First-time Democratic candidate Anna Vishkaee Eskamani made history Tuesday night as the first Iranian American
to be elected to the Florida House by flipping a Republican-held Orlando seat against an opponent who labeled her vulgar
for cursing out the patriarchy and transphobia.
But now the 28-year-old progressive is headed to Tallahassee, where both chambers of the Florida Legislature remain under tight Republican control as they have for more than two decades. Democrats picked up a few House seats across the state during the midterm elections, but the chamber is projected to maintain a 73-47 conservative advantage.
Getting anything done as a Democrat will be tough, especially under new Gov. Ron DeSantis. But Eskamani, an activist and former senior director of public affairs and communications at Planned Parenthood of Southwest and Central Florida, says she's used to advocating and pushing against policies targeting the rights of Floridians, like the 24-hour abortion waiting period
recently struck down by the courts.
"The only governor I knew while working at Planned Parenthood was Gov. Rick Scott and was a Republican majority Legislature in both chambers," Eskamani says. "Though I was really optimistic that we could set a new tone for our state government by electing Andrew Gillum and other Democrats, and I was absolutely thinking of what that world would look like for us – this is my reality. My reality is that we're always up against the status quo and I've always been a fighter of that, and I'm prepared to fight that."
Eskamani says the people in House District 47 elected her over Republican challenger Stockton Reeves because they "want a fighter who knows those challenges are realistic and can still find a way to get things done despite it." Eskamani won by getting 57 percent of the vote to the near 43 percent garnered by Reeves.
"I'm incredibly honored and humbled not only that we won but why we won," she says. "That was based on our authenticity, that we were genuine, that we led with empathy, that we prioritized the people of this community."
The Democrat walloped her challenger despite dozens of different mailers sent out by the Republican Party of Florida showing her in a leather jacket with a megaphone saying "pussy power" and "fuck the patriarchy."
"Extremely vulgar," said one ad from the party of the president who says he grabs women by their genitals. "Please keep out of reach of children."
"The Republican Party of Florida alongside our opponent must have spent over half million if not more against us – they definitely saw us as a threat," Eskamani says. "I would talk to complete strangers or be at a post office, and people would recognize me not from my own campaign necessarily, but from the attacks. … But we're authentic and we're not going to back down because the Republican Party of Florida or my opponent has an opinion. We're gonna hold them accountable to the double standard."
Eskamani adds that her extensive experience with the legislative process at Planned Parenthood makes her better prepared than other new lawmakers.
"When I was a senior director of public affairs at our local Planned Parenthood affiliate, a major component of it was bringing patients to Tallahassee to meet with elected officials, to share their personal stories, to do our best to delay or stop legislation that was dangerous for women and families," she says. "I also believe firmly that because our campaign is so people-driven that I'm not gonna be alone. … We have a firm understanding of the process and we also have an incredible collection of people who have our back, and we have their back and that'll translate to meaningful advocacy and hopefully legislation in Tallahassee."
Near midnight on Election Day, Eskamani was still trying to process her victory with a group of supporters and her family.
"One thing I'll add is how meaningful this is to me," she says. "Especially in the context of the story of my life, my sister's life, of just always fighting for families like ours and now to have the opportunity to fight for families in the Legislature and to bring the voice of families with us – families like ours – is just an incredible honor that I'm still processing."
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