Former Rep. Joe Saunders, who is running to again serve in the Legislature, now has the open backing of Democratic leaders in both of its chambers.
Senate Democratic Leader-designate Jason Pizzo and House Democratic Leader Fentrice Driskell threw their vocal support behind Saunders in the race for House District 106, which covers a coastal strip of Miami-Dade County between Miami Beach and Aventura.
Both said they are “proud to endorse” him.
“Joe Saunders’ unwavering commitment to public service and dedication to his community make him the clear choice for (HD 106),” Driskell said in a statement. “Passionate about the challenges Floridians face, Joe has demonstrated courageous, result-driven leadership throughout his career. I am proud to endorse such a tireless advocate for freedom and equality to represent this Miami Beach district.”
Born in South Florida, Saunders made history in 2012 as one of the first openly gay state lawmakers in Florida to take office and has worked for nearly a decade as political director for LGBTQ advocacy group Equality Florida.
During his single two-year term in the House, when he served as Democratic Deputy Whip, he successfully sponsored three bills but helped as a co-sponsor to pass many others concerning issues of education, health care, homelessness and lowering the barrier for medical marijuana use.
On May 1, he launched a challenge to incumbent Republican Rep. Fabián Basabe, citing the freshman Representative’s support of bills restricting LGBTQ-inclusive instruction in public schools and cracking down on exposing minors to “lewd” live shows, including drag performances, as motivating factors.
He also criticized Basabe — who ran last year as a moderate and “anti-politician” — for voting to repeal a post-Parkland ban on under-21 long rifle purchases, voting “yes” on a measure allowing the concealed carry of a firearm without a permit and abstaining from voting on a since-passed measure prohibiting abortion after six weeks of gestation.
Just two weeks into Saunders’ campaign, a poll showed Basabe was viewed favorably by less than 4% of those surveyed in his district. Basabe has maintained he’s been unduly maligned, pointing to millions he secured in local budget appropriations and a successful behind-the-scenes effort to stop GOP-backed legislation that would have stripped local protections of historic buildings in storm-prone areas.
“This election is about more than just choosing a Representative; it’s about determining the future of our community,” Pizzo said in a statement Thursday.
“Joe Saunders understands the issues at stake and has the experience and commitment to deliver meaningful change. HD 106 deserves a Representative who shares our values and is focused on lowering costs, supporting small businesses, and protecting our natural resources. Joe is the right person for the job, and I am proud to endorse him in this race.”
Saunders said he is “humbled and grateful” to receive endorsements from Pizzo and Driskell.
“Their support, and the support of so many in this community, is a reflection of my long record in public service and my proven ability to bring people together to solve problems,” he said in a statement. “HD 106 deserves serious leadership that can take on the affordability crisis, restore local control, and protect our natural resources.”