With Saunders and Smith Both Weighing Options, How Does GOP Respond?

    Just today, former State Representative Joe Saunders announced via Facebook that he was considering whether or not to enter the race for his old seat in 2016.


    By Jacob Engels


    Several days ago, the East Orlando Post first reported that House District 49 State Representative Rene Plasencia would not run for re-election in his current district and instead opt to run in the more conservative East Orange County/Brevard County HD 50.


    At first it looked as though Plasencia would receive a primary opponent in business executive Chadwick Hardee, who had teased for several months about campaigning for that seat…but Hardee quickly endorsed Plasencia when the one-term Puerto Rican Republican officially announced he would seek election in HD 50. This earned Hardee immense gratitude and respect from GOP donors and operatives who were aware that a competitive primary for Plasencia in District 50 could create an opening for a Titusville or Brevard area candidate to snag the nomination. 


    With Plasencia shifting races, Carlos Smith, a former legislative aide to State Representative Joe Saunders publicly stated that he was indeed considering entering the race. Smith has since been working in Tallahassee with the Equality Florida group advancing equal rights legislation and working to stop a transgender discrimination bill and the an adoption bill that gay rights activists have labeled “Indiana” style.


    Smith, who also leads the Orange County Democratic Executive Committee, has only ever been considering entering the race if his former boss does not want to take another stab at it…which was not made clear in earlier coverage of his intentions.


    Now, with Saunders making it clear that he is taking counsel from family and friends about what decision is best for him, HD 49 has the potential to have two very forward thinking progressives running aggressive campaigns to take back the UCF area seat as reported by Orlando Politics. 


    With either Saunders or Smith running, Republicans would be hard pressed to find a candidate who could mount a serious challenge. Their bench in this area is not very deep, if you are talking about candidates who actually live within the district. However, two potential candidates could provide either Saunders or Smith with a formidable campaign cycle – Orange County Commissioner Pete Clarke and former Orange County Clerk of the Courts Eddie Fernandez.


    Both were early GOP supporters of equal rights in Orange County, with Clarke being the first GOP County Commissioner to support increased domestic partnership rights. Fernandez also emerged as a new-age Republican expanding Orange County’s Domestic Partner Registry to all Clerk’s offices in Orange County.


    Clarke’s current commission district touches part of 49, but he himself does not live in the district. He has been an effective county commissioner, who has been vigorously active in the Hispanic and African American communities in his district. During his time on the commission, Clarke has made a name for himself as a low-key legislator who prefers results over political theater.


    Clarke has not filed for re-election as of yet. 


    Eddie Fernandez, who is a remarkable fundraiser and retail politician, would also be another strong contender. Fernandez, a highly skilled lawyer who spent nearly a decade with powerhouse legal firm Shutts and Bowen, recently established his own practice, Eddie Fernandez, PA.


    If Fernandez decided to enter the race, he would be able to discuss a significant amount of accomplishments from his time as Orange County Clerk of Courts. In the first 90 days, he recovered over a Quarter Million Dollars of misappropriated funds, found a Million Dollars’ worth of savings in his budget and spearheaded the creation of several innovative initiatives increasing safety for victims of domestic violence.


    Eddie currently serves as the Vice Chair of the Orange County Charter Review Commission, which he was appointed to by Commissioner Pete Clarke.


    We still have a ways to go before 2016, but if Republicans can’t convince someone of Clarke or Fernandez’s caliber to jump in…they should all but cede the district to Democrats.



    Jacob Engels, is the Founder of East Orlando Post & Seminole County Post. He is a seasoned political operative who has led numerous statewide political groups and has worked on several high-profile local, statewide, and national races. Jacob has been interviewed on national television & radio programs, with his work having been featured in the Orlando Sentinel, New York Times, Washington Post, Miami Herald and other publications nationwide. He can be reached at info@eastorlandopost.com