Joe Saunders (Florida politician)
|Member of the Florida House of Representatives
from the 49th district
November 20, 2012 – November 18, 2014
|Preceded by||Darren Soto|
|Succeeded by||Rene Plasencia|
April 12, 1983 |
Fort Lauderdale, Florida, U.S.
|Alma mater||University of Central Florida (BA)|
Joe Saunders (born April 12, 1983) is an American community activist and politician. He was a Democratic member of the Florida House of Representatives, representing the 49th District, including northern Orange County and the main campus of the University of Central Florida, from 2012 to 2014.
Saunders was born in Fort Lauderdale and attended the University of Central Florida, from which he graduated with a degree in political science in 2005. While in his undergraduate career, he was active on campus, serving as the President of the Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual Student Union and the co-chair of the UCF Progressive Council. Upon graduation, Saunders took a job as a field organizer with Equality Florida, an LGBT rights organizations. From 2005 - 2015 Saunders held senior level positions at the organization including Statewide Field Director, Director of Civic Engagement and program director of Equality Means Business, the country's first state-level corporate equality coalition.
Florida House of Representatives
Following the reconfiguration of state legislative districts in 2012, the 49th District was created, centered around the University of Central Florida campus, and Saunders ran in the open seat. In the Democratic primary, he easily defeated Shayan Elahi, winning the nomination of his party with 65% of the vote. Advancing to the general election, Saunders faced Marco Peña, a development officer for Florida Hospital and the Republican nominee. During the campaign, the Republican Party of Florida targeted the district, referring to Saunders as "Special Interest Joe" due to his work with Equality Florida and claiming that he was "new to the neighborhood," to which Saunders responded by noting that "he has lived in Orlando for more than a decade and attended UCF at the same time as Peña." The Orlando Sentinel endorsed Peña over Saunders, noting that voters had to choose between "two smart, successful candidates" and praising Saunders as a candidate who "knows state issues and has good ideas about many of them," but eventually recommending Peña. In the end, Saunders defeated Peña by a fairly wide margin, winning his first term in the legislature with 56% of the vote.
As a freshman legislator, in 2012 Saunders was tapped to serve in leadership as a Deputy Whip for the House Democratic Caucus. In 2013 Saunders achieved an additional milestone when Democratic leadership selected him to serve as the ranking Democratic member of the House Choice and Innovation Education Subcommittee - the only freshman Democrat to serve as a ranking committee leader in the 2012-2014 term.
In his first and only term, Saunders would emerge as a leading advocate for public education and a harsh critic of policies that divert public school dollars into private or for-profit schools like vouchers and charter schools  Saunders would eventually receive numerous awards and recognitions for his work in early childhood education, K-12 education and higher education policy including leadership awards from the Florida Alliance for Arts Education, a "Freshman Lawmaker of the Year" award from the Florida Education Association and the 2014 Leadership Award from the Florida Association of Early Learning Coalitions for his work to update the health and safety standards of early childhood education providers.
In November 2014, Democrats in Florida suffered a wave of losses in Central Florida. In a surprise upset, Saunders was narrowly defeated in his reelection campaign by Republican activist and local high school track Rene "Coach P" Plasencia. Plasencia earned 19,119 votes to Saunders 18,405, taking the seat by a 714 vote margin and 51% of the voting electorate.
Following the 2014 election, Saunders joined the staff of the Human Rights Campaign, the country's largest LGBTQ advocacy organization as the organization's Southern Regional Field Director. In this role, Joe directs the grassroots mobilization programs for HRC’s legislative and electoral campaigns in Southern and Mid-Western states including Florida, Georgia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Virginia, West Virginia, Louisiana, Tennessee, Oklahoma, Texas, Tennessee, Kentucky, Missouri and Kansas.
In 2016, after the North Carolina legislature and Governor passed legislation that attacked the transgender community and repealed local ordinances banning discrimination against the LGBT community, Saunders emerged as a leading advocate to repeal the law. As the Campaign Manager for TurnOut North Carolina, Saunders helped to lead the subsequent legislative and electoral effort that has been credited with unseating incumbent North Carolina Governor Pat McCrory and electing pro-LGBT Governor Roy Cooper.
- Pereda, Jessica (October 24, 2012). "Joe Saunders discusses equality, candidacy for Florida House of Reps". Central Florida Future. Retrieved May 6, 2014.
- "Our Staff". Equality Florida. Retrieved May 6, 2014.
- Garcia, Jason (October 31, 2012). "Amid heavy spending on ads, House race between rookie candidates turns ugly". Orlando Sentinel. Retrieved May 6, 2014.
- "For House Districts 49, 50, 43". Orlando Sentinel. October 9, 2012. Retrieved May 6, 2014.
- "Florida's first openly gay state lawmakers say equality just part of their priority list". The Palm Beach Post. December 24, 2012. Retrieved May 6, 2014.
- "Bills Push Concept Of School Choice". The Ledger. March 17, 2014. Retrieved March 17, 2014.
- "GOP scores big win in Central Florida legislative races". Orlando Sentinel. November 4, 2014. Retrieved March 6, 2017.
- https://results.elections.myflorida.com/Index.asp?ElectionDate=11/4/2014&DATAMODE=. Retrieved March 7, 2017. Missing or empty
- "Joe Saunders takes leadership role with HRC". Watermark Online. December 10, 2014. Retrieved March 6, 2017.
- "JHRC and ENC Statement on Historic North Carolina Elections". HRC Blog. November 9, 2016. Retrieved March 6, 2017.