U.S. Rep. Corrine Brown, who more than two decades ago became one of the first blacks elected to Congress from Florida since reconstruction, is battling to stay in office amid a criminal indictment and a revamped district that includes thousands of new voters.
Brown’s fate will likely be decided during the Aug. 30 primary when she squares off against two other Democrats, one of whom is a veteran state legislator who spent decades representing some of the voters in the reshaped district. Republican Glo Smith will run against the winner in November, but the district is solidly Democratic.
The outspoken 69-year-old incumbent is counting on years of using her political clout to bring federal dollars back to her district to help her remain in office.
“The fact is my work speaks for itself,” said Brown during a recent debate in Jacksonville that was livestreamed by WJXT, adding that voters “want a member that knows how to get things done.”
But in early July, Brown and her chief of staff pleaded not guilty to multiple fraud charges and other federal offenses that alleged she participated in a scheme to use a phony charity as a personal slush fund. She has contended that the investigation is a “witch hunt” and has chastised the media for focusing on it.
Brown’s fight comes as she tries to introduce herself in a dramatically different district. Brown’s district for years had stretched from Jacksonville to Orlando and included various minority neighborhoods in between. But after a lengthy legal battle, the Florida Supreme Court late last year approved new congressional districts that shifted her district westward from Duval County all the way to Gadsden County west of the state capital.
Brown tried to get a federal court to throw out the revamped district, but after losing her legal battle she filed for re-election. By that time there were others in the race, including former state Sen. Al Lawson and Lashonda Holloway. Holloway is a onetime congressional aide who runs a health care consulting firm.
Lawson, who mounted an unsuccessful bid for Congress four years ago, is well-known in the western counties of the revamped district since he spent 28 years in the Florida Legislature. The 67-year-old has been an insurance agent and in recent years a lobbyist. He maintains his ability to forge alliances in a GOP-controlled Legislature will help him in Congress.
“People are hurting, they really want leadership,” Lawson said. “They also want a leader they can trust. I felt like I have had no scandals in 27 years.”
If elected, Lawson would represent a different voice for the district. Brown has stood with Democrats on gun control and has been quite vocal about Florida’s decision to refuse to expand Medicaid eligibility. But Lawson is not in complete agreement with other Democrats on some gun issues and criticized Brown’s decision to participate in a sit-in on the House floor to protest the handling of gun legislation. He has lobbied on behalf of groups that have pushed legislation to help families obtain private school vouchers.