A radical, her opponent and the Republican Party of Florida tried to brand her, yet new Democratic state Rep. Anna Eskamani enters office with such mainstream goals as improving Florida’s space port, expanding aid for small businesses, increasing local control for county health departments, and providing for pre- and postnatal maternity care.
Eskamani, of Orlando, defeated Republican Stockton Reeves to flip Florida’s House District 47 in north and central Orange County, overcoming a barage of negative campaigning that painted her as too radical.
She is one of three new Orange County state representatives, all Democrats who flipped formerly-Republican districts, taking office, along with state Reps. Geraldine Thompson of Orlando and Joy Goff-Marcil of Maitland.
Eskamani said her goal is to position herself as someone who does her homework and is prepared to take on practical issues she believes can draw bipartisan support, while a the same time being prepared to play defense on issues that go to the core of her progressive being, on topics such as abortion and LGBTQ rights.
For now, it’s all about practical matters, and seeking across-the-aisle alliances with the Republican-controlled House, Senate and administration on such matters as health care access and the environment.
“I think that I am a partnership legislator. I work really hard to build relationships,” she said. “At the same time, I’ll work really hard to hold people accountable. So I think what works with me is, first, my ability to work with people across the aisle and work toward common-ground when we can.”
First up, she’s interested in discussions of practical ways to increase access to health care, including seeing whether local health departments could and should have more independence from the Florida Department of Health, expansion of telemedicine, and less-controversial ideas for women’s health.
“There is such a tight grip on what our health departments can do because there is such a tight grip centralized out of Tallahassee,” she said. “We all know that good policy especially good health policy is place-based. … I’d like to see more local freedom for changes that can be made at the county level.”
Eskamani said she sees an opportunity to address women’s health issues – her professional policy speciality – with discussions of pre- and postnatal maternity care, something she expects could help women’s health while avoiding conflict over more controversial issues such as abortion.
“That’s a conversation I had with both [Republican} state Rep. Scott Plakon and state Sen. Joe Gruters about, if you really want to be a state that helps women, then let’s focus on prenatal and postnatal care,” she said.
Like her fellow Orange County newbies to the Florida House, Eskamani also wants to seek bipartisan opportunities for environmental protection, something that was a major policy position for Gov.-elect Ron DeSantis.
She’s also looking slightly outside of her district to working with Brevard County Republicans, particularly Republican state Reps. Tyler Sirois and Thad Altman, on developing Florida’s space economy.
“I did meet with some of our Brevard County legislators and asked about their interests, like a Space Coast caucus, and making sure we are competitive with our space port, but also not losing sight of the importance of research when it comes to space exploration,” she said. “Not just the commercial end, which has been critical in revitalizing the Space Coast, but at the same time having universities like the University of Central Florida and FIT [Florida Institute of Technology] In Brevard where if we invested more money in infrastructure, we could attract federal grants.”
Florida’s space port essentially is Kennedy Space Center and Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Brevard, but less than an hour’s drive from Eskamani’s district, and the source of a potentially significant pool of high-tech research and jobs. Competition is heating up with space ports in California, Texas, Georgia, Virginia and overseas.
“We’re competing with the world with our space port,” she said.
That also includes, she said, creating the education pipelines to support the emerging commercial space industry. But beyond that, she said the Space Coast and the Central Florida region need more support for entreprenuers, particularly in the space business, with more need for new business incubators, capital for start-ups.
“In today’s economy talent is true form of currency. So we do need a pipeline,” she said.