House candidate accepts challenge to live on minimum wage

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Democratic HD 49 candidate Carlos Guillermo Smith announced to a rally of fast-food workers he will stand with them in gesture of solidarity by agreeing to temporarily live on Florida’s mimimum wage of $8.05 an hour.

The move — which liberal legislators like state Sen. Dwight Bullard and state Rep. Cynthia Stafford have mirrored in the past — comes amid a broader statewide and national push for a higher minimum wage as cities like New York and Los Angeles consider raising their wage floors to $15, about double the federally mandated minimum.

Smith said Friday the $15 wage left-leaning groups are now agitating for – including in Orlando, where Smith addressed labor stalwarts and supporters yesterday — should be a right all Floridians are entitled to.

“Workers in Florida have a right to work 40 hours a week and not be living in poverty,” said Smith in a release. “The absence of living wage standards hurts minorities the most. More than half of all black workers and more than 60 percent of Latino workers make less than $15 per hour. That’s unacceptable and Tallahassee needs to raise Florida’s minimum wage right now, which would create jobs.”

Smith is chairman of the Orange County Democratic Executive Committee and a former aide to vanquished state Rep. Joe Saunders, one of Florida’s first openly gay legislators.

Saunders narrowly lost to state Rep. Rene Plasencia in a low-turnout 2014 contest that decimated swing-district House Democrats. Smith, who like Saunders has worked on behalf of the Human Rights Campaign and other gay causes, hopes to avenge him by toppling Cortes in a 2016 presidential election year expected to favor Dems.

Smith wove his decision to accept the “minimum wage challenge” into a populist economic narrative many U.S. liberals are hoping will carry the day in 2016.

“By trying to live on Florida’s minimum wage for just one week, I hope to better understand and draw attention to the struggles that hardworking families and students actually face here in Orange County without a real living wage,” said Smith.

“Thousands of Central Floridians live every single day of their lives trying to figure out how to make ends meet with full-time low-wage jobs. They deserve to earn more than $8.05 per hour, which sometimes may not even be enough to put food on the table. When workers make more, they spend more– which grows the economy and creates jobs. It’s really that simple.”

Ryan Ray writes about campaigns and public policy in Tampa Bay and across the state. A contributor to and before that, The Florida Squeeze, he covers the Legislature as a member of the Florida Capitol Press Corps and has worked as a staffer on several campaigns. He can be reached at