The rumors are true. Florida House Representative Anna Eskamani (D-District 47) is running for Florida governor in 2022 — or at least thinking about it seriously.
“We’re doing the research. We’re reflecting on it, talking to stakeholders,” Eskamani said in an exclusive interview with The Capitolist, “but I think what’s so cool about the idea of me running for governor is that it’s not driven by lobbyists or consultants — quite the opposite actually. It’s driven by everyday people and that is very humbling.”
“Several potential candidates are posturing towards running for governor, and it’s no surprise that Rep. Anna Eskamani may be among the first of several Democrats to throw their hat in the ring. She’s built a grassroots base of supporters in her legislative district, and has been outspoken against current leadership. But for any potential candidate considering a run for governor, they’ll need to mount a formidable campaign that resonates statewide in order to overcome Governor DeSantis’ strong 54-plus statewide approval rating,” said Edie Ousley, President of Yellow Finch Strategies, who has advised governors, legislative and business leaders on effective political communications strategies.
Eskamani, 30, was born in Orlando to Iranian-immigrant parents. She was elected to the Florida House of Representatives in 2018 and re-elected this year. She lost her mother to colon cancer when she was 13 and said she grew up poor. She attributes the trauma of those events with propelling her into politics.
Despite her own story, she said people in America believe that with hard work, anyone can do anything, but “that hope is not real for so many people.”
“Policymakers have made that sense of opportunity only available to some and my motivation to first run for office was very much grounded in a frustration not just with the status quo when it came to who elected officials are in Florida, but also with the Democratic party,” she said. “I have so many areas of criticism for my own party and I’m proud to say that because I didn’t run for office to get along and go along. I ran for office to fight for everyday people like my family.”
She continued, “When I ran for office as a first-time candidate, the Democrat party did not take me seriously at all. They did not recruit me. They wanted someone who looked totally different from me, had more money than me. So, I really had to prove that I was a viable candidate.”
She was asked how she could think the American Dream is not real, when her own story is a testament to it. She responded, “The exception does not define the rule. So, it is possible but it’s not common and I want it to be normal, but it’s not.”
During her short career in politics, she has garnered the reputation as a firebrand, often responding to news of the day with scourging twitter responses, often directed at Florida’s Governor Ron DeSantis.
Last year, she characterized DeSantis’ response to the COVID-19 pandemic as “disastrously mismanaged.”
She explained, “We had to push the governor early on to do the stay-at-home order. I mean, it was a collective people-focused effort to get the governor to understand that the only way to stop the spread of Covid-19 is to socially distance and to stop large gatherings. We’ve seen our cases increase dramatically ever since the governor lifted those orders and he did it very fast. We’re seeing from other states that opening up was not the right decision.”
According to the Centers for Disease Control February 1, 2021 COVID report, however, Florida has fewer cases per 100,000 people than California, a state that has been nearly completely shut down since the beginning of the pandemic. COVID deaths in California are nearly double the number in Florida, even though Florida has a significantly older population.
Eskamani said she thinks Florida should have remained closed at least for another four weeks or longer. “On the front end there was no planning of what would be the safety net for small businesses and for the unemployed. We should have been closed longer to say we’re going to make sure that you don’t face an eviction, that you don’t see issues with paying your staff or unemployment for your staff because of this government forced closure.”
But on the other hand, she said businesses were really hurt by being closed and she called the governor to complain about that issue.
She said her biggest criticism was “when the governor rolled out the task force to reopen Florida, the very first voice he listened to was the Florida Chamber (of Commerce) and I thought, ‘well, what about small business?’ You can tell that the agenda was being set by big business and I just don’t think it’s appropriate that big businesses are the ones that get the tax refunds and dictate the decision-making. It squeezes out small businesses.”
The Florida Chamber of Commerce does not only represent big businesses. According to the Chamber, over half of its membership is made up of small businesses. Its Small Business Council is comprised of small business chamber members committed to “being the voice of small business in growing Florida’s diverse and innovative economy.”
Eskamani sponsored a bill to overhaul Florida’s unemployment system but says she is not naïve about its possible success. Her bill, House Bill 207, would raise weekly benefits to $500 from the current $275 and increase the maximum eligibility period from 13 weeks to 26.
“A working unemployment system is really the best stimulus to keep businesses open because then folks could still pay their bills, buy food and keep off things like food stamps. It really is such an important safety net,” she said.
Opponents have characterized Eskamani as a socialist who supports defunding the police.
Eskamani laughed, saying, “Well, I’m definitely social.”
She described herself as a “scrappy organizer with working class roots” and as a “Practical Progressive.”
Eskamani said she never said to defund the police. However, she did put out a paper in June 2020 with a section called “Divest in Law Enforcement, Invest in Community Programs.” In it she wrote, “Investing in alternatives to police as crime prevention strategies works. Local resources should be moved away from programs that threaten communities to instead community-based alternative systems that support our people, that feed our people, that ensure we have jobs, and housing.”
She also spoke out against DeSantis’ “Combating Violence, Disorder and Looting and Law Enforcement Protection Act,” which would implement stronger penalties for violent protests and create new criminal offenses. The bill would also slash aid and state grants to local governments who seek to cut police budgets.
She said, “He rolled out this original bill concept in the heat of calls against racial Injustice and calls for accountability and calls for healing and response to what is a generation of iniquities in multiple systems whether it’s in health care or education or government or housing or criminal justice and instead of responding to those calls and actually, you know, painting a direction to address them, the governor rolled out this legislation concept.”
She is against the bill but says she called the police many times in response to riots outside of Planned Parenthood. “I worked at Planned Parenthood in Central Florida for six years before I ran for office. I called law enforcement all the freaking time because you’re getting protested all the time. I mean, I called for law enforcement from Brevard County down to Collier and up to Citrus.”
She said she is also a strong advocate in the Black Lives Matter movement and thinks concerns about the militarization of police and the sentencing policies that have led to mass incarceration are “absolutely worthy of debate.”
She said the funding of the police is a local issue. “I trust local governments to make those decisions. So the local government wants to say they’re spending too much money on law enforcement and not enough on housing, they should be able to make that decision. I would say I’m pretty neutral on (defunding the police). There was an effort to increase the Orange County sheriff’s budget in the middle of a pandemic and I think if we’re going to be fiscally conservative about where money should be spent then there needs to be criticism of that. But at the end of the day, local governments should make those decisions and if there’s a desire to reallocate funds they should be able to do that.”
She characterized her apparent inconsistencies this way, “Folks are more comfortable when issues are kind of painted as ‘us versus them’ but with some of these complex and wicked problems, it’s not black and white, you know, there’s a lot of nuance there. I’m proud to be someone that brings constituents into the gray with me so we can figure out what the solutions are.”