OR Conversations is a weekly Q&A featuring conversations with local newsmakers.
Anna V. Eskamani is a Democratic candidate for House District 47, representing north and central Orange County including Winter Park and downtown Orlando. The 27-year-old progressive activist and director of external affairs for Planned Parenthood is the daughter of Iranian immigrants who worked mostly blue-collar jobs to send their three kids through college. She now is completing a doctorate in public affairs, and has two master’s degrees, and a bachelor’s degree, all from UCF, where she also teaches as an adjunct professor.
Orlando-Rising: How do you view the people of Florida’s House District 47?
Anna Eskamani: Generous and kind. Ambitious, creative, and smart, with diversity in age, background, culture, and profession. Empathetic and responsible, with an understanding that violence often begets violence and a desire to build a safer community and more peaceful world. The people of House District 47 have big dreams of innovation, inclusivity, and influence.
OR: Your basic platform presents solid progressive-Democrat positions on public education, women’s rights, gun regulation, equal rights, and health care. None of those has had much traction in the solidly-Republican Legislature. If that partisan makeup doesn’t change in the next election, how would you expect to define and measure effectiveness and success?
Eskamani: I would disagree and emphasize that there is a growing chorus across our state for more equitable policies that are proactive versus reactive. For example, supporting our public schools and empowering students, parents, and teachers are issues where I know we can find common ground across party lines. School choice, in particular, is important to me, and I refuse to leave behind parents who choose public school for their children like my parents did for me. They deserve a high-quality experience too, and I intend to be an advocate for all families on an array of issues.
To answer your question more directly: I measure success through identifying a social problem and building bridges to solve it. I always consider myself to be a facilitator more than a hero, and through the intersectional lens I have gained through my academic background, I will aid my legislative colleagues to challenge their own perceptions of the world so that we can pass policy that isn’t politically motivated but grounded in an effort to create a community where all people and businesses can reach their fullest potential.
This goes beyond the issues you listed. We must restore the Sadowski Fund for affordable housing, increase financial support for mental health resources, protect our natural resources, and eliminate the commercial real estate tax too. I have also been troubled by aggressive preemption tactics lead by our state government and wish to restore home rule for localized policy concerns. As a progressive, I believe that we all do better when we all do better. That philosophy goes beyond any platform.
OR: How did the Pulse tragedy change things in Central Florida?
Eskamani: Things continue to change in Central Florida, and we are still healing from the tragedy at Pulse. Today there is a greater sense of urgency to protect one another and fight for each other’s rights. People were driven to find purpose following Pulse, and as someone who lost her mother at age 13, I have always believed that we should honor those who are no longer with us through action.
As Orlandoans, we should take pride in our city’s reaction and response to Pulse, while not forgetting our families who continue to suffer from the loss of loved ones and from societal inequities too. Florida still has no ban on LGBTQ discrimination, meaning that you can marry your same-gender partner on Sunday and be fired from your job on Monday. Lack of access to healthcare and minimum wage employment with no mobility for growth were common stories of our Pulse victims and survivors, leaving many in dire circumstances following the tragedy. Fortunately, our hospital systems were generous in covering the cost of delivering care to our Pulse survivors, but that isn’t the case for other survivors of violence or for those who seek emergency care.
We know that these social problems exist today, but they do not need to define our future. This is our chance to get it right.
OR: What do you offer the Central Florida business community?
Eskamani: Through my career as a nonprofit professional, I have had the honor of leading a team of five across twenty-two counties while managing two departments and a $1 million budget. I played a critical role in the success of my organization’s merger two years ago, bringing three nonprofits into one with a unified $16 million budget. I’ve hired, trained, laid off, and fired staff. I value hard work, efficiency, and ingenuity. I also have a keen understanding of risk, quality, and management, and know what it feels like to operate under a tight budget while also trying to find capital.
Central Florida businesses are on the cusp of something great. Our seven-county region is the 15th most populous in the United States, with the 13th largest workforce and a combined GDP of $175.3 billion. I want startups to succeed and established businesses to grow, but it takes partnerships and collaboration to ensure that everyone wins. And when I say everyone, I mean everyone: executives, small business owners, workers, families. Challenges like quality of life and favorable business environments are not isolated — they are deeply connected, and we cannot tackle them alone.
Through questioning unproductive norms, listening to the needs of our business leaders and workers, supporting educational programs that produce necessary talent, and utilizing my own experiences as a nonprofit professional, I offer the business community a fresh and innovative approach to solving problems and finding solutions.
OR: What sport, hobby, entertainment, or pastime allows you to take a break from everything?
Eskamani: There are no breaks, too many people are counting on me. I have had the opportunity as a nonprofit manager to work across twenty-two counties and Tallahassee. Through this travel, I get to see all parts of Florida and meet wonderful people too. From sunsets to sunrises, vast plains of flat land to our deep lakes and beautiful beaches; from farmlands to cities. I have pulled my car over in some of the most random spots just to see and feel Florida. To soak in its greatness, look up at the stars, and envision a state where all people can achieve their fullest potential.
My father worked at the Space Coast when I was a kid, and we would visit Cocoa Beach often. Today I still love visiting Brevard County, and even if it’s for work purposes, I’ll still pack sneakers so I can run across the causeway over the Indian River and get some cardio into my day. I have made Sebastian Inlet State Park a personal sanctuary. Nestled along the Brevard and Indian River County line, this state park is a treasure for Central Floridians that includes fishing, kayaking, and a small beach too. It’s Florida at it’s finest.
House District 47 is a beautiful place to call home, and you’ll often find me with my MacBook at Drunken Monkey checking email or reading the news. I relish reading the news, and love learning more about our community and world.
OR: What will you be advocating to attract higher-paying jobs to Central Florida?
Eskamani: I have four key points to this question. First, I absolutely support the elimination of the commercial real estate tax. Florida is the only state to impose a standard, statewide sales tax on commercial real estate leases and it is hurting our economic growth and expansion of business too.
Second, House District 47 is home to a growing tech hub, with the University of Central Florida’s Research Parkway serving as a catalyst for this emergence too. We need to funnel more capital to our startups, support incubators, invest in Florida companies, and hire local. Neighboring Brevard County is home to thousands of engineers, and Osceola County is now home to BRIDG, a smart sensor development center. We sit right in the center of these high paying jobs and are well situated to develop our own niche.
Third, Central Florida’s popularity as a destination for visitors, businesses, and trade events, also provides an opportunity for more small businesses to engage in international markets via our airports and seaports. We have to ensure the infrastructure is available for companies to do this efficiently and with return on investment.
Finally, I am a firm believer that creating a business friendly environment includes ensuring we have good public schools, vibrant colleges, clean water, well-paved roads, safe streets, and an affordable health care system. Quality of life is an important piece to attracting high paying jobs and should be considered as a part of economic infrastructure.