Lehigh Acres activist Eric Engelhart has filed for an open state House seat in the new House District 77.
The Democrat said with new maps in place, he sees an opportunity for the Lehigh community to have a dedicated voice in Tallahassee for the first time. “We are the largest unincorporated community in the state of Florida,” he said, “and we have been an ATM for the county and state.”
A transplant from New Hampshire, Engelhart has been involved in local politics for years but never as a candidate. He was involved in publicizing emails from a County Commission candidate in 2020 who had used the n-word in emails, and he lobbied locally for increases in deputies patrolling Lehigh. More recently, he has argued for the need to double the number of fire stations serving the unincorporated area.
The Lehigh area currently falls in House District 79, represented by Rep. Spencer Roach, a North Fort Myers Republican. But the new House map (H 8013) reconfigures the region. Roach is now expected to run for re-election in the new House District 78, which runs from North Fort Myers north into east Charlotte County.
The new HD 77, meanwhile, houses no incumbent. Contained in Lee County, it covers Lehigh, San Carlos Park and part of Estero.
Engelhart sees the change as fortunate, noting the unincorporated community in east Lee was divided into four House districts before.
But based on party performance analysis by MCI Maps, the makeup of the district could also prove challenging for a Democratic candidate. About 56% of voters in the district voted for Republican Donald Trump in 2020 and just 43.1% backed Democrat Joe Biden.
Engelhart lists himself as a moderate, registered with a party mostly because Florida is a closed Primary state. “I have always been in the middle of the road,” he said. “I don’t believe partisanship should have anything to do with how this position works.”
But he said even if he loses, he hopes the campaign process allows him to build a better platform for the Lehigh Acres community.
Republican Tiffany Esposito, president and CEO of SWFL Inc., filed for the seat earlier this month as well.