Ahead of the elections, voters of Orlando will elect their federal representatives to serve in the U.S. House. Hear from Maxwell Frost

Florida U.S. House Candidate Q&A: Maxwell Frost

The race for Florida’s District 10 in the U.S. House features Democrat Maxwell Frost facing Republican Calvin Wimbish. The Florida Political Review’s Maria Varas, Kelly Ralph and Brandon Lancho caught up with Frost on September 27, 2022. General Election Day is Tuesday, November 8, 2022.

Ahead of the November midterm elections, voters of Orange County, Florida, will elect their federal representatives to serve in the U.S. House of Representatives. Of the four districts that contain parts of Orange County, District 10 is the only one to be centered within Orange County. The district’s current representative is Val Demings, who is retiring from her position to run against Sen. Marco Rubio in Florida’s Senate race.

District 10 is a minority-coalition district that comprises north-central Orange County and contains roughly 769,000 residents. Before the 2020 census and redistricting, District 10 was still a minority-coalition district and was largely on the western side of Orange County. The district is largely Democratic, having voted for President Joe Biden by 25% in 2020. Under the new district lines, it would have voted for Biden by 32 points.

The race to replace Demings is underway with two leading candidates: Maxwell Alejandro Frost (D) and Colonel Calvin Wimbish (R). Frost is a 25 year-old community activist of Afro-Cuban descent. His youth and advocacy for progressive policies have given him national attention. If elected, he would be the first member of Generation Z in Congress. His campaign website is https://www.frostforcongress.com.

In this interview, we ask Frost about his historic candidacy, inspirations, platform and would-be legislative priorities.

Q: What inspired you to run for Congress?

A: At first, I was asked by a group of friends and organizers to run for Congress last year. [These friends] include people I had been arrested with during the Black Lives Matter uprising two summers ago. And to be honest, when they first asked me the first thing I said was, “Hell no, I was not running for Congress.” 

At the time, I was a national organizing director at March for Our Lives, and I was really focused on that work. But sometimes, people plant a seed in your mind, and I kept thinking about it. I started talking with folks from all across the community and to my surprise, people are actually really excited about having a young voice run for Congress, to represent the community right here in Orlando. And so I decided to look into it. 

Something in me told me to get connected with my biological mother. I was adopted at birth, never really had spoken with her before. And getting to speak with her- learning about her life, and learning about the conditions of my birth; she had me at one of the most vulnerable points in her life, that I am one of eight or seven siblings, and she is someone who was in the cycle of poverty and crime not because she’s a bad person, but because of the zip code she was born into. It changed my life having that conversation with her. After I hung up, I said, “I’m running for Congress,” for people like my biological mother, for people like my mother who came here from Cuba in the late 1960s. For my community, for the people I was arrested with, for the victims of gun violence that I want to honor with action and I decided to throw my hat in the ring, and it ended up working out. That’s why I decided to run for Congress.

Q: Before running, what were your previous involvements in the community?

A: So I was involved, I was born and raised here. I went to an arts middle school and high school here in Orlando, where I played jazz drums. And so I’ve always been involved in music and culture in my community. I had a salsa band called Seguro Que Sí and we were the first salsa band to ever perform in a Presidential Inaugural Parade. We represented the state of Florida, and that’s something that my friends and I just kind of did by ourselves. And so from a young age, I was always really involved in representing the community more on the culture and music aspect. 

That started shifting later in high school. I really started doing organizing on the ground, working to end gun violence, working with mutual aid networks and making sure that we’re feeding our communities and we’re counting on ourselves and we’re helping each other out. During the Black Lives Matter uprising, I really took a leadership role in organizing folks here because, you know, we had tens of thousands of people on the streets every day, and I just wanted to make sure we were being safe and strategic. My work has been kind of all around. I own a small Music Festival here called Mad Soul that is a nonprofit. We donate 100% of our proceeds to mutual aid efforts for houseless youth. But just a lot of culture work, a lot of music work and a lot of social justice has been the work I’ve done here in Central Florida.

Q:  If you win, you will be the first Gen Z member of Congress. How do you plan on bringing the values of this young and diverse generation to Congress?

A: No generation is like a monolith, and so there’s so many different ways of thinking and there’s so many different ideologies. Our generation is definitely the most progressive generation: our generation overwhelmingly votes for Democrats and accepts that progressive mentality. And even Republicans in our generation are more progressive on social issues. 

But the thing that I really think sets our generation apart is if you think about our timeline, I’m the oldest a “Gen-Z er” can be, so I’m at the old side of the spectrum. I remember being at elementary school and looking at the TV and seeing all these college-aged people sleeping outside of Wall Street in New York and talking about wealth inequality and Occupy Wall Street. Then I remember Columbine, and all these shootings going on, and we’re a generation that will go through more school shooting drills and fire drills. Continuing to grow up and finding out about Trayvon Martin, who was a kid who was about my age, who was murdered just 30 minutes north of me for walking while being black, and then March for Our Lives and then the whiplash of going from Barack Obama to Donald Trump. The existential climate crisis, which obviously this week, for the first time in 100 years, a category four hurricane is going to make landfall in Florida.

