Melissa Howard withdrawing from Florida House race after accusation she lied about college degree

Melissa Howard said she will withdraw as a Republican candidate for the Florida House of Representatives District 73, which includes Manatee County.
Melissa Howard said she will withdraw as a Republican candidate for the Florida House of Representatives District 73, which includes Manatee County. Provided photo

The day after releasing a statement that she was staying in the race for state Representative, Republican Melissa Howard said she will now withdraw.

On Tuesday, Howard posted to her Facebook that she would withdraw from the race for House District 73.

“I made a terrible error in judgment,” Howard said in a statement, first provided to Florida Politics. “I am thankful for everyone who gave so much toward my success, and I am deeply sorry.”

“I have come to the realization that the right thing to do for my community is to withdraw from the race. I will do so today,” Howard said on Facebook.

The post went on to say she will continue to serve the community and “work to improve the lives of other people.”

The decision comes after Howard was accused in a FLA News Online report of possibly lying about receiving a degree from Miami University in Ohio, and posed for a picture with what appeared to be a framed degree. The university’s counsel later released a statement saying the degree did not appear to be “accurate.” It garnered national attention.

Howard previously told the Bradenton Herald she had graduated from Miami University and obtained a marketing degree, and even said in an email that she was flying to Ohio to pick up her transcripts.

Howard apologized in a statement Monday, saying it was not her “intent to deceive or mislead anyone.” She went on to say she “made a mistake” in saying she completed her degree. At the time, she said she would stay in the race.

However, she reversed the decision Tuesday.

Manatee County Commissioner Vanessa Baugh said Tuesday it was a “disappointment that such a thing has occurred,” but Howard “did the right thing” by dropping out of the race.

“It saddens me to think that such a thing has happened, it disappoints me, but I wish her well in the future,” Baugh said. “We’ll all move forward.”

Baugh briefly ran for the House District 73 seat before dropping out and endorsing Howard. She said “of course” she was surprised by the news of the degree controversy and “had no idea that such a thing had transpired.”

Kathleen King, the Chairwoman for the Republican Party of Manatee County, also said Howard bowing out of the race was the “right thing to do.”

King said that while the controversy played out on social media and in the press, the Republican Party of Manatee County was going to leave the situation in the hands of the voters until something definitive happened.

After Howard’s announcement Tuesday, King said they wished her family good health and future success.

Joe Gruters, State Representative and Howard’s campaign treasurer, told Florida Politics , “She made the right decision and saved the community and the party any additional heartache.”

“I hope she gets whatever help she needs. We wish her success moving forward and look forward to supporting Tommy Gregory,” Gruters told Florida Politics.

Howard was running against Gregory in the Aug. 28 primary to represent House District 73, which includes parts of Manatee and Sarasota counties. Gregory will face Liv Coleman in the Nov. 6 election for the seat.

King and Baugh said they will support Gregory in the race.