In two short years, Democratic state Rep. Anna Eskamani has gained remarkable amounts of national and international attention.
Media (and opponents) often focus on small, distinctive parts of her, much as — in the ancient parable — the blind men do when describing an elephant.
She is one of the faces of the millennial generation.
She is a voice for women’s issues. She is a heart of progressive politics. She is an embodiment of immigrant families’ American dream. She is an Avenger. She is an Iranian-American in the Land of Cotton. She is an outspoken activist.
Yet in her first Legislative Session, many of her colleagues on both sides of the aisle of the Florida House of Representatives probably think of her as none of those things, but rather as an effective lawmaker with fresh ideas, deep intellect, and vivacious charm.
Eskamani, 29, Florida Representative for House District 47 in central Orange County, is ranked as the 11th most powerful elected official in the first-ever Florida Politics Central Florida 25 most Powerful Politicians survey.
It might be an odd position for a freshman lawmaker who saw none of her bills progress in the 2019 Legislative Session.
Yet much of Eskamani’s influence comes from her ability to articulate issues — she has four college degrees and is finishing a doctorate in public affairs — and, as a longtime activist to draw attention to them. Not only has it focused attention on specific issues such as her effort last month to aid domestic violence victim Courtney Taylor Irby in Polk County, it has garnered the young state lawmaker coverage from media including TIME magazine, the Atlantic, The Washington Post, People magazine, The Nation, and numerous other national and international outlets.
“Rep. Eskamani is one of the most pleasant people to spend time with in the state legislative process. Don’t let her easy smile and warm demeanor fool you, though. Anna Eskamani is a fighter,” said Derek Bruce, managing shareholder at Gunster in Orlando. “Raised by a single father after her mother passed away, Anna learned at an early age to stand up for the causes in which she believes – like sustainability, women’s reproductive rights and increased worker pay. Indeed, many have observed that she seems like she was born to do this.
“Anna has taken on entrenched and powerful Tallahassee interests and done so without compromising her principles. Like many in her millennial generation, she uses all forms of media – print, video and social – to great effect in communicating with constituents and mobilizing an army of grassroots supporters rarely seen at this level of politics,” Bruce added. “Mark my words, the Florida House of Representatives will not be the last stop in Anna’s political career.”
Eskamani also has a few clear victories. She and fellow Orlando progressive Democratic state Rep. Carlos Guillermo Smith worked the corridors of Tallahassee and won a sevenfold increase in arts and cultural funding this spring. They and Democratic state Sen. Linda Stewart likewise won late funding, $500,000, for a Pulse memorial in Orlando, and got strong commitments for efforts to combat sex trafficking.
And Florida’s Legislature made no serious efforts to pursue anti-abortion legislation as happened in Georgia, Alabama, and Louisiana, perhaps due at least in part to the recognition pro-abortion rights activists (such as Eskamani) are strong.
“We fought the battles for the minority caucus. I knew we would be on the defensive,” Eskamani said. “But it was also an occasion for a lot of collaboration and opportunities to build bridges while holding people accountable.”
Last winter, Eskamani received committee assignments that did not exactly mesh with her health care and higher education interests, but she embraced them. On the House Ways and Means Committee, Eskamani said she dove deep into Florida’s tax laws, reading the codes and consulting experts. She spent her nights during Legislative Session studying bills and watching reruns of other committees on the Florida Channel, rather than pursuing the Tallahassee legislative social scene.
And she’s plugged into her HD 47 constituency, holding numerous town hall meetings, including five post-session meetings in June.
Solidly established in the mostly Democratic district, where she raised campaign funds last year at rates almost unheard of for a new Democrat, she has found herself also able to extend her influence more in-depth into the party.
“We’re so lucky that our district has just wrapped its arms around us … and we’re kind of also able to help other Democrats across the state,” she said.