So for me, I think that our generation has just been through so much trauma, so much civil unrest, so much protest, so much turmoil, and it’s all we’ve ever known. And so we’re very much thinking about the fact that we wish we were born in a better world. And we’re a little pissed off that we’re not in it right now. And it’s like a righteous anger. And we are the most politically active generation that’s alive right now. As far as being at this age we’re just making our voices heard, I think it’s really exciting. 

The last thing I’ll say is, I really think our generation has a knack of naturally seeing the world through the eyes of the most vulnerable and naturally thinking more about each other. It’s that old notion that my success is your success, your success and my success, and we’re all part of this grand mosaic of humanity. We just want everyone to do well. We want our friends to do well. We want our neighbors to do well. And for me, that’s something that I think Gen Z inherently has, that in the way that we think about things and so when I go to Congress, I’m bringing the urgency on these issues: the urgency of the climate crisis, the urgency of gun violence, but also that knack of just being very accepting about our love for humanity, and each other issue should be rooted in in politics and like the legislation that we pass. 

Q: Let’s say that the election is over and you’ve won. What are your legislative priorities and what bills have you thought about proposing later down the line?

A: Number one, is environmental justice — preventing the climate crisis. Florida is ground zero for the climate crisis in the United States. And so we have a vested interest in the future generations, but also our survival and ensuring that we know the cost of not doing anything is far greater than the cost of taking bold action right now. There was a big bill that just passed, the Inflation Reduction Act, which had a lot of great climate provisions in it. We need to keep building off of that — I believe in the goals of the Green New Deal, and I believe that we need to work very quickly to preserve our planet and preserve humanity.

Second one is ending gun violence. I’m a survivor of gun violence myself. Gun violence is what got me involved in this work because of the Sandy Hook shooting. 49 Angels were murdered literally 15 minutes away from where I’m sitting at the Pulse nightclub because of homophobia, transphobia and bigotry. How do we create a world where no one feels the need to use a gun to solve their problems in the first place? And how do we make sure that stuff like that never happens again? So fighting for that is important. 

Number three is reimagining public safety, criminal justice reform. How do we build an equitable system that doesn’t criminalize people because of the zip code they’re born in or the color of their skin or how much money they have in the bank?… I’m a big proponent of something called community violence intervention, which is pretty much on-the-ground programs that community members work to end gun violence before it happens in many different ways. It could be after school programs that keep kids off the streets. We have a program here called “Gloves Up Guns Down,” it takes kids and teaches them how to box to get out their emotions and anger… Whether it’s community violence interrupters, who are people in the community who make friends and keep their ear to the ground to find out when violence is going to happen and go and stop it before it happens. They have a conversation with people, and [the question is] how do we not see prison as the end all be all for every every problem? And how do we be proactive and change people’s lives before they get to that point? And putting money into that is really important to me. Believe it or not, President Biden has put the most money into that out of any president in the history of our country… Congress just passed $5 billion for that. 

Another thing I’ll say is health care. I believe that in one of the richest countries on the face of the earth, everybody should have health care. So I believe in Medicare for all. I think it’s the most practical solution to getting everyone covered. I don’t think that anyone in this country should have to pick between a doctor’s bill and rent, or medicine and food, and I believe Medicare for All is the way there. So I’m very much someone who believes that no matter who you are, you deserve to be healthy by virtue of being human and nothing else. I don’t think it should matter how hard you work. I don’t think it should matter if you work, I don’t think there should be any kind of means testing on it. I think you deserve to be able to be healthy because you’re here and we’re in this together. 

Finally, another one that I didn’t mention is music and arts education funding. I think this is really important. Not just education, but arts: there are 5 million people who work in the arts who are self-employed, who often don’t have benefits, they are freelancers. And these are the people who are really building up some of the most important parts of our culture, whether it’s music festivals, music venues, concerts, TV shows, film, dance, all of that. So I really want to do everything I can to be an advocate for that industry. That is part of what makes life worth it.

Q: Central Florida residents are concerned about inflation and the economy. As a Congressman, how do you plan on approaching this issue?

A: The issue of rising costs and stagnant wages is something that, you know, we’ve been dealing with for generations. And there’s a lot that needs to happen. The good thing is that gas prices have gone down, which I’m so thankful for personally, because I consistently drive Uber. There’s a lot that needs to happen, and I think first and foremost, we do need to crack down on corporate greed. When we were having these insane gas prices, oil companies were having record high profits, they wanted to take advantage of inflation and of the market to make more money off of our backs. And I think we increasingly need more folks in government that are willing to call that out for what it is: price gouging and companies that are involved in these greedy practices. We need to do everything we can to bring inflation down. So there’s no excuse. There were a lot of industries that used inflation to bring up the prices when they didn’t need to. And so there’s that part of it. The other part of it is just ensuring that we as a government are doing everything we can to ensure people have their basic necessities met- health care, education. I believe housing is a human right so I believe everyone should have a roof over their head and I think when we do that, and when we ensure people have a survivable, thrivable wage, that puts us in a better place to meet the mark. It’s two parts: it’s inflation, it’s bringing down rising costs, and it’s also making sure our wages are not stagnant. The minimum wage, federal minimum wage has been the same. And so there’s a lot of work that we need to do there. 

