Timber Creek High School teacher Sean Ashby and Colonial High School Teacher Rene Plasencia could face each other in 2016.
By Jacob Engels
Earlier this month, former state house candidate Sean Ashby confirmed that he was indeed mulling a bid for House District 50. The Orlando Political Observer reported that Ashby, who came very close to knocking off GOP incumbent Tom Goodson in 2012, was indeed seriously considering a run against his friend and State Representative Rene Plasencia – who announced he would not be seeking re-election in the Democratic leaning 49th district and would instead campaign in the 50th district, where Republicans have a slight advantage.
Ashby, who embarked on his 2012 campaign as a political newcomer with no party backing, would presumably enjoy the financial backing of Democratic leaders this time around. In the three years since 2012, he has climbed the ranks of the local Democratic party, and become a top-tier leader.
He was tapped to lead a PAC that pushed for partisan elections in Orange County in 2014, which would raise hundreds of thousands of dollars and employ an extensive volunteer network. The measure would ultimately fall shy of the needed majority, but Ashby “earned his bones” with that effort. Orange County Democratic Chairman Carlos Smith, who is now running for the Democratic nomination in the house district Plasencia abandoned, has stated that Sean would be a voice of the community and well-known leader that constituents would be familiar with.
If Ashby runs, and he is expected to announce in the next few weeks, he would certainly have the advantage over presumptive GOP nominee Rene Plasencia… here’s why.
*Sean has been a resident of the area encompassing district 50 for over 10 years. He has raised his children here and is heavily involved in the East Orlando community, particularly Avalon Park, where he resides with his wife and two daughters.
*He would be running with the full backing of Democratic Party donors. During his first run, he raised just $12,000 to his opponents $500,000+… and came within 3,000 votes out of close to 80,000 cast. This time, he would be able to raise close to $150,000, according to our sources.
*During the 2012 campaign, Ashby earned a name for himself as a relentless campaigner, who would knock over 100 doors personally each day. He also benefited from a plentiful contingent of students and former students who provided consistent “boots on the ground” each and every day. Plasencia will benefit from this as well, but Ashby’s student volunteers will have actual connections to the community… like Ashby.
*Plasencia is a newcomer to House District 50, and will have to spend a certain amount of time introducing himself before he can lobby for votes. This will set his pacing behind a prospective Ashby campaign. Sean has taught students from 9th grade to graduation, and continues to maintain relationships with the students, and parents who continue to live in this area. There is also potential for residents to see Plasencia as a carpetbagger who could feared he could not win in House District 49… thus jumping to 50 to extend his political life.
*Ashby received the endorsement of the Orlando Sentinel in 2012. The regions largest paper applauded Ashby for his knowledge of the issues and willingness to work innovatively to solve problems facing Florida and the district. It’s likely that the publication would endorse him yet again in 2016.
One of the biggest benefits for Ashby if he were to get into this race is actually one of his greatest threats; Rene Plasencia.
Mr. Plasencia, whom his students refer to as “Coach P” also ran for state house in 2012… and lost, just like Ashby. Following his campaign however, Plasencia made a bold move and crossed party lines to give a full-throated endorsement of Democrat Sean Ashby. This endorsement, which violated the loyalty oath of the Republican Party, earned Plasencia some enemies within the Republican Party. Some felt that Plasencia’s endorsement of a Democrat over an incumbent Republican helped Ashby close the gap with State Representative Tom Goodson with just weeks before election day.
According to an internal poll conducted by the Republican Party of Florida and the Goodson campaign, Ashby was actually running neck and neck with the incumbent and starting to receive GOP support as a result of the Plasencia endorsement. This prompted the party to divert money from contested races in Seminole and Orange County to help squash Ashby’s surge. One party insider told me that this reallocation of funds was more than likely responsible for Scott Plakon’s loss against Democrat Karen Castor Dentel.
So, if Ashby does indeed file, look for him to remind voters as much as possible that just Plasencia has already gone on record touting his potential ability as a state legislator.
Also pay close attention to how cozy Plasencia and Orange County Commissioner Jennifer Thompson get. Thompson, who was found guilty of destroying public records and illegally communicating with lobbyists by the State Attorney, lives in Avalon and has clashed with Ashby in the past. While she is liked by some in the district, many have questioned her lack of accomplishments and proximity to campaign donors who have had business before the board. With 2016 closely approaching, it would appear that Democrat Sean Ashby has a better case with residents of House District 50 than Rene Plasencia.
Stay tuned to East Orlando Post for details on this race. Plasencia is a workhorse and a matchup with Ashby would be one of the years top contests.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org