With the fight over abortion rights looming large over the midterm elections, voters in Florida ousted two prominent anti-abortion elected officials in separate races on Tuesday.
Florida Rep. James Bush lost his reelection bid, a notable defeat for the sole Democrat in the state legislature who voted on a 15-week abortion ban and the anti-LGBTQ “Don’t Say Gay” bill.
His opponent, 37-year-old lawyer Ashley Gantt, ran on a platform focused on affordable housing, public education, and criminal justice reform. Gantt, an attorney and former public school teacher, has criticized Bush for siding with Republicans on the abortion ban and the “Don’t Say Gay” bill, which bars “classroom discussion about sexual orientation or gender identity.”
“As a Black woman, I was offended when he voted to restrict my rights, our right to make decisions over our bodies,” she said last week. “As a former teacher, I was insulted that he voted to inject Tallahassee extremism into our classrooms and deny local control over our school systems.”
Gantt and Bush were the only two candidates vying for District 109. As the winner of the Democratic primary, Gantt is now the representative-elect.
Bush was first elected to the Florida state House in 1992. He was elected again in 2008, then in 2018. His penchant for supporting Republican-sponsored bills drew the ire of his fellow Democrats, some of whom publicly voiced their support for Gantt in the election; Democratic state Sen. Jason Pizzo recently accused him of “voting against Democratic values and kissing the Governor’s ass – all day, everyday.”
Florida voters also ousted Jared Smith, an incumbent circuit judge for Hillsborough County who gained notoriety for rejecting a teenager’s request for an abortion because her grades were low.
The race between Smith and his opponent, Nancy Jacobs, was relatively contentious for a typically low-key nonpartisan judgeship election, the Tampa Bay Times reported.
Smith had denied a 17-year-old seeking an abortion without parental consent in January this year on the basis that her grades were low and that she lacked “intelligence or credibility,” and was therefore not mature enough to get an abortion. An appeals court later overturned his ruling.
Jacobs did not directly criticize Smith over his decision (Florida bars judicial candidates from making public statements on legal issues), but she has shared posts on Facebook regarding the ruling.
In a statement to BuzzFeed News, Jacobs said she looked forward to taking the bench in January and “ensuring that the people of Hillsborough County who enter my courtroom are treated with respect, dignity, and integrity every day.”
She said that Smith’s decision in the abortion case was possibly “one factor among many in voters’ decisions on whom to cast their ballots for in this race” given that it made national headlines.
Smith had made his Christian faith central to his reelection campaign. His wife, Suzette Smith, once told supporters that Jacobs, who is Jewish, “needs Jesus.”
“We pray for her. She needs Jesus,” Suzette Smith said. “To deny God and to deny the Bible is a person that’s — the heart is very hard toward God.”
Jacobs called the comments “troubling” and accused the couple of “using their religion to insult and disparage the faith of an opposing candidate.”
Florida is set up for a riveting general election in November, with abortion rights expected to be a central issue in races all the way up to the gubernatorial election.
Charlie Crist, a former Republican governor, won the Democratic primary on Tuesday, setting up a challenge against Gov. Ron DeSantis. Crist fended off accusations of being “pro-life” from his primary opponent, Nikki Fried, arguing that he struck down anti-abortion bills during his time in office.