Focusing on the passion and progressive commitment of Democratic state Rep. Carlos Guillermo Smith can put observers at risk losing sight of what makes him an effective political leader and lawmaker.
Smith is nothing if not passionate and committed to his deeply embraced progressive values and causes. He’s someone at home with a bullhorn at the front of a street march.
Smith is quick and biting with comments intended to outrage those he finds lack humanity. He’s someone front-and-center of progressive political advocacy groups and champion of bills defining Florida’s left.
Yet those who work closely with the second-term representative of House District 49 in northeastern Orange County, or those who’ve opposed him and learned their lesson, know Smith more as a policy wonk. He does deep dives into research, possessing the intellect to grasp both sides and finer details of issues. He does his homework. He comes to battle prepared, even if it’s almost certainly only to end in moral victories or incremental progress. He can come ready for 45-minute stretches of floor debate without repeating a point.
And doing so, he often wins the respect of his political opponents, and sometimes wins the battle itself in a forum where Democrats, (particularly progressive Democrats) aren’t supposed to matter much.
Smith, 38, is ranked as the 12th most powerful elected official in the first-ever Florida Politics Central Florida 25 most Powerful Politicians survey.
“If there was one word I would use to describe Rep. Carlos Guillermo Smith, it would be ‘fearless.’ An activist of heart, Carlos has channeled his energy and passion to help push for passage of policy he believes in and on behalf of people who for so long or without a voice in the process,” said Derek Bruce, managing shareholder at Gunster in Orlando.
“When he was elected in 2016, he became Florida’s first openly gay Latino to serve in the Florida Legislature and, for many, this was their first taste of this bold, progressive leader. However, he was not a newcomer to the legislative process having worked for two legislators who preceded him in the Florida Legislature, serving as Chair of the Orange County Democratic Party and working on behalf of Equality Florida advocating for LGBTQ rights,” Bruce added. “Never one to back away from challenging the status quo, Carlos has, however, demonstrated an understanding of the art at compromise and serves as a mentor to new entrants to the legislative process.”
“When people try to pigeonhole you into a particular category, if they typecast you as only the LGBTQ-rights person, then it’s even more incentive for me to show up very prepared, knowledgeable, and ready on those other issues,” Smith said. “So they don’t see me coming.”
At the same time, his passionate advocacy cannot be ignored either. Smith’s victories sometimes come over time, after long periods of advocacy, and do not necessarily show up in legislation.
For years he was a leading voice in opposition to greyhound racing. Though none of his bills even progressed, the state eventually terminated the sport through a Constitutional amendment.
Starting in 2018 he hammered the point that the state’s education tax money scholarships could and were going to private schools that discriminated against gay students. The programs never stopped. But now, in recent months, attention is focusing, and significant private financial supporters (like Rosen Hotels) are pulling out.
Similar responses came in 2017 when he raised a concern about Publix Supermarkets’ policies toward gays, when he decried the lack of state commitment to memorials for the Pulse victims, or when he called for rebukes of Republican state Rep. Mike Hill‘s anti-gay comments.
Smith has an enormous social media following and numerous media contacts, and he’s not afraid to use them.
“You use the tools you have, the tools you have at my disposal are a large social media following and an ability to engage on my issues in ways that are meaningful and can produce outcomes,” Smith said. “I have to use the bully pulpit a lot.”