Rebekah Jones: Why I'm in this fight
The decision to come back to Florida weighed heavy on my heart, and the hearts and minds of my family.
Florida has been home to my son, Jack, for most of his life. My daughter, Evelyn, was born in Tallahassee, brought home to our small duplex in Tallahassee, and has known little else but the stretch of coast between Tally and where my family still lives on Mississippi's stretch of the Gulf.
The same could be said about me - I spent more years living on the Gulf Coast than anywhere else, and more years specifically in Florida than any other single place in my adult life.
Like a lot of our military families here in the First, my family moved around a lot when I was a kid. I was born in southern Pennsylvania, and have lived in Maryland, Mississippi, New York, Louisiana, and Florida.
I took in the best parts of every culture I was privileged enough to be a part of. I saw the best and worst in people and how they deal with problems because I was a "chariot chaser," hunting storms and disasters my entire life. Or they hunt me. It's hard to tell.
I dreamed of one day running FEMA.
Yeah, that's sort of a sad dream. I didn't want to be an astronaut or movie star. I wanted to be sent to the worst places in the world at their worst moments so I could help people get through it.
I lived through Hurricane Katrina - grew up just north of Gulfport, Mississippi in a place not even on the map when we moved there because it was so rural. I learned the stakes young, and wanted to understand why the storm of Katrina and the disaster that unfolded afterward were possible.
I dedicated my education and my career to understanding and communicating science, especially with regard to crisis, public health and science communication. My academic research focused on hazards/disasters and how climate change impacts extreme weather on our increasingly hostile planet.
For me, discovering earth science felt like finding religion. The world made sense through that lens, and I threw myself deep into the research.
I helped with two chapters of the 2014 National Climate Assessment under my advisor, Dr. Lynne Carter, convening lead author and Chief of Party to the UN Climate Change group in Kampala, Uganda. While still at LSU, I was consulted as a climate change expert in the 2014 State Hazard Mitigation Plan for the state, helping the state plan for increases in events like heat waves, hurricanes, droughts, and more.
Before I graduated with my Master of Science degree, I had offers for jobs in the private, public and non-profit sectors. I chose public service.
I wrote multiple appendices for the 2017 Coastal Master Plan while I worked for State of Louisiana Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority as a Coastal Scientist. I conducted the research and oversaw our work on model sensitivity with respect to climate change, future scenarios, sea level rise, and hurricane projections, determined our viable ranges for each of those factors, and was involved in the modeling effort to recreate historical storms on modern landscapes.
I took my studies of hurricanes and climate with me to my doctoral studies at Florida State University, using paleoproxy data gathered from Native American mass grave sites to extend the historical hurricane record back several thousands of years. This research helps further our understandings about how frequent and intense landfalling hurricanes have been along the Northern Gulf of Mexico during prior warm and cool climate conditions.
When I was hired and then promoted in less than a year by the Florida Department of Health, my funding came from the Bureau of Preparedness and Response, where my diverse science education equipped me to deal with a range of public health and environmental issues, from toxic algae to immunization and, of course, hurricane planning and response.
I've led or been a part of response efforts to Hurricane Isaac (2012), Hurricane Sandy (2012), the Moore, Okla. tornadoes (2013), Hurricane Hermine (2016), Hurricane Matthew (2018), and Hurricane Dorian (2019).
My Hurricane Michael storymap won awards in regional and national competitions, and was presented at ESRI’s 2019 User Conference.
In April 2020, my COVID-19 Data and Surveillance Dashboard, which I built while working as Geospatial Information Sciences Manager at the Florida Department of Health, received praise from White House Advisor Dr. Debora Birx, logged more than 100 million views within in its first six weeks, and was hailed as the national gold-standard for data transparency and accessibility.
I reluctantly came forward in May 2020 to warn people about how the state was using misleading data to push a partisan reopening that led to the highest surge in cases seen in any state in our country by that point.
In June 2020, I founded Florida COVID Action to track and analyze all authoritative data about the COVID-19 pandemic in Florida when state leadership refused to do so. Two months later, I co-founded The COVID Monitor, the national database for COVID-19 case data in K-12 schools.
Over the last 15 months, I have dedicated my life to keeping Floridians informed about the ongoing pandemic, risking my career, freedom and even my safety to ensure you and everyone else who lives or visits our great state had access to emerging science and critical information about COVID-19 in Florida.
I took the fight for data about COVID-19 in K12 schools to Google and FinMango, who partnered with me to create the only national database for cases in school settings. The Public Health Accreditation Board recently threatened to revoke the entire Florida Department of Health’s accreditation for its mishandling and misrepresentation of COVID-19 data in schools. The state retaliating against me because of my whistleblower complaint and my subsequent efforts to track cases in schools were referenced 14 times in the complaint.
Still, I felt compelled to leave the state in January 2021 after state police raided my home on Governor Ron DeSantis’ orders, pointing guns at me, my husband, and our two small children.
In late May 2021, I received official whistleblower protection from the State of Florida through the Office of the Inspector General. A week later, the Miami-Herald published an investigative piece proving I told the truth. Despite a massive right-wing troll army and smear campaigns by alt-right magazines and bloggers, DeSantis couldn’t change the truth or convince the public of his feigned sainthood in rewriting the state’s COVID-19 story.
I envisioned a simpler life for myself and my family - a scientist and researcher who dedicated my education, career and life to studying earth science, geography and disasters, and my husband a biostatistician and public health researcher, both public servants, underpaid, but happy and raising a family together.
Desantis stole that from me when he defamed me, raided my home, and had me arrested for the crime of telling the truth.
So I’m taking the fight for honesty, transparency and integrity to Congress.
I’m moving back to Florida – something I didn’t think would be possible until long after DeSantis was gone. No one (not even me) expected the state to rule in my favor and grant those legal whistleblower protections.
I’m running for congress in the district of my soon-to-be-home on our state’s beautiful emerald coast. And I need your help.
I’m not perfect or a perfect candidate. No one is or can be. And I don’t know everything about everything – anyone who tells you they do is either a liar or arrogant (or both).
Here’s what I do know: I built my reputation on being honest and being a fighter for what’s right. I want to break the partisan walls erected these past few years and work with everyone on issues that matter – issues impacting each American’s life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness.
I hope I have proven to you that I will fight for what’s right, true and just – no matter the cost to myself. I lost my job, risked my safety, and was even raided at gunpoint to fight for you and your right to critical health information.
Now, I’m asking for your support.
Matt Gaetz – the incumbent where I am running for Congress – has already raised more than $1 million for his campaign. He doesn’t intend on losing his power, because without it he’ll likely be sent to prison for the crimes he stands accused of – including sex trafficking teenage girls.
You can join my team and help us defeat Matt Gaetz.
I think Congress should be made of public servants whose only interest is doing right by the people they represent. That is what I bring and what I promise.
Join us. Vote for science, truth and transparency for a change. Let's see what integrity can do when given a fighting chance.