Have you been following along with our wildly popular Latinas in Leadership series? At the end of 2014, Florida State Senator Anitere Flores was part of one of our most popular clinics, "I was the one we were waiting for," where she explains how she stepped in to her expertise to reshape what it means to be a Latina in power.

This past week, our VRL Intern, Leah Gross from New York, spent some time chatting with this dynamic leader about losing her first race before being elected as a Florida State Senator, being invited to run, her proudest moments, and more. Sound off in the comments! What do you think about State Senator Flores' interview?

You ran for and won a seat in the Florida House of Representatives in 2004, and are now a state Senator. What first made you decide to run?

I first ran for office in 2004 when there was an opening in my district [for state representative]. I wasn’t initially planning on running for office– I was my biggest naysayer– but after some thought and encouragement, I made a pros and cons list. There were so many pros, helping my community, and being a decision-maker. The only con was that maybe I would lose. So I ran and, to my surprise, I won!

Were you invited to run?

I was encouraged by my mom in the sense that my mom had always given me a strong sense of public service. I always grew up around picking up garbage and painting over graffiti. So the sense of public service was always somewhere inside me. When came time to run, my mother and boyfriend at the time, now my husband, and family and friends and neighbors all encouraged me. They said, you’re a really incredible voice for our community.

Only 1% of people in elected office are latinas. Why is this?

There needs to be more, and there are different reasons for why this number is so low.  One reason is that we put up barriers to ourselves. We think we’re not ready, not accomplished enough, we say, what do I have to offer? One thing that I am constantly telling women is that men don’t think that way. They are constantly told and are constantly telling themselves  that of course they’re supposed to be decision makers. Sometimes women think they’re not ready, and it’s important to change that mindset. We need to tell our young girls, from the time they’re really young, from the time they can talk, that they can be president, they can be secretary of state, or ambassador or CEO. And there’s also a structural issue of Latinas, and women in general, not running at entry level. So there’s no farm team of latina women to bring up.

What did you struggle with after you were elected?

You have to develop thick skin quickly. It can still be hard for me, honestly. Developing thick skin can be challenge. Also, learning to tune out the voices of naysayers. There are always going to be people who may not respect your work, and the products of your work, as much as your male colleagues, and fortunately, that number is shrinking. There are less of them, but they still exist. So you have to learn to tune them out, and know that your hard work will speak for itself.

What have you done while in office that you are particularly proud of?

In a general sense, being a voice for my constituents, and being a voice and role model for young girls, especially young Latinas. If they look at me and think, if she can do it, I can do it, it’s the most rewarding and humbling thing.

As far as legislation goes, [I’ve been] honing in on higher education and making college more affordable. The price tag for going to college makes it so that low-income and minority students are not attending college. So I passed a bill that established a scholarship for students who are the first in their family to go to college. 

Do you have advice for women who are considering running for office?

Just do it. I think Nike has the best slogan. Don’t overthink it. If you have that fire in you belly, that passion in heart, put your name out there. Start volunteering. Be around elections and the electoral process.  Put your name out there, and then you can figure out how to campaign, how to raise money, and all of that.

Many women express concern over fundraising, salary, and supporting their families while campaigning. What is your experience with this, and what advice would you offer?

It’s important to have a support team. Whether it’s your husband, your parents, friends, co workers, or your church. Have a core support team that’s supportive of the journey you’re about to embark on. Once you have that, they’re going to help you make it work. I stopped being afraid of asking for help, and I think that’s one challenge that women, and hispanic women face; they’re afraid to ask for help. But when you do ask for help, people are willing to do it.

Do you see a difference in how men and women collaborate with one another in the Senate?

Yes, definitely. We share that sisterly bond. It’s great, I have very good relationships with my colleagues in senate who are democrats. We don’t always agree, but we disagree in an agreeable manner. Women work well together; we lift each other up and lend helping hand whenever we can. There’s very good bipartisanship here, and I would encourage all women to help other women.

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