A Florida State House candidate admitted on Monday that she lied about having graduated from college, just days after she tried to refute the accusation by posting a photo posing with what appeared to be her diploma, according to news reports.
The candidate, Melissa Howard, who is running in a Republican primary for the 73rd District in the State House of Representatives, apologized on Monday, but declined to drop out of the race, the Sarasota Herald-Tribune reported.
“I would like to apologize to my family and my supporters for this situation,” Ms. Howard said in a statement, according to the newspaper. “It was not my intent to deceive or mislead anyone. I made a mistake in saying that I completed my degree. What I did was wrong and set a bad example for someone seeking public service. I am staying in the race and intend to win and lead by example from now on.”
She had been facing calls to end her campaign after Miami University of Ohio said she had not graduated, as she had claimed on her campaign website.
It all began when FLA News, a local news outlet, reported last week that the university had no record of Ms. Howard’s degree. She flew to Ohio on Friday in an attempt to prove the website’s reporting wrong. Shortly after, she posted a photo on Facebook of herself with a diploma.
The website briefly retracted its story and apologized to Ms. Howard. But it reposted it when the university said in a statement that the diploma in the photo was not “accurate.”
“The picture of the diploma shows that Melissa Marie Fox received a Bachelor of Science in Marketing degree from Miami University on December 20, 1996. We have no such record of a degree,” the university’s general counsel said, in a statement that used Ms. Howard’s maiden name.
In fact, the university does not even offer a degree in marketing. “Miami University’s degree for marketing majors then, as it is now, was a Bachelor of Science in Business,” the statement said.
The university confirmed that Ms. Howard had attended from 1990 to 1994. “She was very close to graduation,” said Claire Wagner, director of university news and communications. “But she did not graduate.”
Ms. Wagner confirmed that Ms. Howard paid a visit to the university last week. “Melissa was here on Friday,” Ms. Wagner said. “She wanted her transcript. She must’ve learned that coming to get it is faster than waiting for it in the mail.”
Tommy Gregory, Ms. Howard’s primary opponent, said she should withdraw from the race ahead of the Aug. 28 contest. The western Florida district they are seeking to represent includes portions of Manatee and Sarasota Counties.
“I think it is a dishonorable act that can bring criminal charges,” Mr. Gregory, a lawyer, said. “At a time when so many conservative voters have seen swamp politics, it is important that we have conservative leaders like me that are ready to focus.”
Other prominent state Republicans have called for Ms. Howard to drop out of the race, including Jonathan Bruce, a former commissioner of Manatee County.
“I do not see a path to victory when you have been involved in something like this,” he said. “That will be decided by the voters if she stays in the race.”
Sarah Mervosh contributed reporting.