For Janelle Perez, a seat in the Florida state senate is not a matter of if, but when. “I am openly gay,” she told HollywoodLife in an interview ahead of the mid-term elections. “So When I win, I’ll be the first LGBTQ parent in our Florida legislature. I’ll be the first LGBTQ Latina in the state senate, and the first LGBTQ woman in the state senate. And it’s a huge responsibility, but representation matters.”
Nobody understands that better than Janelle, who speaks with authority on every topic we discuss. The daughter of Cuban exiles who became successful business owners after leaving Castro’s dictatorship, she’s built her career on knowledge of small business and a true love for the people of Miami. She’s a business owner herself in Miami Dade, and cares deeply about affordable, high-quality healthcare for all Floridians. “My family and I own a Medicare HMO company,” she said. “We try to offer better services and higher quality benefits to the community.” They have an exceptional reputation for creating relationships within the community and for providing those high-quality services with a “personal touch,” she says.
She’s a mother of two young daughters (five years old and five months old), and a cancer survivor. And to hear her tell it, nothing is going to stand in her way of taking Florida State Senate District 38 on November 8. “In this race, I am the only parent, I am the only business owner, I am the only homeowner,” she told us.
Her opponent is Republican opponent Alexis Calatayud, who she describes as inexperienced and rarely available for public appearances. According to Janelle, Calatuyud is also about to get a “blank check” rom Republicans for her campaign, while self-starter Perez is working hard to hit fundraising goals for herself before primaries. “They want her there because she’s going be another vote for their agenda,” she said. The two are now locked in a battle over district 38, which covers Key Biscayne, Coconut Grove, Brickell, South Miami, Pinecrest, Coral Gables, Kendall, Cutler Bay, Palmetto Bay, South Dade, West Perrine, Goulds, Richmond Heights and Homestead.
But the Republican agenda is not something Janelle is unfamiliar with. “I grew up in a conservative family,” she told us. “A lot of the Cuban exiles in my community tend to lean Republican. So, the fact that a Cuban American woman who is openly gay, and a Democrat, is running, that is significant.”
In a way, that exposure to conservativism has given her the perspective she needs to home in on important economic issues. “People are loving the fact that I am new to politics, that I come from the business community,” she said. “I am an extremely pro-business democrat. I’m a business owner, I employ over 200 people here in Miami Dade county. I have experience creating jobs, actual jobs, and providing benefits to my employees.”
But as she runs as a Democrat, she doesn’t want her perspective on business to go unnoticed. “They’re going to call me an extremely progressive liberal, and that isn’t necessarily true,” she said of Republicans, noting that she calls herself a “moderate Democrat” and believes that supporting small businesses is the way to revive the economy. Janelle also notes that the Florida legislature has been Republican for 28 years, which reminds her of the “one-party” system many Cubans have fled. “It’s time for some change!” she exclaimed.
Her down-to-earth approach is all about what matters to regular people. “My biggest ‘why’ is access to more healthcare for Floridians,” she told HL. “People are connecting to that.” On a much bigger scale, though, this powerhouse candidate has some sobering words for people outside of Florida, and especially those who are alarmed by issues by the recent overturning of Roe V. Wade.
“When people in Hollywood, and New York, and in California are looking at the things that Ron DeSantis is doing in Florida, what they need to understand is that Florida is Ron DeSantis’s guinea pig,” she said. “He is going to run for president in 2024. So if you don’t like what’s happening in Florida, and you don’t want this rhetoric to become the national conversation in 2024, then you need to help us stop it, now. Because it’s going to come after you, and the rest of the country. And the way that you do that, is by investing in actually viable candidates, like my race.”
For now, Janelle notes that her message is working — she’s picking up Democrat and Republican voters. “I’m really pulling people together and uniting my community, big time” she said. But without more support, to the tune of $3 million for her race, she says there’s only so much she can do to get the word out. Donors are critical.
“There’s nothing that’s going to happen to me on this campaign trail that’s worse than cancer, so bring it,” she said.