KISSIMMEE, Fla. - If Mike Horner was once considered a rising star in the Republican Party, he's now a sun that's set. The state house representative for district 42 abruptly quit his campaign for a third term, amidst a scandal linking him to an Orlando prostitution and racketeering ring.
Horner's name was found in the garbage of a home in eastern Orange County that investigators raided as a brothel. Horner was listed as a client, and several prostitutes mentioned his name to detectives working the case.
The GOP lawmaker, endorsed by House Speaker Dean Cannon, former Governor Jeb Bush, and former presidential candidate Mike Huckabee, issued a statement:
"I deeply regret decisions I made that are causing my family unjustifiable pain and embarrassment," Horner said. "My family still deserves better from me, as do all my friends, supporters and constituents."
Horner is part of a newly drawn house district that stretches from Kissimmee in Osceola County to Lake Wales in eastern Polk County. A majority of voters are registered democrats, but the republican was expected to win re-election easily.
"It's a big disappointment," said Joaolys Rodriguez, a voter who lives in Horner's district.
In television commercials, Horner promoted himself as a family values conservative, living in a part of Florida "where faith and family are strong," he stated.
He served in the National Guard, received an award from the local VFW, and was president of the Kissimmee/Osceola chamber of commerce.
Details of Horner's involvement surfaced from a raid that took place at the alleged brothel in April. Mark Risner, 55, was arrested as the operator of the ring, and was formally charged last month.
The house is located next door to a daycare owned by Corrine Miner, who's run the business for 43 years. Miner said she knew her next door neighbor for three decades, and said Risner "was a nice man." Still, she had suspicions about the home because of all the traffic and noise. Her customers had concerns as well.
"I had a lot of mothers that were angry about the carrying on over there," Miner said.
Even though Horner has officially dropped out of the race, his name will still appear on the ballot in November because the deadline to reprint them has passed. That means a vote for Horner will actually count towards his replacement, if the GOP can find one in time.
Eileen Game, the democratic challenger to Horner, said the dynamics of the race have changed dramatically.
"I look forward to the opportunity to get my message out to the voters in Polk and Osceola County," Game said. She's expected to meet with Democratic Party officials about ramping up her campaign with more resources now that the seat appears winnable.
While the ultimate impact on voters will be revealed after the November election, for those just hearing about the scandal, it's a turnoff.
"We have children. Our kids are trying to grow up in a tough enough time," said Christie Fourie, a Kissimmee resident.
"We don't need to deal with that."
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