ORLANDO, Fla. – State Rep. Joe Harding, the Republican lawmaker from Williston who was arrested this week on federal fraud charges, resigned his seat in the Florida House Thursday.
Harding, whose district covers part of Marion County, including Ocala, announced his resignation on his Facebook page.
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“When I decided to run in 2019 for the Florida House, I did so for two simple reasons: I love people, and I love Florida,” Harding said. “Today, I am resigning from my position for the same two reasons: I love people, and I love Florida. I believe in Floridians and want what is best for them, and I believe their leaders need not be encumbered by distractions that are mine alone.
A federal grand jury indicted Harding this week on charges of wire fraud and money laundering as part of an investigation into COVID-19 relief loan fraud. Prosecutors said Harding applied for about $150,000 from the Small Business Administration for COVID-19 relief loans for businesses that he falsely claimed were active at the time.
The U.S. Dept. of Justice said Harding reactivated those businesses and applied for the loans just a month after being elected to office in 2020.
“Regarding the current legal matter, I cannot comment on the details of my case,” Harding wrote in his statement. “There will be a time when I can tell my story in detail, and I will. For now, let me reassure my constituents and the taxpayers that I repaid every penny of the loan I obtained, and I have done my best to cooperate fully with all authorities.”
Former UCF professor and News 6 political expert Jim Clark said Harding likely didn’t have a choice other than to resign.
“Obviously the leadership of the Republican Party got to him. They had already moved him from committees and committee chair positions. What this means is they pushed him out,” Clark said.
Clark said Harding’s personal legal troubles could distract from litigation related to the Parent Rights in Education Bill. Harding authored the Parental Rights in Education Law, which was passed earlier this year.
“They don’t want him to be part of the discussion as this bill goes through the courts, and people talk about it, so they wanted him gone,” Clark said.
Harding has a trial date set for Jan. 11 at the U.S. Courthouse in Gainesville. He has pleaded not guilty.
If convicted, Harding could face decades in federal prison. Harding was indicted on two counts of wire fraud, two counts of money laundering and two counts of making false statements.
The maximum sentence for wire fraud is 20 years, the maximum sentence for money laundering is 10 years, and the maximum sentence for making false statements is five years.
Harding was reelected this past November. He is best known as the author of Parental Rights in Education law, also known by critics as the “Don’t Say Gay” law.
Florida law now requires Gov. Ron DeSantis to call a special election to fill Harding’s vacancy.
House Speaker Paul Renner, R-Palm Coast, said in a statement that he understands and respects the decision. Republicans hold supermajorities in both houses of the Florida Legislature.
Read Harding’s full resignation letter in the post below:
Information from the Associated Press was used in this report.
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