Meet House 49 candidate: Carlos Guillermo Smith

Courtesy Carlos Guillermo Smith.

Carlos Guillermo Smith is a proud UCF alumnus and the Democratic nominee for House District 49, the Florida House of Representatives district including part of east Orlando and the entire UCF area.

On Nov. 8, Guillermo Smith will face UCF alumnus Shea Silverman, who has no party affiliation, in the general election.

Guillermo Smith said he believes his firsthand experience as a working student will allow him to be a better advocate for working students and families. His top issues include affordable housing, raising the minimum wage, refunding Bright Futures, stricter gun laws, the decriminalization of marijuana and equality for all Floridians.

Guillermo Smith said he was able to attend UCF because he worked full time and received the Bright Futures Scholarship.

“I graduated during a time when Bright Futures was achievable and actually helped pay for a significant portion of students’ tuition,” he said.

In 2009, the Florida Legislature dramatically cut Bright Futures funding. Now, students must meet higher academic standards to receive Bright Futures. In 2015, more than 50,000 students did not receive Bright Futures because of the 40-percent cut in disbursements in 2010

He stressed that affordable college is not a partisan issue and stated that Republican parents care just as much about affordable college education as Democratic parents do.

“On my first day in office, I would be ready to file legislation that would fully fund Bright Futures to bring it back to pre-2009 levels and make it available to twice as many students as it is now,” Guillermo Smith said.

Guillermo Smith said he is concerned about student safety, specifically pedestrian safety on Alafaya Trail and University Boulevard, two of the UCF area’s busiest streets.

“It’s a dangerous area for students to be going to and from school,” he said. “State government needs to partner with local government to make pedestrian-friendly enhancements to curb the number of accidents we’ve seen in that area.”

In 2015, the Orange County UCF Alafaya Trail Pedestrian Safety Study found that pedestrian and bicycle crashes near UCF are four times the statewide average

He also describes himself as an advocate for stricter gun control laws and says he will continue to oppose the idea of allowing guns onto college campuses. Guillermo Smith said that in light of the Pulse shooting, gun safety has become an even more critical issue this election year.

While working as the government affairs manager for Equality Florida, the state’s largest civil rights organization dedicated to equality for LGBT people, Guillermo Smith said he helped the victims and family members affected by the Pulse shooting. The organization set up a GoFundMe account that has raised almost $8 million to directly help those impacted by the incident.

Guillermo Smith said he was devastated by the shooting, which had a “profound and powerful impact” on him as an LGBT* Latino.

“It is constantly something that is on my mind and has impacted many members of House District 49 in ways that I can’t even imagine,” he said. “Florida needs to pass common sense gun safety laws to prevent these types of mass shootings from happening again.”

Guillermo Smith describes himself as a person thoroughly experienced with intersectionality. He is gay, Latino, the son of a French-Canadian mother and Peruvian father as well as the first member of his family to be born in the United States.

“Florida is the melting pot of America, and I think it’s important that we have a Florida legislature that reflects that diversity,” he said. “Having a seat at the table for minorities is important because if you don’t have a seat at the table, you’re on the menu.”

Guillermo Smith, a 2003 graduate of the UCF College of Business Administration, decided to run for the Florida House of Representatives during the 2015 session. He said he was dismayed at the Florida legislature’s “misplaced focus on the issues” and believed running for office would be the most effective way to advocate for the issues people care about.

“I was frustrated with business as usual in Tallahassee,” Guillermo Smith said.

He has served as the chief of staff for former Reps. Scott Randolph and Joe Saunders as well as the acting chairman of the Orange County Democratic Party.

“Even though this is my first time running for public office, it’s not my first rodeo in politics,” Guillermo Smith said. “I understand the issues that are facing lawmakers because it used to be my job to prepare lawmakers to vote on the issues.”

There was no competitive primary for Guillermo Smith because his two democratic opponents withdrew from the race before qualifying.

With the help of UCF student volunteers, Guillermo Smith and his campaign manager Steven Lynch have been canvassing throughout the summer and will continue to do so until November.

“It’s really great to hear back from voters,” Guillermo Smith said. “You knock on doors every day and think you have all the answers when you’re running for office, but then you realize there’s a lot of needs going on in the community that aren’t being addressed.”

Lynch is a 2016 graduate of UCF and the co-founder of Knights for Bernie, now known as Progressive Action at UCF.

“Carlos worked closely with Knights for Bernie on the campus of UCF during the presidential preference primary,” Lynch said. “I co-founded the group and was excited to have such an inspiring progressive voice on campus rallying the student body to participate in our democracy.”

The campaign relies heavily on UCF student volunteers for canvassing and getting the word out.

“Almost all of our campaign staff and volunteers are current students or have graduated from UCF, including Carlos himself,” Lynch said. “House District 49 is affectionately known as the UCF district.”

Stephen Beale, a sophomore public administration and economics major, has been volunteering on the campaign by canvassing, spreading awareness and collecting voter information.

“Carlos’ campaign is easy and fun to work on because I know him and his staff well and have regular contact with them,” Beale said. “Some of my friends are working or volunteering for the campaign, so there are always a lot of familiar faces. People typically have few preconceived notions about Carlos, outside of what they assume from him being a Democrat, so they are usually more open-minded about him.”