Before this year’s $700 million bipartisan affordable housing bill passed the Florida Senate, Florida senators sang praises to one of its newest members, Republican Alexis Calatayud.
Sen. Ed Hooper, who has spent 12 years in the Legislature, applauded the first-term senator who just finished shepherding the leadership-backed Live Local Act to the Senate floor after speaking with every member of their body to gain unanimous approval for it. The bill eventually went on to pass the House by a vote of 103-6.
“You are just about the age of my grandchildren. And some of us are jealous about that,” the Clearwater Republican said. “You have been given a tremendously heavy lift...
“And I can tell you that you have done this lift with smiles (and) sweat, with hard work, but you have allowed every one of us to reach out to you and work on this bill to make it (one) that not only this chamber, but this Legislature can be proud of.”
The plaudits shouldn’t be a surprise, even for one as new to the process as Calatayud, of eastern Miami-Dade County’s Senate District 38. At 29, she may be the Senate’s youngest newest member, but that doesn’t mean she is a stranger to Tallahassee.
She’s been in Florida politics for over a decade, from running campaigns to having roles in state executive agencies. Her experience helped her carry several important bills this session, transforming her into one of her party’s brightest stars.
Yet, that hasn’t kept her from cooperating with Democrats or even being at odds with her own Republican colleagues on issues, even ones the GOP opposes, that her constituents care about.
Senate President Kathleen Passidomo told City & State that she saw Calatayud’s promise when she first met her as the Miami Republican was running for office in 2022. “She was just this dynamo, I mean, she must have knocked on every door in her district. It just shows the quality of a person. She just really hit the ground running,” Passidomo said.
An interest in politics started as a kid
Calatayud’s path to civic involvement began when she was a child. She told City & State in an interview that she first became interested in politics during the 2008 presidential election, when she was in the 8th grade. That stoked a desire to understand how government can affect people’s lives.
“I wanted to be a part of helping young people shape the future of the country, which I think comes from the future of Florida,” she said.
In high school, she interned in U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio’s Miami office during his first term in Washington. She attended Florida International University, where she was elected student body president and did work as a student in the school’s legislative affairs department.
Her first time working in Tallahassee came when she became then-state Rep. Vance Aloupis’ aide after being his campaign manager in 2018. She then worked for two years in the Florida Department of Education on legislative affairs and policy before launching her successful bid for the Florida Senate in 2022.
Aloupis, now a lobbyist with the Strategos Group, said he wasn’t surprised by the work she did this session. He said she has carried on with the same passion and focus on policy that she did while working as his aide.
“I have been so amazed at how much she's grown and how dedicated she's been to our community. It's really been just one of the blessings in my life to work alongside her,” he said.
Bill after bill for the new senator
Her work this session was headlined by the Live Local Act, which provides historic levels of funding to Florida’s affordable housing programs amid one of the worst housing crises in the country. But she also championed a bill (SB 246) that expands eligibility for KidCare, Florida’s health and dental insurance program for children from low income families.
The act was legislation inspired by Passidomo. Despite Calatayud’s freshman status, Passidomo said it made sense for her to carry the legislation forward because her district was at the center of affordable housing issues in Florida.
“She worked very hard on a very complicated bill. It is over 106 pages. She studied it, digested it and presented it as a really good advocate for a very complicated subject. So I'm just really proud of her and I think she's going to continue to be a really good member,” Passidomo said.
Calatayud said she viewed those two bills as her biggest victories from the legislative session because they exemplify her primary goal as a lawmaker: improving Floridians ability to build economic prosperity from generation to generation.
“It's always, ‘how is this good for our community now and how does it posture us for our children to do better than we're doing?’ I have the mindset that every decision has to have this question of a generational impact and an upward mobility,” she said.
While the economic-focused bills are Calatayud’s marquee legislation during her first session, she also carried several other bills including:
— SB 244, which creates several programs to deal with teacher recruitment and retention in the state. Its House companion was signed into law by Gov. Ron DeSantis.
— SB 942, which does away with Miami-Dade County’s long-standing pit bull ban. It has passed both chambers, but is waiting to be sent to the governor.
— SB 1170, which provides funding for studies on how to combat the effect of sea level rise on Florida’s coastal communities. Its House companion also is waiting to be sent to DeSantis.
Her legislative work hasn’t just earned her praises from her party, but also from Democratic Senate colleagues. State Sen. Shevrin Jones of West Park told City & State that she spoke with his office on every bill she put forward to ask for feedback – something not every senator does in the process.
“She exhibits what the process should be from a working relationship standpoint because she gives every senator respect. Although we disagree quite often on certain things, the professional courtesy that she continues to give all the senators is just very commendable,” he said.
Calatayud also stood by her constituents on some issues that conflicted with her party’s policy. For instance, she opposed the six-week abortion ban passed this legislative session both in committee and on the Senate floor. She said she needed to stick to promises she made on the campaign trail to support a 15-week abortion ban, not a six-week one.
“When the decision came not less than three months after the election, to either continue that position or change it, I kept my commitment to the 9,000 people I spoke to and the 100,000 people my campaign team collectively spoke to. I meet the commitments I make to the community,” she said.
Looking to the future
Calatayud’s politics reflect her somewhat precarious position in a district that was newly created after the 2020 Census – and that’s potentially competitive for Democrats.
She won her race in 2022 by a little under nine points. While that’s a decently large margin, DeSantis carried Miami-Dade County as a whole by 13 points.
Calatayud’s Democratic opponent last year, Janelle Perez, raised a decent enough amount of money that suggested the seat was attainable. In fact, Calatayud’s seat could be one of the in-reach districts for Florida Democrats looking for pick-ups in 2024.
In her favor, however, carrying marquee legislation with bipartisan support to address a critical need for many Floridians helps. Not backing the six-week abortion ban, which 75% of Floridians oppose, could help too. But those are questions for fall 2026. (Perez did not respond to a request for comment, including whether she would run again.)
Calatayud has three more legislative sessions before she has to stand for reelection to continue a record of getting legislation passed. Aloupis predicts she will continue to back legislation that improves education for Florida students.
“The objective that we shared was always to put students at the center, and make sure that everything we were doing was about student outcomes and their ability to achieve their life goals. I continue to see that today in her service,” he said.
Calatayud has already committed to pursuing legislation next session on one issue: Pushing for affordable daycare and early childhood education. She said she doesn't want parents to have to step away from their career because there are no affordable options.
Passidomo said “one of her strengths is her ability to carry substantive policy bills that have a lot of moving parts and be able to explain them carefully, succinctly and get her message across for the members who are not as familiar with the issues. I think she's got a good future ahead of her.”
As Calatayud put it, “Whether it takes a session or seven sessions, it is important to the budgets of Florida families. My goal is to make Florida a more affordable place to live and an easier place to live, one where children have more opportunities than their parents. That's why I'm here.”