A Muslim candidate is vying to win a seat in Florida’s statehouse during elections this year.
A few days ago, I called Zeeshan (Z.J.) Hafeez to learn more about his campaign. He had just finished an interview with the Florida Chamber of Commerce. The experience, he said, was like being in a Senate Committee meeting – working through a slew of questions coming from people from all sides.
Z.J. is a 26-year-old Democrat and aspires to work in public service to help others achieve their personal versions of the American Dream. He attended public schools in District 67 through college, received his law degree from Georgetown Law School, and served as an advisor to the National Conference of State Legislatures. He worked for the World Trade Organization in Geneva before returning home. When the state rep seat in his native district opened up last year, Z.J. decided to run to fill it: “I have had my eye on that seat for many years. The statehouse is the first step into a career in politics, and I want to give back to the community that allowed my family to live the American Dream.” Current representative Ron Reagan, a 56-year-old Republican, is finishing up his fourth term in office. He will not seek re-election because of term limits. Z.J. is one of six candidates – and the only Democrat – seeking to replace Reagan.
In my familiar business-student fashion, I couldn’t help but ask Z.J. to tell me more about the process of running for election. “At first, getting registered is a very daunting task, but it’s surprisingly easy. Getting support has been easy as well. A lot of Democrats are excited because a Democrat has not been in office in a long time.” At the same time, Z.J. has faced a number of challenges. “It’s a tough seat – a Republican seat, being Muslim, having a funny name, being a minority. Sometimes you deal with racism, sometimes prejudice. Sometimes people discourage you – ‘you’re too young’ or ‘you’ll never win.’ You just have to stay focused. The 2008 election taught me that anything is possible.”
In terms of his platform, Z.J. is dedicated to helping the people of Florida as an independent advocate focused on three Es – education, economy, and environment. “I want to focus on policies that will improve the lives of the people, not special interests and small interests. For example, I support laws that create new jobs, improve education, fix poor housing situations, and provide energy security and efficiency. There is a huge solar power and renewable energy industry here in the Sunshine State. I support it.”
Zeeshan is the first Muslim to run for state-wide office in Florida, he says. He hopes that his effort is opening doors for other young leaders to serve the public through positions in government. “I am trying to provide leadership because we desperately need it. Public service in political affairs chose me because I have the skills to be an effective statesman – speaking ability, people skills, diplomacy, policy-making background, etc. As a candidate for the Florida House, I want to uphold myself to the highest standard possible – especially as a Muslim American. This identity will make me a better legislator and politician, community member and citizen. I feel a sense of responsibility to do this, and I hope to do it well to inspire others to follow suit.”
Follow @Introversed on Twitter
Add Introversed to your news feed!Introversed on Facebook