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An ousted North Florida congressional candidate takes her case to an appeals court

Donkey and elephant are depicted as Democrats vs Republicans
Victor Moussa
Rebekah Jones is a former Florida Department of Health employee who made headlines when she alleged the DeSantis administration manipulated COVID-19 data. Now she wants to run for Congress.

After a Leon County circuit judge issued a written ruling Monday blocking her from running for a Panhandle congressional seat, Democrat Rebekah Jones has taken the dispute to an appeals court.

Jones’ attorney, Benedict Kuehne, filed a notice of appeal at the Tallahassee-based appeals court, according to documents posted on the Leon County circuit court website.

Jones, a former Florida Department of Health employee who drew widespread attention when she alleged Gov. Ron DeSantis’ administration manipulated COVID-19 data, planned to run this year in Congressional District 1 in Escambia, Santa Rosa, Okaloosa and Walton counties. But Peggy Schiller, another Democrat running for the seat, challenged Jones’ candidacy.

During a hearing Friday, Judge John Cooper indicated he would block Jones from the ballot and followed Monday by issuing the written ruling. Cooper found that Jones did not meet a legal requirement of being a registered Democrat for 365 days before qualifying and, as a result, said she was not eligible for the ballot.

“This court is keenly aware and sensitive to the right of citizens to choose their representatives and that the involvement by the court in the democratic process is an action to be taken only after serious and thoughtful reflection,” Cooper wrote. “While it provides this court no pleasure in removing a candidate from the ballot, and the court makes no judgment on the wisdom of the statute, the statute is clear, unambiguous and constitutional.”

Democrats are seeking to unseat U.S. Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fla., in the heavily Republican district. Jones on Tuesday had been removed from a list of active candidates on the state Division of Elections website.