Leonard K. Spencer, former Disney executive, challenges Carolina Amesty in theme park-rich HD 45

Leonard Spencer
Expect a marquee fight in November for the most magical House district on earth.

Leonard K. Spencer, a longtime Walt Disney Co. executive, has filed to challenge state Rep. Carolina Amesty.

The Gotha Democrat filed against the Republican incumbent weeks before Florida’s qualifying deadline for legislative seats. But with strong connections to House District 45’s largest employer, Spencer’s entry into the race in a battleground district instantly turns the election into one of Central Florida’s marquee contests.

House Democrats immediately voiced strong support for Spencer.

“Leonard Spencer is the representative that House District 45 deserves,” said House Democratic Leader Fentrice Driskell, chair of the Florida House Democratic Campaign Committee. “He will work to fix our state’s affordability crisis and protect reproductive healthcare. We need to bring common sense solutions to Tallahassee, and I’m very excited to work closely with him to flip this district.”

Voters in HD 45 favored Joe Biden in the 2020 Presidential Election, where the Democrat won more than 52% of the vote while Republican Donald Trump collected less than 47%. That’s despite Trump winning Florida’s electoral votes that year by more than 3 percentage points.

But as Florida Republicans in 2022 overperformed statewide, Amesty won election in HD 45, taking more than 53% to Democrat Allie Braswell’s under 47%. The same election, Republican U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio won nearly 52% of the vote there and Gov. Ron DeSantis won almost 54% of support in the district.

Those margins, however, were much tighter than both incumbent’s double-digit wins statewide. Democrats hope for the opportunity to flip the district blue during a Presidential Election year with higher voter turnout.

As of March, Republicans still held a voter registration advantage, albeit a slight one. The last book closing figures for the Division of Elections shows nearly 41,000 Republicans in the district compared to just over 36,000 Democrats. There are also some 36,000 voters registered with no party affiliation and more than 3,000 registered with minor parties.

Amesty said she’s happy to run on her record.

“Since my first day in office, I have worked tirelessly to strengthen our local economy, keep our community safe, and support mothers and working families,” the Windermere Republican said. “We’ll have plenty of time to discuss our differences. For the time being, I’m focused on continuing to deliver for the people of Central Florida.”

Of note, the news of a Democratic challenger hit the same day Amesty dropped a high-profile lawsuit against The Orlando Sentinel over what she had called defamatory coverage of her family’s private school. She maintained the local newspaper has misrepresented her reputation. “While the Sentinel would like nothing more than to burden me with legal bills in the middle of an election year, I’m focused on my legislative work and the upcoming campaign,” she said in a statement.

But this particular district will also draw attention as the home of most of Walt Disney World and the Central Florida Tourism Oversight District. That’s the replacement for the Reedy Creek Development District that allowed Disney to essentially self-govern its theme park property in Central Florida for a half century before a political war broke out between the entertainment giant and DeSantis.

DeSantis in 2022 signed legislation dissolving Reedy Creek. Amesty, still running for office at the time, supported that change in government oversight. After taking office, she ran legislation with then-Rep. Fred Hawkins, a St. Cloud Republican, that created a Governor-appointed board to replace Reedy Creek, and stood alongside DeSantis at a press conference where he joked that the new board could locate a state prison on Disney property.

Spencer boasts connections to the Disney corporation. He worked nearly 16 years for the corporation, including four years as finance manager and more than seven years as director of supplier diversity and sustainability. Before that, he worked as a financial analyst for General Electric in Kentucky.

Since 2021, he has worked as a senior manager of supplier engagement at Amazon. His personal website described him as a “corporate community leader with a passion for minority business enterprises” who helped corporate institutions improve supplier diversity and inclusion efforts.

Of note, content from that website came down the day he filed, presumably as it transitions to a campaign website, though some contents remain archived. Local Democrats expect Spencer to formally launch his campaign within days.

That work puts him further at odds with DeSantis’ political agenda, which has included eradicating diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) departments at Florida’s colleges and universities, as well as an attempt to shut down DEI workshops at Florida corporations, though a federal court this year ruled the latter effort is unconstitutional.

As of the end of March, Amesty had raised more than $71,000 for her re-election bid and had $46,000 in cash on hand, having already invested heavily in campaigning for a second term. She also controls. Meanwhile, the political committee Friends of Carolina Amesty had just over $4,000 at that time.

Recruiting a strong contender in HD 45 had been a top priority for Orange County Democrats, who now have candidates filed for every Orlando area legislative district.

“With candidates filed in every race, the Orange County Democratic Party is ready to lead,” said Samuel Vilchez Santiago, Orange County Democratic Party Chair.

“Our recent victory in the HD 35 special election, where Democrat Tom Keen flipped a district that Ron DeSantis had won by 12 points in 2022, demonstrates that Central Floridians are ready to reject extremism and elect Democrats that will fix the housing affordability crisis and protect women’s access to healthcare.”

Jacob Ogles

Jacob Ogles has covered politics in Florida since 2000 for regional outlets including SRQ Magazine in Sarasota, The News-Press in Fort Myers and The Daily Commercial in Leesburg. His work has appeared nationally in The Advocate, Wired and other publications. Events like SRQ’s Where The Votes Are workshops made Ogles one of Southwest Florida’s most respected political analysts, and outlets like WWSB ABC 7 and WSRQ Sarasota have featured his insights. He can be reached at [email protected].

One comment

  • "Boo" Geouise

    May 22, 2024 at 4:31 pm

    This guy looks like one of those newfangled organization men the Democrats used to sneer at for making their obscene profits off the sweat of the working class–and their kids. Guess those days are gone.

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