City/town: Dr. Phillips (Orlando)
Family: Married to wife, Stephanie; mother and father, Fernanda and Anthony; brother, Stefano; sister, Brunna Lee
Education: Dr. Phillips High graduate; bachelor’s degree in political science and Spanish from the University of South Florida; MBA from Florida Christian University; Juris doctorate from Florida Coastal School of Law
Qualifications: President of Florida Christian University and CEO, Excellence Senior Living; board member, Florida Association of Postsecondary School and Colleges and the Dr. P. Phillips YMCA; former chairman, City of Orlando Minority and Women Business Enterprise certification board; vice chairman, Council of Private Colleges of America; member, Rotary Club of Dr. Phillips; president, New Beginnings Global Outreach
Why do you want to represent District 44?
It pains me to see how our community is struggling right now and has a lack of representation. I want to use my passion to serve, business experience, and common-sense approach to effectively represent our community and deliver tangible results to those living in West Orange. I want to ensure safety, opportunity and hope continue to exist for my kids, your kids and future generations. We need a representative who will serve our region with transparency and honesty and who will be accessible to them.
This race features one candidate with a history in politics and another who is a newcomer. As the challenger, why does your perspective make you a better candidate than your opponent?
Many elected officials have been in office for so long that they have forgotten how the “rest of us” are forced to deal with the decisions that government makes. Many politicians also fail to fulfill the most basic function of service, which is to connect with the people and truly understand their needs. If elected, I’ll provide fresh ideas focused on limiting the size and scope of government while ensuring our families and businesses have the tools they need to prosper. I will provide common-sense, business-minded leadership to bring people together and provide our community the representation it deserves.
District 44 is a diverse area — both in issues and people. How would you ensure you are representing all constituents fairly?
All politics are local politics. While there are hot-topic issues that bog down and further divide our federal government, my No. 1 priority is to West Orange County and its residents. We cannot allow the divisiveness that we see at the national level affect the representation that we offer at the local level. I am a candidate who sees both sides of the issues and will represent every person in this district, as opposed to being a representative who only works for those who voted for them. District 44 is also home to a very ethnically diverse community. As a first-generation American who understands the challenges of risking it all for the American dream and who has been involved with different ethnic communities for many years, I believe I am best equipped to understand and represent the needs of our ever-expanding diverse community.
You and your opponent differ on several key issues. What are the most significant differences between you and your opponent, and why?
One of the most significant differences between my opponent and I is the dedication to creating jobs and offering economic opportunities for our community. Last year, my opponent had the opportunity to cut red tape and allow for tens of thousands of residents to build a career and achieve their dream. She voted to keep up those barriers. With thousands of our friends and neighbors out of work, initiatives like these would provide opportunities for individuals, families and businesses to thrive. My hands-on business experience and responsible, free-enterprise approach to promote growth and development have caused me to earn the endorsement of the Florida Chamber of Commerce, West Orange Political Alliance, BusinessForce, National Federation of Independent Business and Associated Industries of Florida.
Another key difference between us is that I believe in empowering parents to make the right educational choice for their children, and my opponent does not. She opposes state-funded school-voucher programs that allow low-income families to seek private education. I don’t believe we should limit the future of a child simply because of their ZIP code or their family’s ability to afford a high-quality education.
Lastly, my opponent has been endorsed by an organization that has called for a divestment of public funding from police, and I don’t believe in extremists’ irresponsible call to defund the police. I’m endorsed by the Florida Police Benevolent Association for my support of safe communities, promotion of justice, and belief that we should equip law-enforcement officers and not condemn them for the actions of a few bad actors.
COVID-19 has largely affected Central Florida’s tourism sector, almost all of which is housed in District 44. This has affected many District 44 residents and businesses. What is the state’s role in helping those affected?
The best role our state can play in helping those in the tourism industry that have been laid off is fixing our unemployment system. The unemployment system was there to help those who were furloughed or laid off, and it failed them when they needed it the most. I recently released a seven-point plan for rebuilding our tourism industry that pushes for fully funding VisitFlorida and focusing on restoring traveler confidence in our parks. Additionally, I would like our state to promote domestic travel and staycations to replace the international travel that has been disrupted due to COVID-19, prevent frivolous COVID-19 related lawsuits, and protect our environment and water to preserve Florida’s beauty, which also drives our regional economy.
If you had a magic wand, what three issues for West Orange County would you change immediately?
I would make sure our tourism and hospitality industry, as well as small businesses across our region, could safely reopen and experience the same number of patrons and clients from before COVID-19. It is devastating to see the number of individuals and families whose livelihoods have been impacted as a result of this pandemic. It’s critical that we support our families and business community so that we can all recover from this economic crisis.
I would ensure we have affordable housing. Nearly one million low-income households in Florida pay more than 50% of their income on housing and are one missed paycheck away from homelessness. The cost of living in our district continues to rise, and we need to ensure we provide housing that they can afford. Especially our essential workers — such as teachers, nurses and firefighters — are in great need of affordable housing and rentals.
Third, I would make significant investments into our roads, sewers, water supply and overall infrastructure.
Describe your view on police reform.
I believe that calls to defund the police are foolish and absurd and would put our communities at risk. To put it simply, we must equip our police officers with additional training but never defund our law enforcement’s budget. I’m proud to be endorsed by the Florida Police Benevolent Association for my support of those who risk their lives every day to save ours. We must take actions to protect the most vulnerable and to address concerns by minority communities, but we should never stop supporting the brave work they do day in and day out to ensure our communities are safe.
What are the issues pertaining to education in District 44, and how should the state address them?
We need to empower our parents and allow them to choose the best option for their children. We must also promote state-led initiatives to improve public schools and provide better wages and bonuses for our teachers who work tirelessly to educate our children and shape the minds of our next generations. We cannot be nationally and globally competitive in education if we don’t attract and retain the best teachers. While we made tremendous strides in fairly compensating our teachers for the service and dedication to our children, we must continue to build on the work done last session regarding teacher pay.
We must also place a greater emphasis on trade and vocational schools that would prepare students for high-demand technical jobs and ensure that we are equipping our students for the jobs of tomorrow.
If elected, how will you ensure transparency and open communication with your District 44 constituents?
When I’m out there talking to voters, it’s become clear to me that they don’t even know who their elected official is, despite her many years in office. My team and I have knocked on thousands of doors and have been extremely accessible to the voters of District 44. I have put my personal cell phone number on everything that is sent out to voters because I want them to know that they can speak with me directly regarding any issues or questions they may have. Now more than ever, our district is in desperate need of effective representation that will truly connect with the community, listen to their needs and act upon them.
Describe the relationship you would foster between the leaders of our municipalities —Winter Garden, Ocoee, Oakland, Windermere, etc. — and how those relationships would influence your work at the state level.
I would foster a relationship of respect, teamwork and feedback. Our local leaders are the ones who are most connected with the needs of their respective communities, and their input is of utmost importance to me. My focus is, and always will be, our communities. I actively seek their advice and opinions and will continue to do so in Tallahassee.