Florida state House candidate faked her diploma, university says

A Florida state House candidate has been accused of lying about having graduated from college and posing for a photo with a fake diploma.

The candidate, Melissa Howard, who is running in a Republican primary for the 73rd District in the state House of Representatives, is facing calls to drop out of the race 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 school had no record of 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.

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The website briefly retracted its story and apologized to Howard. But it reposted it when the school 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 school’s general counsel said, in a statement that used Howard’s maiden name.

In fact, the school 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 school confirmed that 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.”

Wagner confirmed that Howard paid a visit to the school last week. “Melissa was here on Friday,” Wagner said. “She wanted her transcript. She must’ve learned that coming to get it is faster than waiting for it in the mail.”

Howard did not return a request for comment Monday. Her campaign’s website and Facebook page appeared to be down.

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Tommy Gregory, Howard’s primary opponent, said she should withdraw from the race before 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,” Gregory, a lawyer, said in an interview. “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 Howard to drop out of the race, including Jonathan Bruce, a former Manatee county commissioner.

“I do not see a path to victory when you have been involved in something like this,” he said in an interview. “That will be decided by the voters if she stays in the race.”