Nearly 250 candidates are vying for state House and state Senate seats in 2020. Try as we will, Florida Politics can’t interview all of them.
Just like in 2016 and 2018, we’re again asking every candidate to complete a questionnaire we believe offers an interesting, albeit, thumbnail sketch of who they are and why they are running. If you are a candidate and would like to complete the questionnaire, email [email protected]
Today’s feature: Samuel Vilchez Santiago, a Democratic candidate for House District 48.
2020 Florida legislative candidate questionnaire:
Samuel Vilchez Santiago
In 25 words or less, why are you running for office?
I am running to represent the community where I grew and have worked in for over ten years to ensure that our youth and families have access to the same opportunities I had.
Princeton University, Bachelors in Arts in Politics (Honors graduate, Rhodes Scholars Finalist).
Valencia College, Associates in Arts (as a dual-enrolled student).
Colonial High School (Valedictorian)
What was your first job?
Boys and Girls Club of Central Florida as a Bank of America Student Leader and Canvasser for the Orange County Democratic Party (started at the same time at both).
Significant other? Kids?
Single; no kids.
Did you speak with anybody in your political party before deciding on running? Receive any encouragement?
Before making a decision on whether to run, I talked to close to 100 people from different walks of life and backgrounds and received an overwhelmingly positive response. Some of them have gone on to endorse me, including Rep. Carlos Guillermo Smith, School Board member Johanna López, former School Board member Daryl Flynn, Puerto Rican activists like Jimmy Torres, and many more. My family was also an important part of my decision-making process.
Who do you count on for advice?
My family, team, and mentors, including some who are elected officials.
Who is your political consultant? Campaign manager?
We are still looking for a political consultant. Johanna López, the first Latina and Puerto Rican member of the Orange County School Board, is our campaign manager.
Who was the first person to contribute to your campaign? Why did they donate?
Nicholas Fernandez, who’s one of my best friends from college as well as a proud Floridian.
Who, if anyone, inspires you in state government?
Rep. Shevrin Jones.
Why do people mistrust elected officials and what are you going to do about it?
People distrust their elected officials because elected officials often do not accurately represent the needs of their community. That’s particularly the case given the uncontrolled influence of dark money and corporate power on the decisions made by our government officials on a daily basis at every level. You can’t blame people for thinking their government is not working for them while some big corporations pay less in taxes than regular citizens. In addition, most people don’t see their elected officials as people they can talk to, so they make assumptions that they are never able to clear out.
As a legislator, I will establish an open-door policy to allow any of my constituents to reach out via social media, phone (407-459-2324), or email (Samuelforflorida.com) to talk about pretty much anything: the issues, how I can help them, their realities and experiences, etc. I will also work to make our government more accountable and transparent. That’s exactly what I did as a member of the Orange County Charter Review Commission, where I proposed the creation of an independent ethics commission in Orange County. And to that point, I will lead by example on the issue of accountability and transparency by hosting multiple town hall meetings, attending different events in the community, and participating in day-to-day lives of my neighbors in District 48.
What are 3 issues that you’re running on?
Healthcare: Having seen my family struggle to afford healthcare coverage growing up, I believe access to affordable, quality healthcare should be a right, not a privilege. I will work to expand Medicaid coverage, make access to mental health readily available for all, and expand pre-natal and post-natal care options for women.
Empowering working families: From personal experience, I understand our community succeeds when no one is left behind, especially during such difficult times. I will work to increase the minimum wage to $15 an hour, ensure sick paid leave for all workers, and fix Florida’s broken unemployment system.
Education access and funding: My personal story has demonstrated the value of a good public education, and that’s why I have made it my personal goal to expand educational opportunities for our youth. I will champion our students by fighting to expand the Florida Bright Futures Scholarship, increase wages for teachers and other education professionals, establish additional support systems for ELL and ESE students, and cut excessive testing.
What is a “disruptive” issue you are interested in?
Tiny homes. I am interested to see how tiny homes could be utilized to deal with housing affordability and homelessness. They also provide benefits to our environment by reducing carbon footprint from many households as well as the demand for large construction spaces and urbanized land. Tiny homes are a win-win for our environment, for our economy, and for our working people.
What does your legislative district need from Tallahassee?
Our district needs financial support from Tallahassee to accomplish an array of things including providing support to recently arrived Puerto Rican families, providing relief to the families that have been impacted by the Coronavirus pandemic, and ensuring that our schools are well-funded.
Who was the best Governor in Florida’s modern history?
Reubin Askew, primarily because he was able to create trust among Floridians while standing up for critical progressive causes, including desegregation and ensuring minority representation in our state government. He fought the good fight.
If you could amend the Florida Constitution, what would you change?
Create an independent redistricting commission and increase the minimum wage to at least $15 per hour.
Are yard signs an important part of campaigning in your district?
No; yard signs don’t vote.
What’s the first thing you read each morning?
My work emails and text messages. I always watch out for Progress Florida’s daily clips email.
Where do you get your political news?
Local – Orlando Sentinel
State – Florida Politics
National – Washington Post, Politico, and Twitter.
Social media presence? Twitter handle?
In 280 characters, what’s a Tweet that best describes your campaign message?
Our community deserves to be represented by leaders who know, from personal experience, the issues that we face. I will work to ensure our families have access to good-paying jobs, quality and affordable healthcare, and educational opportunities for success. That’s what we’ve been doing for all of our lives. #samuelfor48Hobbies?
Training my Goldendoodle puppy Rio, spending time with my little sister Aniuska and teaching my two-year-old goddaughter, Ashley, to speak.
22) Favorite sport and sports team?
Soccer; F.C. Barcelona and the U.S. National Women’s Team.