Taking on the status quo: Freshman Democratic lawmaker says no thanks to attending exclusive corporate-sponsored event

By: - December 10, 2018 7:00 am
Anna Eskamani

Anna Eskamani

Newly-elected Orlando Democratic Rep. Anna Eskamani says she plans to fight for her constituents in Tallahassee, and that means the battle has begun in the status-quo world of Florida’s capital.

The 28-year-old, independent-minded Eskamani is refusing to attend an event hosted by one of Tallahassee’s most powerful business and lobbying organizations — an unusual rebuff to the establishment.

State lawmakers will be in the Capitol this coming week for their first committee meetings leading up to the 2019 legislative session, and Associated Industries of Florida (AIF) is slated to entertain freshmen lawmakers at the exclusive Governors Club on Tuesday.

But in a tweet issued out on Friday, Eskamani said she won’t be there.

“Many AIF member groups (like Big Sugar, Fossil Fuel companies, big pharmaceutical companies, etc.) are hurting our state & its people through their business decisions and legislative priorities,” Eskamani wrote.

AIF describes itself as the “The Voice of Florida Business since 1920,” according to its website. And the sponsors for Tuesday’s reception include big players in the business sector: Duke Energy, Florida Power & Light, U.S. Sugar, Charter Communications, Florida Blue, HCA Florida and Anheuser-Busch.

As to the posh venue for the AIF event, Eskamani said the Governors Club “is an exclusive, membership-only environment not open to everyday Floridians.”

Eskamani, an Orlando native, is a daughter of Iranian immigrants, and her family “is no stranger to adversity,” according to her campaign website. Her father worked full-time as a waiter while earning his college degree in electrical engineering. Her mother, who died from cancer in 2004, worked minimum-wage jobs in fast food and at Kmart.

At the Governors Club, people can become a member if they are sponsored by two current members, according to its website, and there’s a price for admission – $1,500. Individuals under the age of 35 or who already have a parent who is a current member can have the fee reduced to $1,200.

Spokesperson Allison Ager says the Governors Club has a “very diverse cross-section of Club members.” And if an individual wants to join and doesn’t know any current members, “We will introduce you to members who would be more than willing to sponsor someone,” Ager says.

In a text message exchange, Eskamani said she wasn’t calling for any response or for any other lawmakers to join her in skipping the event, but just wanted to explain why she won’t be making an appearance.

She also said she looks forward to finding common ground working with AIF on certain issues, such as the space and film industries.

“I definitely want to inspire all of my elected colleagues to remember why we’re in Tallahassee: To fight for our districts and Floridians, not attend events at membership-only venues hosted by groups that have hurt our state for their own bottom-line.”

Eskamani defeated Republican Stockton Reeves in the House District 47 race last month by 14 percentage points, but she’s not a new face on the public policy scene in Florida.

She served for years as the senior director of public affairs and communications at Planned Parenthood of Southwest and Central Florida, and calls herself a proud feminist and progressive.

Her comments are a rare example of a lawmaker speaking out on the corporate/lobbying establishment in Tallahassee, and they were embraced by some of her supporters.

“Our newly elected Representative Anna V. Eskamani is already showing Florida workers she stands with them. came the response from the AFL-CIO twitter account.

University of Central Florida political science professor Aubrey Jewett has known Eskamani for years, serving as her faculty adviser when she and her twin sister Ida were leaders of Pi Sigma Alpha, the national political science honor society. He says he can’t remember when any lawmaker turned down a reception hosted by AIF.

“Anna is trying to shake things up and do things differently, and that’s what she consistently campaigned on for many, many months,” he says. “She ran as an unapologetic progressive and won by good margin, and now seems to be taking those values to Tallahassee and trying to do things a little different.”

Officials with AIF did not respond to requests for comment.



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Mitch Perry
Mitch Perry

Mitch Perry has spent the past 18 years covering news and politics in the Sunshine State, most recently with FloridaPolitics.com. He worked for five years as the political editor of Creative Loafing in Tampa, and before that he was the assistant news director at WMNF radio, where he served as creator/anchor/producer of the hour-long WMNF Evening News. A San Francisco native, Mitch began his career at KPFA Radio in Berkeley in the 1990's.