EXCLUSIVE: Transgender Candidate Runs For Republican-Held Florida House Seat

EXCLUSIVE: Transgender Candidate Runs For Republican-Held Florida House Seat

Florida's potential first transgender lawmaker is attempting to flip a long-held Republican seat blue

Liv Caputo
Liv Caputo
April 12, 2024

TAMPA, FL—Florida's Ashley Brundage (D) could be the state's first transgender lawmaker, announcing Friday her candidacy for Tampa Bay's Republican-held House District 65 seat.

"The historic nature is not lost on me, and I know my identity, background, who I am, and how I live my life as a person is going to be forefront to some parts of the campaign," Brundage told The Floridian in an exclusive interview, acknowledging the possibility of becoming the first transgender lawmaker in the state's history.

However, Brundage says being a mom to two kids is her "number one attribute," and people who point to her gender identity and away from her policies do so "to move away from the actual issue, which is that we need someone who is going to enact plans to lower the cost of insurance and bring competition back to Florida in the insurance marketplace."

"It was brutal to watch all the hours that were spent [during the 2024 legislative session] debating culture war issues when we weren't addressing real issues that are being faced," Brundage said. "It's time we have real conversations, and I know that me being present in the Capitol building would be the kind of catalyst that will move us away from these culture war conversations."

"I was a DEI educator for 60,000 employees at PNC Bank, and I can tell you I've had lots of culture war conversations with people for years," she added. Brundage has been at the center of the DEI—Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion—debate in Florida, advocating for the controversial initiative that Governor Ron DeSantis eliminated during his office tenure.

"I think that DEI programs are essential for the success of all Floridians because diversity is the presence of differences that make us each unique," she said, reiterating her belief in DEI's importance.

"The estimated 21.5 million people in Florida are all different, so a program that helps us learn about our differences and connect us to be more productive as people is exactly what every elected official should ever want for their constituents."

Republicans Have a "Slight Caveat Advantage" in HD 65

Brundage is attempting to unseat Republican Representative Karen Gonzalez-Pittman, elected in 2022. Brundage says her qualifications come from a "wide breadth of knowledge, skill, and ability" as an entrepreneur, advocate, educator, and leadership development expert who has been "hired to speak at organizations and corporations around the world."

A lifelong "Tampanian", as she calls it, Brundage built an economic empowerment program for the National LGBT Chamber of Commerce, worked for the Tampa Bay Regional Transit Authority, and became the National Vice President of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion at PNC Bank.

She has also consulted with the Joe Biden White House on an Empowerment Task Force project and, she says, received a Community Spirit award from Florida Governor Ron DeSantis.

The seat she plans to flip has been Republican-occupied since 2014. Lying within Hillsborough County, House District 65 stretches from the affluent Westchase suburb down the Tampa coast to MacDill Airforce Base on the Bay, comprised of twelve zip codes, 48.9 square miles, and over 179,000 residents.

Hillsborough, a typically blue county, went in DeSantis' favor in 2022. House District 65 has not elected a Democratic Representative since 2012.

Brundage acknowledged the arduous task ahead of her, saying that redistricting approved in 2022 gave Republicans a "slight caveat advantage," with 37 percent of the electorate registered as Republican, 31.8 percent as Democrats, and 32.2 percent as NPAS.

"The redistricting did have a little bit of an adverse effect. The Democrats have held this seat before but they have not held it in recent years, mostly because of the redistricting," Brundage said.

The ACLU of Florida filed a federal lawsuit this week alleging that redistricting in the neighboring Tampa/St. Pete area is racial gerrymandering. On Wednesday, they won a similar suit in Miami.

"A Pro-Choice Campaign is a Winning Issue"

Despite this, Brundage says, a "more coordinated effort for Democrats" would be key in flipping the redistricted seat, explaining that she's doing her part by visiting local businesses and speaking with Tampanians.

"They're all telling me the same thing: insurance costs are too high, they want someone to do something, and they want to see their elected officials," Brundage said, touching on her top issue of insurance reform. "The way I build relationships is by showing up and being present, and that's what we're going to do."

"We're going to run on insurance and affordability being a major issue. [Lawmakers] pretend it was addressed in the last year's session, but what they did won't actually be felt by any Floridian for more than ten years—if it's felt ever at all," she told us, saying she has a plan to lower insurance costs in just one year.

She moved to the Florida-relevant issues of abortion and marijuana, two constitutional amendments that will be on the November ballot, claiming these are issues of bodily autonomy that she will champion throughout her campaign.

"We're running a pro-choice campaign because that's a winning issue, and the Republican Party knows that and they're scared of it," she said.

The last prong in her campaign, she says, is economic empowerment for small businesses. She highlighted the need for economic reform, saying Florida's "culture war" policies drive citizens away.

"People leave our economy or sometimes don't come to our economy in Florida because they hear about these culture war-type issues when we know that every time someone passes a culture war-related issue, it's deemed later unconstitutional," she said, referencing recent Court decisions striking down DeSantis-signed laws.

"Talking about transgender rights on the floor of the House of Representatives is really not beneficial for the broader electorate. It's not affecting day-to-day people like insurance costs are."

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Liv Caputo

Liv Caputo

Livia Caputo is a senior at Florida State University, working on a major in Criminology, and a triple minor in Psychology, Communications, and German. She has been working on a journalism career for the past year, and hopes to become a successful reporter after graduation. Her work has been cited in Fox News, the New York Post, and the Daily Mail

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