayner (Left) and Jasmen Rogers-Shaw (Right), Democratic candidates for the Florida legislaturePhoto: FotoBohemia and Passion Ward Photography
Democratic candidates Michele Rayner and Jasmen Rogers-Shaw could make history as the first Black queer women in the Florida legislature.
And both of them are fired up.
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Each spoke with about their immense love for their communities and their deep desire to fight for them.
“District 70 has needed a fighter,” said Rayner. “It has needed an advocate. There are things that have been plaguing district 70 for a long time.”
“I’m rooted in people’s stories,” said Rogers-Shaw, running in district 95, “and rooted in knowing what we can do to do the most good for the most people, and that brings a certain level of accountability to the position that we all need across the state of Florida. If [elected officials] were more accountable to the people they serve, and if they were in direct community with the people they serve, maybe we’d have some different outcomes from our legislation.”
Rogers-Shaw has spent the past few years working in political advocacy, and was also Florida’s Black/African American Outreach Director on the Elizabeth Warren for President campaign. She is also running in one of the state’s poorest districts and said her priorities are protecting unions, increasing minimum wage, expanding Medicare, as well as defending abortion access and other types of reproductive healthcare.
Rayner, a civil rights attorney, is also passionate about expanding Medicare and Medicaid, affordable housing, education equity, and improving Florida’s unemployment system.
Both candidates see their potential history-making wins as victories for all Black women.
“When Black women win, we all win,” said Rogers-Shaw, “and the more intersections we can add on that, the more we’re doing for more people. So, when Black queer women win, we all win. When Black trans women win, we all win. When Black immigrant women win, we all win. So I think it’s another step in being able to be part of a decision making body that can transform the state of Florida.”
“When one of us gets free, it opens the door for all of us to get free,” she said. “So I think it would be really special, and I think that knowing there are young women that will look up and be able to see me step into that [role] being very clear about who I am and being unashamed about who I am and knowing they are able to do whatever they want to do is what means the most to me.”
Among many other social justice cases, Rayner became known for representing the family of 28-year-old Markeis McGlockton, an unarmed Black man who was shot and killed in a parking lot by Michael Drejka. Drejka, a white man, claimed self-defense under Florida’s ‘stand your ground’ law.
This case, Rayner said, reminded her how significantly legislation can affect people’s day to day lives. She recalled McGlockton’s father telling her he remembered hearing arguments about ‘stand your ground,’ but he never thought it would come to his house.
“In that moment I understood how the law and the policies we write impact people’s day to day lives,” she said, “and the weightiness and the responsibility of that, so with that there’s a level of soberness I take into that. [Serving in the legislature means] understanding the privilege that you have to be able to create law, that you have to do it with people in mind, and that’s the way I practice law. I understand that whatever I do in this case, whether it’s a criminal case or a civil case, it’s impacting someone’s life, it’s their freedom, their family, their finances.”
Rogers-Shaw also has a people-centered philosophy.
“We need a legislature that is focused on people,” she said. “I know it feels so pie in the sky, but that’s what you’re sent there for; it’s not only to represent your district, but to build a healthier state… I have been working in the capital for years, so to be in committee rooms, to be on the house floor and to hear people over and over talk about these conditions, and yet we can’t get the votes we need to be able to do some of this common sense legislation is infuriating.”
Rogers-Shaw wants voters to know that she will continue putting community first.
“Before I had a title, I was working in the capital,” she said. “Before I had a title, I was doing community work as a founding member of Black Lives Matter Alliance. Before I had a title I was working with low-income Black and Brown women on local legislation, and working with union folks and LGBTQ folks. I’ve been here, and the evidence of that is raising $90,000 in three months from over 1000 people. The evidence of that is getting over 30 organizational endorsements from statewide, local, and national organizations, and the evidence of that is having elected officials willing to come out against an incumbent and say we believe you’re more rooted in community and can do more work in the capital.”
Rayner feels equally rooted in her community.
“One of the most important things I want voters to know is that if you’re looking for me, I’ll be with the people,” she said. “If you want to know who I am and who I’m serving, it’s the people if District 70, and I’m always going to be accessible. I’m always going to be accountable and transparent. I’m always going to walk with integrity, and I want people to know that.”
The Democratic primary will be held on August 18.