Anna V. Eskamani Set to Bring Progressive Spark to HD 47 Race

Official candidate portrait of Anna Eskamani. (Photo provided by Anna for Florida)

On the steps of Orlando’s City Hall last week progressive activist Anna V. Eskamani officially declared her candidacy for House District 47.

Republican Rep. Mike Miller currently represents HD 47 but will be running to represent Florida’s 7th congressional district in 2018.

The 54 square mile House District 47 includes Orlando, Winter Park, Belle Isle and Edgewood. The district’s constituents are relatively young; over 50 percent of the population is under the age of 39.

Eskamani: Activist and Academic

Eskamani is a 27-year-old Orlando native who is a first generation Iranian-American and comes from a working-class background. She has served as the senior director at Planned Parenthood of Southwest and Central Florida, which covers 22 counties, since 2012.

She first became involved in politics at the age of 10 when she and her twin sister Ida volunteered for Al Gore’s presidential campaign.

Eskamani is most recognized for her work as a political activist and community organizer for progressive causes.

In July of 2016, she organized the #SitInForThe49, a Pulse-inspired sit-in outside of Sen. Rubio’s office that resulted in ten arrests.

In January, Eskamani was a speaker at the Women’s Rally in Lake Eola and organized an estimated 1,000 protestors against President Trump’s travel ban executive order at the Orlando International Airport.

Last month, Eskamani was a speaker at the Central Florida Poverty Conference and protested the Republican health care bill outside of Sen. Rubio’s office.

Eskamani, a self-described progressive, possesses many Democratic credentials. She won the 2017 Cannon Porta Award by the Orange County Democratic Executive Committee. During the 2016 election cycle, she served on Hillary for America’s Millennial Victory Council. And as an undergraduate, she was the VP of College Democrats at UCF.

Eskamani is also an academic. After attending Orange County public schools K-12, Eskamani then attended UCF where she received two bachelors’ degrees, two masters’ degrees, and is currently working on a Ph.D. in Public Administration.

Since the fall semester of 2016, Eskamani has been an adjunct professor at UCF teaching introductory women’s and gender studies courses.  She also sits on the Advisory Council for both Valencia College’s Peace and Justice Institute and UCF’s Women’s and Gender Studies Program.

Eskamani is on the Florida League of Women Voters’ Board of Directors and Equality Florida’s Advisory Board.

Eskamani has also received recognition for her work in Central Florida and has been named one of Orlando Magazine’s 50 Most Powerful People, UCF’s “30 Under 30”, and the Central Florida 100.

Campaign and Early Support

Eskamani has six central planks to her campaign platform: gun safety, equality, economy and jobs, natural resources, public and higher education, and health care.

In her Tallahassee announcement video, Eskamani spoke of a “movement-driven” campaign. As of July 6, the campaign had already raised over $10,000 and the Anna for Florida Facebook page has over 1,800 likes. Eskamani stated on July 9, 100 individuals have reached out to volunteer.

State Rep. Carlos Guillermo Smith, D- HD 49, a first-term legislator who chaired the Legislative Progressive Caucus last session, came out as an early supporter of Eskamani. Eskamani and Smith have both advocated for similar causes specifically those after the shooting at Pulse nightclub.

Rep. Smith stated, “Anna Vishkaee Eskamani is the future of the Democratic Party. She is a powerhouse, immensely popular, and just the type of progressive warrior I need as a backup in the Florida House. I’m with HER!”

Eskamani also has the support of former Republican Orange County Comptroller Martha Haynie, State Sen. Victor Torres, D-SD 15 and State Rep. Amy Mercado, D-HD 48.

Ida Eskamani, Anna’s twin who is also a prominent political activist, expressed confidence in her sister’s candidacy by stating, Our roots are right here in Orlando, and my sister is a powerhouse, with a track record of effective leadership and delivering for our community. House District 47 will be in very good hands with Rep. Eskamani fighting for us. I am immensely proud of my sister!”

The campaign has also generated interest from Orlando-area College Democrats. Citing Eskamani’s involvement with the College Democrats, Martin Perez Jr., a former staffer for Ken McGurn’s congressional campaign, believes “she has shown what young progressives can accomplish”. Perez continued, “It is evident by the support she has gotten in the past few days that she could pull of a victory.”

Devi Mody, President of College Democrats at UCF, described Eskamani, the organization’s faculty advisor, as “the most genuine and hardworking person I have ever met.”

