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GOP State House Candidate Melissa Howard Drops Out of Race Amid College Degree Scandal

Melissa Howard State House District 73 Campaign

A Republican candidate in the race for a Southwest Florida State House district resigned today after admitting Monday that she had lied about her college credentials. The resignation comes just days after the withdrawn candidate, Melissa Howard, lied about earning her college degree and posted a photo online of a fraudulent diploma. 

Melissa Howard resigned from the GOP primary race for Florida’s House District 73, which includes portions of Sarasota and Manatee Counties.  In a story that has garnered national attention, Howard was initially accused of lying about her degree from Miami University in Ohio by the website, “Florida News Online.” After flying to Ohio to obtain her academic records last Friday, Howard called the site’s accusations false and posted a photo with what appeared to be her diploma in Marketing from the school. 

However, the Sarasota Herald Tribune reported that an official from Miami University said Howard never graduated from the school and that it does not offer degree programs in Marketing.  At that point, Howard issued an apology and said she would stay in the race. “I would like to apologize to my family and my supporters for this situation,” Howard said in statement.

“I was not my intent to deceive or mislead anyone.  I made a mistake in saying that I completed my degree.  What I did was wrong and set a bad example for someone seeking public service.  I am staying in the race and intend to win and lead by example from now on.”

That prompted former Manatee County Republican Party Chairwoman Donna Hayes, Florida Department of Law Enforcement Commissioner Rick Swearingen and Florida’s 12th Judicial Circuit State Attorney Ed Brodsky to request an investigation.

“I have not heard back from either one of them, but I was told by several attorney friends of mine that this was a law enforcement issue,” said Hayes.  “So that’s what I did.”

Hayes said she is “extremely disappointed” that Republican leaders in Sarasota and Manatee Counties were not calling for Howard to step down from the race ahead of her resignation.

“This is a misdemeanor of the top level,” said Hayes.  “And, so she’s going to have to face that.  And so the Republican leaders investigating the crime; they just decided to drop it.  We’re not going to answer phone calls.  We’re not going to do interviews.  Nothing.  And we’re certainly not going to take a stand.  Well, that’s not the Republican Party that I know.”

Prior to Howard’s resignation, the Herald Tribune reports that Sarasota Republican Party Chairman Joe Gruters said he’d only call for Howard to resign if she was arrested.  Gruters also served as Howard’s campaign treasurer.

Prior to Howard dropping out of the race, retired Supervisor of Elections in Leon County, Ion Sancho, who has decades of experience working elections in Florida said, the situation is unprecedented.  "I have not heard or experienced any kind of situation as has occurred down there in that house race where one candidate has absolutely lied so blatently and then not, when its come to light, made the decision to continue seeking the office," said Sancho.  "It’s just pretty brazen.”

Hayes says Howard’s resignation may provide some relief to some of the 20,000 registered Republican voters in Sarasota and Manatee Counties who had cast their ballots before Howard’s academic credentials had been called into question.

“Once you file a mail-in ballot, you cannot vote over again just because your particular candidate dropped out.  So, this way it makes it easier in at least they won’t feel as if they’ve been cheated.”

Howard’s resignation sets the stage for a House District 73 general election battle between GOP candidate Tommy Gregory and Democrat Liv Coleman.