UCF graduate Rene Plasencia will make two trips to Tallahassee this coming week — one to coach cross country and the other to be inaugurated into the Florida House of Representatives.
After defeating incumbent and fellow UCF alumnus Joe Saunders in what he called "the battle for UCF," Republican Plasencia will take his seat in the House — the 49th District Seat to be exact. In the end, Plasencia received 19,118 votes, 717 more than Saunders.
And UCF will feel the effects of this election. The 49th seat of the House holds a lot of weight with public policy that could affect how much students pay per credit hour.
For example, bulldozers, concrete and engineers cost money, and that's why when President John C. Hitt announced plans in September to build a $200 million downtown campus, Plasencia made it part of his mission to try and keep his alma mater's tuition from rising alongside the tall structures.
"I want to make sure that there are no tuition increases, at least within my first two years," Plasencia said. "We need to make sure that the creation of a downtown campus is subsidized enough by the state government where we don't have to increase tuition to get this campus going."
The first 100 days in office can be pivotal for a politician and Plasencia said he plans on using this time to let the people of District 49 know that he is here to help, whether it's a problem with a home, mortgage, starting a business or a child's school. Plasencia plans on having a mobile office that will allow him to commute to every community in District 49 and personally deliver answers to questions and remove the common partitions that exist between public issues and politicians.
Plasencia, better known as Coach P, graduated from UCF in 1996 with a degree in psychology. Plasencia currently teaches American Government and coaches track and cross country at Colonial High School in Orlando. In 2011 and 2012, he led the school to back-to-back state championships in boys cross country, giving the school its ﬁrst state titles in any sport.
Coach P may hold the UCF record for the indoor mile, but with this election on the books, he's made it apparent he's no stranger to hurdles. He visited 200 to 350 homes per week during his campaign trail building a concerted "get-out-to-vote" effort, assuring the public that his experience as a teacher has given him insight into some of the leading issues in public policy.
Like Coach P, Saunders, who was elected to the House of Representatives in 2012, credits his time at UCF as one of the reason's for his success, despite this year's loss.
"We started by engaging the UCF students in some of the work that I thought mattered, like non-discrimination policies and women's health; that was a spring board to start doing work at the state level," Saunders said.
In the end, all of the door knocking and sign holding got through to the 49th district, and the underdog "every-man" teacher will trade his school desk for one in the House of Representatives.