Miramar, Hollywood, Davie, Plantation, and Dania Beach, meet your next state senator: 30-year-old Lauren Book. The Plantation resident, founder of a nonprofit and daughter of influential lobbyist Ron Book — is running for office, she told New Times via phone today. "I'm going neighborhood to neighborhood and lacing up my sneakers as I have in the past," she said.
Rather than hold a news conference, she was working the phones, "keeping my head down, and making sure we secure victory." That should be easy — having raised $663,450 through a political action committee before she even declared, it's likely she will run unopposed for the Senate seat in District 33, which Sen. Eleanor Sobel is vacating due to term limits.
New Times predicted as much in January, when we looked into her charity, Lauren's Kids. The nonprofit group was started by Lauren in 2007 to prevent childhood sexual abuse. Book herself suffered horrific sexual abuse at the hands of her nanny for years when she was a teenager. Through Lauren's Kids, she carries out an annual walk across the state, from the Keys to Tallahassee, to bring awareness to the problem. Her charity has been instrumental in the passage of nearly two dozen laws that regulate or pun
This past winter, Book said she hadn't decided whether to run but added that since getting married this summer to Blair Byrnes, who is in sales at Greyson Technologies, the decision is "one that I've thought a lot about" and that the couple decided they were ready for. "I'm lucky he's so supportive of me and my wishes and dreams and aspirations."
Lauren rattled off a list of her concerns — "education, K-12, higher ed, affordable housing, economic development, mental health," and "water policy" — but declined to get specific about any of them (and expertly dodged the question of medical marijuana). She hoped to help "bring the tourism dollar to our state" and mentioned the Margaritaville development in Hollywood, and Broward beaches. She hopes to "be a voice for Broward. I hope to learn [from the constituents]. I'm not here to place my thoughts and feelings and emotions on them."
While Book comes off as warm and well-loved — she has been publicly praised by bigwigs from Miami Heat Coach Erik Spoelstra to Gov. Rick Scott — she is not immune from criticism. Some political insiders have complained that Book seems entitled to the office and worry that she could be a tool for her father's clients. Much of the funds raised for her political action committee, Leadership for Broward, come from clients of her father's (such as $100,000 from the Miami Dolphins). (See all the donations here.) In recent years, a disproportionate amount of money from the state budget has been given to her charity; for example, in 2015, Lauren's Kids was allocated $3.8 million while the Girl Scouts and YMCA got $300,000. Book, however, insists she is her own person.
"Anybody who knows has spent more than two minutes with my dad and I know that we can heatedly disagree. I look back in time, and the greatest decision we never agreed upon from the beginning of time was that I wanted to be a teacher — my dad wanted nothing more for me to be a lawyer. He sill sends me applications for law school." She earned a bachelor’s degree in elementary education and a master’s degree in community psychology and social change.
"I can stand on my own two feet," she says. "The money that has been contributed to the [committee] — not all of those are dad's friends. If I were a lifeguard, I would seek contributions from other lifeguards. These are people I've been around and work with. A lot of the people I have solicited — [other lobbyists] Guy Spearman and [Ballard Partners] Billy Rubin — those are guys who fiercely go against my dad."
Some friends of relatives of sex offenders — groups like Women Against the Registry — have also been critics of the Books, saying that their mission to punish sex offenders has had the unintended consequence of ruining families and that their laws are ineffective, because sex offender registries don't work, since most children are abused not by a stranger but by a familiar person.
Lauren responds: "I have been in and around this issue for two decades and have looked at every single aspect — I've spent time in prison, with people in Florida civil commitment. I've talked to prisoners and family members who think some of those laws are punitive. But I believe that there is a place for residency restrictions, child safety zones... I still suffer from night terrors. We have an obligation, a duty to protect the child. I will always err on the side of child protection and prevention."
St. Petersblog reports that Broward Sheriff Scott Israel, Fort Lauderdale Mayor Jack Seiler, and Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz are all supporting Book's campaign.
Book looked ahead to winning office while starting her family. ("It would be wonderful," she said, "to be blessed with a child. I hope that is part of my journey — though partly because of the abuse I suffered, it might be a more difficult journey.") Asked if she had ambitions beyond state senator, she said, "I haven't thought that far ahead. I'm keeping my nose to the grindstone. I haven't even made it to the Senate yet."