Lake Club's Melissa Howard enters the race for the Florida District 73 seat.
Melissa Howard said her announcement this week has been three years in the making.
In November, The Lake Club resident hopes she will be elected to a seat in Tallahassee, representing Sarasota and Manatee counties as the District 73 House representative.
Although Howard on April 5 announced she would run for the Manatee County Commission District 5 seat to be vacated by incumbent Vanessa Baugh, circumstances changed. Baugh dropped from the race April 11 due to "family considerations."
Howard changed her direction.
“I’ve been planning this for three years,” Howard said of a run for a House seat. “I’ve been planning to be in the House more than on the commission. I have been waiting for the right time for the position to come up. That has always been my goal.”
Although Howard has not run for office before, she is familiar with politics. Since college, she has been active in Republican organizations and for the last two years, she has been president of the local chapter of the Florida Federation of Republican Women.
She and her husband, Ian, own International Medical Trade Show and Marketplace, a startup medical trade show held in Miami. Her role provides her flexibility to spend time in the charitable arena. She currently serves as a board member for Easter Seals of Southwest Florida and the Junior League and also volunteers with Southeastern Guide Dogs and the Guardian Ad Litem program in Manatee County, which advocates for children in the foster care system.
Through her nonprofit work over the last five years, she has helped raise more than $2.3 million through events she has chaired or co-chaired. She’s also traveled to Tallahassee to lobby for funds for Easter Seals and other nonprofits she volunteers for and she understands how the legislative process works.
“If anybody can say anything about me, it’s I’m very persuasive,” Howard said. “I’m a servant to my community now. I’m going to use my business background and my love for my community (to benefit it on the state level).”
Howard said her focus in the legislature will be economic development, creating jobs, fighting the state’s opioid crisis and improving public safety. Education also is a top priority. She particularly wants more focus on career and technical education.
“I really think apprenticeships are missing,” Howard said, adding she would like to start such programs for children who don’t want to take the four-year college route. “I see these kids who don’t have direction. They don’t want to work at Pizza Hut. We’re not utilizing manufacturing jobs.
“I’m for bringing good paying jobs,” she said. “Economic development is huge for the next generation.”
Howard has been a lifelong Republican and believes the private sector should use its business acumen and life experience to the public’s benefit. Raised in a blue collar family, she moved frequently as a child to wherever her dad could get work as a stone mason, growing up primarily in Middletown, Ohio. She was the first in her family to go to college.
She has lived in Sarasota for eight years, the last six of which have been in Lakewood Ranch.
In the District 73 race, Howard joins two candidates, Republican Tommy Gregory of Sarasota and Democrat Liv Coleman of Bradenton.