Ex-felon who won GOP primary didn’t ask for rights in Florida

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He confirmed in an interview that he did not go through the process to restore his right to hold office.

GAINESVILLE, Fla .– The Republican winner of this week’s Congressional primary in South Florida is a convicted felon who did not go through the state’s process to restore his civil rights after his imprisonment, according to interviews and records. This step is required under Florida law for a candidate to hold political office.

Jason Mariner, 36, of Palm Beach Gardens, an advertising director and self-proclaimed “America First” Conservative candidate, won Tuesday’s GOP primary with 58 percent of the vote in the heavily Democratic 20th congressional district.

It was not immediately clear whether the election result would be challenged. The general election will take place on January 11. Democrats have occupied the seat – one of Florida’s most Democratic districts – for more than two decades.

Mariner had served approximately two years in total in the Palm Beach County Jail in 2007 and 2012 on charges of theft, burglary, possession of cocaine, obstruction and violent resistance to arrest, recordings spectacle. He was open during his campaign about his criminal history, telling voters, “Before I ran for Congress, I fled the law.” He also promised he would be tough on crime.

Under new leniency rules Gov. Ron DeSantis announced earlier this year that ex-criminals automatically have the right to regain their rights – including the right to hold political office – but must go through a formal process administered by the Florida Commission on Offender Review and the Office of Executive Clemency. Under a constitutional amendment that Florida voters approved in 2020, ex-felons can register to vote after they have served their jail time and pay any fines.

Mariner confirmed in an interview on Thursday that he did not go through the process to restore his entitlement to office. – No, nothing, he said. He later said he was convinced he was a legitimate candidate. “No, it won’t be a problem,” he said.

Mariner said he went through the same process as the other candidates and noted he was a registered voter. “Since I am not a lawyer or state government official, it is not really my place to answer your legal or procedural questions about Florida law, applicable scenarios, etc., or advise you legally, ”he said in an email.

Florida recordings this week did not include any evidence that Mariner’s rights had been restored. Mariner signed an oath declaration in August, he sent to the Florida Elections Division attesting that he was qualified to run for Congress in Florida.

“All forms of leniency, if granted, would be searchable in this database,” said Angela Meredith, spokesperson for the Florida Commission on Offender Review. She said privacy rules prohibit her from specifically discussing Mariner’s case.

The new leniency rules describe the restoration of the civil rights of ex-criminals – including the right to hold public office and sit on juries – “automatically during processing and without a hearing”, but also specify that “a leniency application is required for the restoration of civil rights.

It was not clear whether Mariner could retroactively apply for the reinstatement of his rights after already winning this week’s Congressional primary – as long as his right to hold political office was reinstated before January 3, 2023, when the 118th Congress would meet in Washington. .

Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis’ press secretary Christina Pushaw said Thursday that in response to questions from a reporter, lawyers in the governor’s office were swiftly trying to determine whether state rules requiring the reinstatement of rights civilians would apply to a Florida candidate. for the federal office.

A spokesperson for the Florida Secretary of State’s office, which is responsible for ensuring candidates are eligible, did not respond to phone calls or emails for two days this week.

On Tuesday night, Mariner defeated Republican Greg Musselwhite, a former pipe fitter and welding inspector who also lost the 2020 election to incumbent Rep. Alcee Hastings, D-Fla., Who died earlier this year. In two months, Mariner’s campaign committee raised $ 22,553 and spent $ 18,310 ahead of the two-way primary, including modest support from the Republican Party.

Musselwhite laughed Thursday when asked about Mariner’s eligibility. He said he was unsure if he would dispute the result. He said he trusted Florida officials to confirm his opponent was qualified to run for office.

“I guess I was trusting the system a little too much,” he said. He later added: “At best, they call another special election. In the worst case, there will be no Republican on the ballot.

On the Democratic side, election officials recounted the ballots Thursday after Dale VC Holness led Sheila Cherfilus-McCormick by just 12 votes, or two tenths of a percentage point, out of more than 49,000 votes cast.

Florida Rights Restoration Coalition deputy director Neil Volz, who supported passage of the constitutional amendment and advocated for new leniency reforms earlier this year, acknowledged that the ex-felons under the new rules must go through a process before they can legally hold political office.

“The nightmare scenario is that someone is eligible but the government bureaucracy is holding the possibility for them to move forward with their lives hostage,” said Volz, who had been monitoring Mariner’s political campaign because of his criminal past.

It was not clear why no one raised questions about Mariner’s eligibility as a candidate until he won the primary. The Palm Beach County Election Supervisor, where Mariner first registered to vote in March 2020, said the state elections division in Tallahassee – under the direction of the Secretary of State – was supposed to determine if federal candidates are eligible.

The South Florida Sun Sentinel newspaper in Fort Lauderdale approved Mariner in the Republican primary and noted that he had regained his right to vote thanks to the constitutional amendment, but his endorsement did not clarify whether he had confirmed that Mariner could serve in office if elected.

Mariner is the director of Adskinz LLC, a small advertising company in West Palm Beach that he started in 2017 that pays drivers to put logos and slogans on their vehicles on behalf of paid advertisers. The US government in April forgave a $ 24,700 loan it had given to Adskinz as part of a small business aid program during the pandemic.

In his email Thursday, Mariner described himself as “a father, a businessman, someone who changed his life, and now a winner of the US Congressional primary race,” and said he ‘he understood those who were trying to overcome past struggles.

Delray Beach Police noted they saw Mariner buying crack cocaine in a house in April 2012, and he tried to swallow it when an officer stopped his car for speeding moments later, court records show. He pleaded guilty and was sentenced to 14 months in prison and fined $ 2,792.

In December 2011, Delray Beach Police noted Mariner stole a Greyhound Bus sign they found in his apartment and accused him of stealing four brass urns from a cemetery and selling them for $ 30 worth of junk.

In May 2014, the police at Riviera Beach noted Mariner spat and tried to hit another driver, and damaged the other driver’s van, in a road rage incident in front of a Dunkin ‘Donuts.

Mariner also has a history of traffic violations, including tickets accusing him of accelerating to 93 mph on I-95 last year and reckless driving earlier this year. His license was suspended during the summer until August, just before he began campaigning for Congress.

This story was produced by Fresh Take Florida, a news service from the College of Journalism and Communications at the University of Florida. The rapporteur can be contacted at [email protected].


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