When asked if Eskamani would be a good representative for students, Mody cited college students concerns over tuition, health care, and immigration, concluding that with “Anna’s background as a child of immigrants, a product of the public school system, and a champion for women’s health and reproductive rights, she most certainly would be an excellent representative for students in Tallahassee.”

Eskamani has noted that she would be the first Iranian-American elected to the FL Legislature if her campaign is victorious.

Mody noted, “As someone who is also of Asian descent it’s empowering to see someone like Anna running for public office.” Citing the underrepresentation of minorities in government, Mody concluded “It legitimizes someone’s identity when they see someone who looks like them holding public office.”

Interview

In an interview with the Florida Political Review, Eskamani offered her take on Washington, Pulse and Florida’s most pressing issues.

Philip Blake Layton: You have organized against both “Trumpcare” and the President’s Travel Ban as well as mentioning the “dangerous Trump agenda” in your press release. Seeing that you made your decision to run in December, did the 2016 election or Donald Trump inspire you to run?

Anna V. Eskamani: Like many women, my inspiration to run for office is rooted in my community. The onslaught of poor policy making and attacks towards hard working families is nothing new in Florida. Our state legislature has been under Republican control for two decades, and as a result our state has struggled to advance equal opportunity for all.

Trump, and the Republican Party’s consent to and encouragement of his actions, serves as an example of why we need new and bold leadership in Tallahassee.

PBL: I am aware that your campaign is focused on six key priorities, but I wanted to see if you would be willing to name a few of your specific policy proposals that you’ll be campaigning and advocating for? What issues has the FL Legislature been neglecting while in session?

AVE: Access to health care is critically important to me. My Mother passed away from cancer when I was thirteen years old. The five year long battle with cancer was hard and expensive for our family, but fortunately we have access to private insurance through my father’s employment. No person should go into debt for accessing health care, and no one should be unable to access health care– let alone refused care– for a pre existing conditions either.

We have been neglecting access to affordable housing. Republican leaders have raided the Sadowski Housing Trust Fund to balance the budget and I support Rep. Sean Shaw’s efforts to stop that from happening.

We must protect our environment and natural resources. I will support a full ban on fracking in Florida and will lift up the use of solar panels too.

Finally, gun safety is an issue that we cannot ignore. I support background checks for those who wish to purchase a firearm and will work to close the gun show loophole too.

PBL: HD 47 is a diverse district in terms of racial/ethnic composition, income levels, and party affiliation. You described yourself as an “unabashed Democrat” and certainly have progressive credentials, yet you have earned the support of former Orange County Comptroller Martha Haynie and you have worked with Timothy McKinney. With the political climate of the country and state appearing deeply polarized and divided, what do you and your campaign plan to do to garner a broad coalition or “movement”, as you stated, that overcomes divides in order to win in HD 47?

AVE: I have a firm track record for getting things done and building bridges for all hardworking Floridians. I know we can find common ground as people who love our country and community.

PBL: Pulse nightclub is located in HD 47, and you have a record as a strong LGBTQ advocate. Did the awful event at Pulse last year influence your decision to run? As a candidate or FL Representative, what do you feel you can do on the campaign trail or FL Legislature to advocate for the LGBTQ community of Florida?

AVE: I am committed to honoring the lives lost and injured at the Pulse Nightclub massacre through real action. For me, this means fighting for all hardworking Floridians, co-sponsoring the Competitive Workforce Act so we can outlaw discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity, and find consensus on common sense gun safety policy.

PBL: You are an academic holding multiple degrees and an adjunct position at UCF; you also have been deeply involved with UCF in various capacities but especially with the College Democrats at UCF. The Florida Political Review is a student-run journal. What are the most pressing issues you see in higher education and for students in Florida? Would you be willing to make a statement for publication directed towards students?

AVE: As a graduate of public schools and a public university I speak from personal experience on these issues.

We must restore Bright Futures to it’s original coverage– I watched my Bright Futures scholarship be cut in half while an undergraduate at UCF and was forced to search for funding support through other avenues. Students (should) not be graduating buried in debt. Young people should also have access to different institutions of learning, including four year universities, community colleges, and vocational schools too. With that said, we must keep higher education affordable; I do not support a hike in tuition as it is essentially a tax burden being placed on the backs of students. I will do whatever I can to protect access to higher education and ensure students, families, and faculty have the resources they need to succeed.

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