Sunday, May 19, 2024

State Rep. Mike Horner ends campaign after being named in racketeering, prostitution case. (Orlando Sentinel, September 24, 2012)

Fun Fact: Republican Mike Horner is now a lobbyist for Osceola County, charged with felony assault on an Osceola School Board member at a fundraiser for the incumbent State's Attorney.   From Orlando Sentinel:

State Rep. Mike Horner ends campaign after being named in racketeering, prostitution case


State Rep. Mike Horner of Kissimmee, a leading Osceola County Republican and a rising star in state GOP circles, abruptly ended his re-election campaign Monday after he was named as a client in a prostitution and racketeering case.

Horner, a two-term member of the state House, has not been charged or arrested in the case. Nor is he a target of the investigation, according to a law-enforcement source who is knowledgeable about the case. The source said he was named on a client list in a case brought by the Orange-Osceola State Attorney’s Office against Mark Risner, who is accused of running a brothel out of an east Orange County home.

Horner, 44, released a statement Monday saying he was ending his re-election bid.

“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.” He did not respond to requests for an interview.

Horner is also president of the Kissimmee/Osceola Chamber of Commerce. He was in the midst of a re-election campaign against Democrat Eileen Game for state House District 42, a race he was expected to win easily Nov. 6. The district straddles Osceola and Polk counties and includes St. Cloud, Lake Wales and Frostproof.

Risner, 55, was arrested in August and was formally charged earlier this month. He faces 13 charges, including a first-degree felony under the state’s Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organization Act, known as RICO. Risner, who is free on bond, did not respond to a call seeking comment. He does not yet have an attorney, the State Attorney’s Office said.

Florida Department of Law Enforcement records show that the arrest is Risner’s first in Florida. He is scheduled to appear in court next month. According to military records, Risner served 20 years in the U.S. Navy.

Details about the alleged prostitution operation have not been made public because prosecutors are not required to disclose evidence until it’s requested by the defense.

Horner, who served in the Florida Army National Guard, is married and has a young son. News of his involvement in the case came as a shock in Osceola County, where he has received numerous awards for community involvement.

“I’m stunned,” said Jim Cook, a member of the Osceola County Republican Executive Committee. “I know Mike Horner really well. He’s a nice guy.”

There was no immediate word about the status of Horner’s job with the chamber. Calls to the organization were unanswered Monday.

Horner’s exit from the House campaign has transformed what had been a safe GOP seat into a potentially wide-open race.

“Obviously, the dynamics have changed,” said Christian Ulvert, a political consultant helping to direct House campaigns for the Florida Democratic Party. “We’re looking at it very closely.”

The Democratic nominee in the district is the little-known Game, a Polk County business owner who has raised only about $6,000 from contributors but also loaned her campaign $10,300. Game’s campaign did not return calls requesting comment.

“She went from a nobody to a somebody in 20 seconds,” acknowledged Danny Sexton, the chairman of the Osceola County Republican Party, which along with the Polk County GOP will choose a candidate to run against Game. Party leaders will need to do so within the next five days.

Whoever they select faces major obstacles. A new Republican candidate will have to pull a campaign together from scratch, raising money and reaching out to voters in less than two months. And whoever runs will have do so under Horner’s name: by state law, his name must remain on the ballot.

“It does present some challenges. You would be a fool to say it doesn’t,” Sexton said. “There are certainly going to be some voters upset over whatever happened. … And you’ve got to run a campaign that says, ‘I’m not Mike Horner. This is what I believe in. But when you vote, you’ve got to vote for Mike Horner.’ “

Horner seemed to have a bright political future. He was active with state Reps. Chris Dorworth of Lake Mary and Jason Brodeur of Sanford in raising money for Republican legislators through Citizens for an Enterprising Democracy. Dorworth is scheduled to become speaker of the Florida House in 2014.

Horner also raised tens of thousands of dollars for Republican candidates through another committee called the Florida Conservative Leadership Fund with Rep. Dana Young, R-Tampa.

One of Horner’s highest-profile fights during the last legislative session was to sponsor a measure that would have removed Orange County Mayor Teresa Jacobs from the board of the Orlando-Orange County Expressway Authority.

Horner said the move would curb the influence of political donations on the toll-road agency, while Jacobs said it was part of a larger payback by House leaders in response to her push for ethics and conflict-of-interest reforms on the authority.

Horner also worked closely with Walt Disney World during his time in the Legislature. This year, for instance, he had $1 million inserted into the state budget at Disney’s request to use as incentives for Major League Soccer teams that agree to train in Central Florida.

In his chamber role, Horner led a citizen initiative for a referendum on whether County Commission elections should be nonpartisan. That effort, which divided commissioners along partisan lines, was ultimately successful, and Osceola voters will decide the question Nov. 6.

Bianca Prieto and David Damron of the Sentinel staff contributed to this report.

Who might replace Horner in House race?

State Rep. Mike Horner’s abrupt withdrawal from his re-election campaign requires Republicans in Osceola and Polk counties to move quickly to find a replacement who will run against Democrat Eileen Game. Among the possibilities mentioned by GOP activists:

Osceola Commissioner Frank Attkisson. A former Kissimmee mayor, Attkisson served in the state House from 2000 until 2008, when he was forced out by term limits. Horner succeeded him. Attkisson said he is interested in returning to the Legislature at some point, but he would have to resign his commission seat to run – something he’s not sure he wants to do.

Ken Smith, who retired in 2010 after 14 years as an Osceola County commissioner. He’s also a former Kissimmee mayor and city commissioner. Attkisson succeeded him on the County Commission.

Jimmy Nelson, chairman of the Polk County Republican Party and a former Lake Wales city commissioner.

Jason Garcia

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