Political newcomer Ashley Gantt ousted a longtime incumbent Tuesday night, winning the Florida House District 109 race by just 494 votes — out of about 14,000 cast — but the message from voters was unmistakable. Abortion rights and the rights of LGBTQ students matter.
Retired educator James Bush III, who was running for a third consecutive term and fourth overall, was the only Democrat to back two high-profile and deeply divisive bills pushed by Gov. Ron DeSantis and the Republican-led Legislature this year: the 15-week abortion ban and the Parental Rights in Education bill, known as the “Don’t say gay” bill. The misery attached to those bills is profound, yet Bush embraced them.
We’re not sure why he voted that way; he wouldn’t talk to the Editorial Board. But Gantt, a lawyer who had never run for office before, said those votes, particularly the one on the abortion bill, motivated her to challenge him in a district where Black and Hispanic women make up the majority of the population.
“I felt that that was a vote directly in opposition to my existence and me having bodily autonomy,” Gantt said.
Republicans have focused single-mindedly on culture wars this year — sex education in schools, workplace diversity training, abortion rights — with DeSantis playing the role of fomenter-in-chief as he bets on a pathway to reelection and maybe the White House. Riling up the base works for him, just as it did for his mentor, Donald Trump.
And there was Bush, who has been in the state House off and on since 1992, standing by the governor on the vote to drastically restrict women’s right to choose and again on restricting what educators can say about LGBTQ issues and identities.
Gantt, who grew up in the district and became a teacher, then a lawyer, said she thought Bush had failed in a very basic way: He wasn’t representing the people in the district, which includes parts of North Miami-Dade, Opa-locka, Miami Lakes and Liberty City.
Enough voters agreed to send the incumbent state representative packing — notable especially because he won reelection in 2020 without even having to face an opponent. Also, this race was a Democratic primary, but it was open to anyone in the district because there were no Republicans running. That gives the final tally even more weight.
Gantt is only one vote in the minority party. But her mission is pretty clear: Be a voice for her district, one she apparently knows better than the guy who represented it for so many years.