The last thing I’ll say is more on affordable housing and the rising cost of rent. Right now Central Florida is going through the worst affordable housing crisis in the entire country in terms of per capita. I experienced this personally where I was living. When they stopped the rent hike freeze, my rent went up over 30% and I couldn’t afford it. So I had to move out. I couldn’t find somewhere else to live. So I found myself being houseless for about a month, kind of just couch-surfing. And it wasn’t fun, it wasn’t good and there are so many families like that across the entire region that are going through the same thing. So I’m really excited about the Rent Stabilization Act that’s going to be on the ballot this November for people in Orange County to vote to keep rent where it’s at — we need to break it down and we can’t afford another rent increase. And so there’s just so much work that needs to be done. I’m for very progressive and very strict tenant protections. In Florida, renters have no protections, we have no recourse, and there’s just so much work that needs to be done at the federal level.

Q: What are your policy goals relating to immigration?

A: Immigration is very near and dear to me. Obviously, I talked about my mom coming from Cuba. And there are a few different things. Number one, I believe that we need to work to provide a speedy path to citizenship for all currently undocumented folks in this country. A lot of people don’t understand how expensive, long and difficult our processes for citizenship are in this country. It takes a long time and it takes a lot of money. And for immigrants who have come here from poor conditions, it takes them a lot of time to get to a place where they can even take advantage of the current system. So I believe in bold immigration reform that provides a very speedy and inexpensive path to citizenship for all undocumented immigrants, and that we also work to ensure that the new generation of immigrants coming into our country are not susceptible to the same barriers that are currently going on. 

The other thing too is we just need to elect people who see immigrants and see folks as humans, right? We hear a lot from Democrats and Republicans the word “illegals,” calling people “illegal,” and I just inherently believe that no one is illegal regardless of how you found your way into our country. We should take in people with open arms, that’s what this country was built on. That’s literally what’s inscribed on the Statue of Liberty. For me, it’s how do we get back to the true promise of this country, where Congresswoman Barbara Jordan says a country’s spirit is its promise, and that promise is being open to immigrants, and learning about what my mom went through, what my grandma went through, and what my aunt went through. The fact that my grandma had to work three factory jobs. She made $1 an hour, no protections, and she had to subjugate herself to that because she wanted a better life. It’s honorable, because it’s like, wow, my grandma is badass, but it’s also sad because it shouldn’t have happened. I wonder where she would be if money wasn’t an object. There’s so much, and a lot of it has to do with the system. But a lot of it has to do with the opportunities and resources they have upon arrival.

Q: Tell us your worst I-4 story.

A: Okay my worst I-4 story… just the general traffic is horrible. When I first got my permit, the first time I ever drove on a road was with my mom and my sister; we went on a college tour during spring break, junior year of high school. And my mom had me drive. So the first time I ever drove, it was on I-4, I was so scared and freaked out, I had so much anxiety. I’m glad she did it because now I feel like I’ve mastered I-4, but I would still say my first time driving on I-4 was definitely very scary. I remember there was a minivan behind me that kept honking, but all of the lanes around me were open. So he just wanted to mess with me. And yeah, aggressive drivers for sure.

Q: What is your message for Florida students?

A: Whatever you love to do, and whatever makes you unique, there’s a way to implement that in the change you want to see in the world. I’ve done a lot of interviews where we were asked if we hope this inspires more young people to run for office, and of course, we want young people to run for office. But it’s more than that; it’s about ensuring that our generation sees the world through the eyes of the most vulnerable, really caring about one another. Having that mentality in every facet of our society is really important. So whether or not you go to be a journalist somewhere, or an editor, clergy, or a teacher, I think it’s important that young people are in those leadership positions. And so I say be a big advocate for yourself. Take what makes you special and go out and show the world and just make sure you always have that mentality in mind because even though you might not be on the street protesting, even though you might not be doing the traditional way of making change, I believe you are. I believe every artist is changing our world every day, because they’re giving us an opportunity to imagine a different reality and I think it’s needed, so I think there’s something special about every form of art, every job someone does, obviously we can always all do better. Be okay with who you are and live that to the fullest would be my message.

By Maria Varas, Kelly Ralph and Brandon Lancho

Check out other recent articles from the Florida Political Review here.

Featured image: Florida Political Review candidate Q&A graphic depicting Maxwell Frost. Image by Maria Varas.

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