Chairwoman: A Conversation with the Iconic Florida House Member Heather Fitzenhagen

This past semester, I had the tremendous opportunity to intern on the third floor of the Florida House Office Building. Where others came and went quietly, Representative Fitzenhagen shone brightly as a delightfully pink beacon of sunshine. After having hosted the annual Lilly Pulitzer Day at the Capitol, I was fortunate enough to sit with her and discuss a few facets of Capitol life before the end of the spring session. 

HerCampus: Can you give a little bit about yourself? 

Heather Fitzenhagen: I represent District 78, which is down in Lee County on the Southwest coast in the Gulf. I am a mom, attorney and a very proud legislator.  

HC: What is it like working in an environment with mostly male colleagues? 

HF: It has its good and bad aspects. I’d say if you were working with all women too, there would be pluses and minuses either way. I think guys are fun to work with. They have great senses of humor, they have a real team spirit with a lot of camaraderie. The only downside to that is, sometimes, you can't quite get to being all-in on that on that guy team. There’s a limit and you bump up into a little zone where you aren’t one of the guys. They really like you, but you can’t quite get all in. It’s really just a reality. 

HC: What are some bills this session that we ladies should be looking at specifically? 

HF: Well, there are a couple of bills that I thought were very interesting, one being the Equal Rights Amendment Bill that did not, unfortunately, make the cut. I think it's really bad because I do think that we do need the Equal Rights Amendment. I support it wholeheartedly because I think we cannot get complacent about our rights as women because they are very fragile. And if we don't keep moving forward, I think we might get pushed back. There's the argument that we already have equal rights, but I would say no, I don't agree. If you look at the statistics, in the same job, a woman gets paid statistically less every time and there's no real reason why that should be. People use the argument that because the employer thinks she's going to be leaving the workforce to have children. These days, women take their six weeks off and they jump right back in, so I don't really see that as a problem. Among other bills, I guess some of them include a bill to allow a woman who was sexually assaulted as a minor to have a longer time to be able to file suit against her or the perpetrator. I think that's good because, again, it is extremely intimidating to have that done. The whole array of emotions that you have to deal with is something that I think is really incomprehensible to most people, let alone most men because they're not normally in that position. Another bill that was brought up this time was about giving incarcerated women, and also one for young women in public schools access to more complementary products for their menstrual cycle. There's also a bill having to do with parental consent to terminate pregnancy which did not pass the [Florida] House of Representatives. I am not in favor of that, not because I'm a proponent of having young women terminate their pregnancy but rather because I think that there are so many parental units that are fractured and very ill-equipped to guide a young woman that I don't want to put another roadblock in her path in order to try to have some governance over a decision that will impact her forever. 

HC: In my time as an intern on your office’s floor, I have to objectively say that you might be one of the best-dressed members of the Florida house. Who is your style icon? 

HF: Thank you. You know, I don't have a style icon, per se. I will be very dated when I tell you that my idol that I thought was the most beautiful woman and always looked so elegant when I was growing up as a very young girl was a French actress named Catherine Deneuve. She was always very classic a la Grace Kelly, that type of look. I just enjoy dressing, I think it's a great personality statement.  

Lily Pulitzer Store

HC: By the way, congratulations on Lilly Pulitzer Day at the Capitol, as it turned out to be a huge success.  

HF: Thank you! It’s always fun to have a little color on the floor here and there.  

HC: Serving on six committees total you are a chair of a sub-committee and a vice-chair for another. What are some of the subtleties of leading a committee versus sitting one? 

HF: Well, I think that you have an extra responsibility since you have a dual role. You have the role of trying to guide legislation that will serve the overall interest of your leadership and you have the desire to be able to move the bills efficiently. You also have the responsibility to thoroughly vet bills to try to get them opportunity for discussion on those bills when you’re there. I'm honored to be able to do it and I enjoy that role. I like the fast-paced environment of my committee and I really enjoyed being included at that level. 

HC: Not only are you a ranking member of the Florida House, but you are also running for Congress even being endorsed by Maggie’s List. What is that like? 

HF: I’m excited about it because I feel moved to do it. I feel compelled to do it for a host of reasons, one being this internal driving force it says to do it. I do think that if I want to put reasons to that internal compelling force, I would say that I think that there needs to be a voice for the more socially moderate Republican. That's not to say that that will win the day, but at least I can give a choice for people that like fiscal conservancy, but are more socially moderate. Again, that may not win the day, but that is me. I think it's really incumbent upon me to demonstrate for other women that are coming up that you can put yourself in this arena and it's important to do it because if we don't get more women involved then we're not going to change the dynamic of the legislative process. As a side note, we don't have a female in the Florida delegation, and that is kind of embarrassing.  

HC: Do you have any advice for women who may want to run for Congress? 

HF: I would say that if you already have that in your mind, start planning now. Start building those alliances and start meeting people that can mentor you or support you. Build that network now if you have it already in your mind. 

As a young woman with tentative political aspirations, Representative Fitzenhagen inspires me to trust my gut, as many young women often doubt the inner calling. When chasing a dream like that, it is easy to let life become entirely grey and to allow self-expression to diminish. I am grateful that the Chairwoman reminded me that, despite living in a world of neutrals, living a pastel life can be a great adventure. 

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