Former Rep. Carlos Guillermo Smith wants to return to Tallahassee, this time as a member of the Senate.
The Orlando Democrat has filed for Senate District 17. He’s running to succeed Sen. Linda Stewart, who cannot run again thanks to term limits.
“Orange County residents are more and more alarmed by what they are seeing come out of Tallahassee,” Smith said, “and so am I.”
Smith lost re-election to a fourth term in the House following a decennial redistricting process. The new map landed him in a district reaching from familiar turf in Orange County to new ground in Seminole County. Republican Susan Plasencia won 52% of the vote in the contest, as Republicans overperformed expectations at all levels last cycle.
But SD 17 notably includes all of Smith’s former House district, where he won election three times, and also reaches toward Democratic strongholds in downtown. That means Democrats will have better standing than the swing district where he lost.
For example, even as Democratic gubernatorial candidate Charlie Crist lost by 19 percentage points statewide, he won SD 17 with more than 54% of the vote to Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis’ 44%.
Smith said he hopes to return to Tallahassee in part because of a striking anti-LGBTQ stance taken by the Legislature this year. The former lawmaker was the first openly gay Latino lawmaker elected to the House, and would like to make history again as Florida’s first gay Latino Senator.
“Real issues facing Floridians are just being ignored by the Legislature,” he said. “Our freedoms are attacked every single day by a Legislature obsessed with culture wars and problems that don’t exist. I’m running so people can have a champion in Tallahassee that they know and trust, and that they can depend on, someone who can give them hope during a really dark time in Florida.”
The push against LGBTQ rights in Florida is something that surprised Smith. He still recalls a feeling of optimism when DeSantis, shortly after taking office in 2019, accepted an invitation to Pulse nightclub on the anniversary of a mass shooting there.
“Maybe I was naïve when I heard him promise to not leave our community behind,” Smith said.
He believes DeSantis started targeting queer Floridians’ rights in an attempt to outflank Trump.
“I’m just so appalled that Ron DeSantis can be so calculating that one day he supports our community and the next he’s making it his No. 1 priority to erase us from public view.”
Smith will host a launch event Saturday morning. He will be joined at the event by Rep. Anna Eskamani, an Orlando Democrat also serving in the district, and U.S. Rep. Maxwell Alejandro Frost.
Smith is the first candidate to file for the open seat.