OR Conversations is a weekly Q&A featuring conversations with local newsmakers.

David Smith is a Republican candidate for Florida’s House District 28 in northeast Seminole County, seeking a seat being vacated by Republican incumbent state Rep. Jason Brodeur. Smith, 56, of Winter Springs, is a business consultant, a former director of the Marines simulation and training center in the University of Central Florida’s Research Park, and a retired Marine Corps colonel. He has a Republican primary opponent, Seminole County Deputy Sheriff Chris Anderson.

Orlando-Rising: How do your 30-plus years in the Marine Corps shape you as a potential lawmaker?

David Smith: The Marine Corps taught me many things, but most importantly I learned how to be a leader and get things done. I served in many positions of significant responsibility throughout my career and was also trusted to manage billions of taxpayer dollars. I also had the opportunity to run a variety of large and small business operations. I’ve had to hire and fire employees, negotiate with labor unions and had to fight to grow my business during tough economic times. However, my combat deployment to Iraqi after 9-11 was a defining time in my life. Leading troops in combat sharpens your decision making skills like nothing else. That’s the ultimate test for any leader.

OR: Everyone talks about developing more tech in Central Florida, and many point to the military simulation and modeling centers in Orlando as examples. What’s it going to take from the state to expand those opportunities?

Smith: For my last assignment in the military I was the program manager for Marine Corps training systems. I commanded a workforce of two hundred Marines and government civilians in the Central Florida Research Park and was responsible for over a billion dollars worth of simulation and training projects. This industry is a major economic driver in Central Florida and employs thousands of people.

However, a real threat to this industry is a round of Base Realignment And Closure. Many people may recall that a 1995 BRAC decision closed the Naval Training Center, which is now Baldwin Park. Any future BRAC decision that moved the military simulation and training commands from Central Florida would have a massive negative impact on our region. Not only would we lose thousands of military and government civilian jobs, but many of the nearly two hundred companies that bid on military contracts would move too, just so they could remain close to their military customers. Over the last few years the Florida Legislature and governor’s office have taken steps to prepare for a potential round of BRAC. This effort and other local technology initiatives must continue so our simulation and training companies are confident they should invest and grow their Central Florida operations.

OR: The last couple of legislative sessions have seen a widening schism between cities and counties wanting to protect home rule and the Legislature wanting to reign in what many see as excessive local regulation. Where do you stand in that debate?

Smith: I believe that the government closest to the people is almost always the best at governing a specific community. As a state legislator, my job will be to balance the needs of my constituents with the needs of all of Florida.

There are some areas of public policy that have statewide impact and should be dealt with at a state level. For example, minimum wages laws and laws dealing with commerce in general. These are subject areas that should be set on a statewide basis in order to create a climate that attracts more business and high paying jobs to our state. However things that are specific to a local community, such as sign ordinance, zoning and land use, etc. are better handled at the local level.

OR: Where do you like to go to get away from it all, and why?

Smith: The beach. For me, one of the best aspects of living in Florida is our great beaches. My favorite getaway spot is Daytona Beach Shores. It’s close, clean and the people are nice. You can walk, run, ride a bike or simply lay on a towel and relax. And of course there is swimming and body surfing. A weekend on the beach is how I recharge. Three day weekends are even better.

OR: The most contentious issue last spring may have been education, as leaders pushed through an education bill to expand choice opportunities for often desperate parents, but critics called it an abandonment, literally and figuratively, of struggling public schools. What should be done?

Smith: I think the rest of the state can take a lesson from our Seminole County schools. We have one of the best public school systems in the state because of the great partnership between parents, teachers, students, and our school board. I believe that we need to continue to innovate in our public schools making sure we reward the best teachers. Therefore, it’s critical to make sure that our teachers have all the resources they need, that our students are held to high standards and that parents remain in charge of their children’s education.

OR: How do you define integrity, in politics, and what are increasingly-jaded voters expecting?

Smith: To me, integrity means having a strong moral compass and doing the right thing, even when no one is watching. I think most people would agree that the political climate in our nation today is probably at an all-time low. Voters are well past simply being skeptical of their elected officials. In my own small way, I’m hoping to start turning this around. That’s why I have pledged to run my campaign and serve in the Florida House with the same level of commitment, honor and integrity that I served our nation during my thirty year career in the U.S. Marine Corps.

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