Orlando – Equality Florida’s Carlos Guillermo Smith has announced he will run for Florida House Representative of District 49 in the upcoming election year.
The current chair for the Orange County Democrats decided to run after former State Representative Joe Saunders made the decision to not seek the seat for the Florida House in 2016.
“Thank you all who have reached out to share encouragement and for your patience,” Saunders said. “My time in public life, serving the people of District 49, will always have a very special place in my heart and none of it would have been possible without your support. After careful thought and consideration, I’ve made the decision not to seek re-election in House District 49 this year.”
Saunders is currently the Southern Regional Field Director at the Human Rights Campaign and is supporting Smith’s decision to run in his old district.
“I’m confident that this year there is a candidate for District 49 who can pick up the torch and help to finish so much of the work we started together. District 49 needs someone who represents the diversity of the district, has the capacity to bring people together and has the experience and skill to make change in a process that is ripe with challenges. I can’t think of a better person to take on those challenges than my friend, and former aide, Carlos Guillermo Smith. I hope you’ll join me in supporting him.”
Smith, who has been friends with Saunders since meeting in college at UCF in 2002, worked with him on his 2012 campaign and, after winning that race, joined Saunders as his chief-of-staff in Tallahassee.
Smith will be a first time candidate, but brings much experience working from behind the scenes on several political campaigns since 2010.
“I got my first gig in politics knocking on doors for Congressman [Alan]Grayson’s campaign,” Smith said. “That’s when I knew I wanted in, being involved in policy and making people’s lives better.”
Smith was the legislative assistant for former Florida Representative Scott Randolph in 2011 before joining Saunders campaign in 2012.
“I’ve seen people run for office and I’ve been close enough to the process and involved in enough campaigns to know what to expect,” Smith said. “I’m not green. Even though I’m a first time candidate I know what it’s going to take and how much hard work it’s going to be, but I think at the end of the day, regardless of the result, it’s going to be worth it because the people need to know what’s happening up there.”
Smith spent this past legislative session in Tallahassee as the public policy specialist for Equality Florida and was instrumental in getting anti-LGBT bills shutdown before they had a chance to become law.
“This legislative session everything was thrown at the LGBT community,” Smith Said. “We ended up killing every bad bill that came our way. Somehow in the environment where we have a Republican-controlled governor’s mansion and a Republican-run House and Senate we were able to kill all those bills and repeal the 1977 ban on gay adoption that was imposed on us thanks to Anita Bryant.
“This past session demonstrates the power that the LGBT community has as an electorate, and how Florida is changing to where the conservative majorities that are in power are now having to meet Democrats at the middle. The electorate has changed and attitudes are changing, and they are not going to be able to get away with these rollback tactics on our rights anymore,” said Smith.
Smith will be running in a young, diverse district that has an average voter age of 28. District 49 is home to the main campuses of the University of Central Florida and Valencia College, as well as Full Sail University and Orlando Polytechnic University. It is also a district which is nearly 40% black and Hispanic.
“There’s 800,000 uninsured people in this state, many of whom are in my district, District 49, who are disproportionately minority, who right now don’t have enough voices representing them in the process in Tallahassee,” Smith said.
Smith, along with his two sisters, are first generation Americans. His mother is French Canadian and his father, a small business owner, is from Peru.
“We need more diverse voices that reflect the changing electorate in this state that we currently don’t have and in this past session, which is what really motivated me cause I was there. We had 60 days of drama and we didn’t have any results,” Smith said.
District 49’s seat is up for grabs with no incumbent running for re-election since the current representative, Rene Plasencia (R-Orlando), announced in April that he would run for the District 50 seat in 2016.
Plasencia decided to run for District 50 after State Representative Tom Goodson (R-Titusville) announced he would be vacating his seat to run for District 51, which is empty because the current House Speaker, Rep. Steve Crisafulli (R-Merritt Island), has reached his term limit.
While Saunders is not running for any office in 2016, a future in politics might not be off the table.
“I think Joe [Saunders] is destined for public service. So maybe not in 2016, but in the near future I think an opportunity will come up that he should consider,” Smith said. “He was a very effective legislator. He worked with Republicans and Democrats and there was so much he got done and that we got done together. There’s a lot of business that both he and I started during our time in Tallahassee that needs to get finished.”