Data scientist Rebekah Jones launches congressional campaign in Pensacola

Former Department of Health data analyst Rebekah Jones launched campaign for Florida 1st Congress District last week with a small private meeting at his Pensacola Beach rental home.

A dozen people attended the event on Thursday, which included a buffet dinner and Jones’ homemade cupcakes. The candidate did not give a stump speech, but sat on the back porch of the rental home and answered questions and spoke about her platform.

“I saw my role strictly as a scientist and tried very hard to stick to it until December when (Florida Governor Ron) DeSantis sent the police to my house,” she said. Then I realized that as apolitical as I tried to be, the world and the place I lived was not going to let this happen. If politics wasn’t going to get out of science, it was time for scientists to get into politics. “

Jones made headlines last year after being fired from her job as a data scientist for the Florida Department of Health, where she helped create the state’s COVID dashboard. She said she lost her job for refusing to manipulate data to show more favorable numbers as the state experiences an increase in the number of cases. DeSantis said she was fired for insubordination.

In December 2020, Jones shared a video of Florida Department of Law Enforcement agents entering her home with handguns, executing a warrant as part of an investigation into an alert platform chat message. emergency urging people to talk about the state’s COVID strategies.

“It’s time to speak up before another 17,000 people die,” the post read. “You know it’s wrong. You don’t have to be a part of it. Be a hero. Speak up before it’s too late.”

Jones has become a national figure since then, speaking to numerous news outlets and launching his own COVID-19 dashboard. Last year, she was named Forbes Tech Personality of the Year for stepping up efforts to “fill the void left by governments during COVID-19.”

She was granted legally protected whistleblower status in June, but still faces criminal charges for allegedly illegally accessing FDOH’s computer system. That same month, her Twitter account was suspended for repeatedly sharing a Miami Herald article. She currently has a GoFundMe page to help cover legal fees. A note on the page directs campaign donors to go to its official campaign website.

Jones said she didn’t always intend to turn to politics, but with U.S. Representative Matt Gaetz sitting up for re-election in 2022, she saw an opportunity to deliver facts “through a scientific lens “and not to” politicize the truth “. . ”

Jennie McKeon / WUWF Public Media

“While I was in the state’s emergency operations center building a data portal to dispel disinformation, people like Gaetz were arguing against wearing masks, even mocking,” he said. she said, referring to Gaetz wearing a gas mask on the house floor last year during a vote on emergency spending in response to the pandemic.

As Florida faces an increase in the number of cases and a shortage of not only hospital beds but also intensive care beds, Jones said she believes different leadership would have put the state in a better position.

“If we had followed the science, Florida wouldn’t be dragging the country into a relapse,” she said. “We should be on top of this. No one wants to wear masks anymore; Florida and Texas have really done this to the rest of the country. “

Jones had originally planned to run as an Independent, but new electoral rules require her to run as a Democrat – the party she is registered with. It will be an uphill battle until victory in the predominantly conservative district. And Jones still needs around 2,500 signings to qualify. So far, no other Democrat has appeared in the primaries.

Pensacola resident James Scaminaci said he values ​​Jones’ scientific knowledge and is ready to support his campaign.

“We need a member of Congress who can look at hard data and make tough choices and not act like a clown,” he said.

COVID was the dominant topic between Jones and her guests, but she also spoke about statewide issues, such as climate change and voter rights.

“Why do we allow states to individually decide who can vote for the president? She said sitting across from Jamil Davis, lead organizer of Black Voters Matter. “Stealing a crab trap is a class three crime… (this person) will never be able to vote again. “

Davis said it was still too early to fully support a female candidate, but he will keep a “close eye” on her campaign.

“I love that she is a strong advocate for voter rights and voter empowerment,” he said. “I love that she looks me in the face and says ‘if HR1 comes back and I’m in office, I vote for.’ It’s a big deal for me. She was already familiar with the problems in Wedgewood (the contaminated community in Escambia County). If you are running in this district you have to know what is going on.

With a deep political divide in local and national politics, Jones said she believed last year had her prepared for 2022.

“Ron DeSantis defamed me to the Vice President of the United States before I spoke to a single recorded reporter,” she said. “I think I’ve learned thick skin by now.”

Sean N. Ayres