Sen. Flores was raised to ‘love the Constitution’ and the rule of law
By Jan Pudlow
When Anitere Flores was a senior at Our Lady of Lourdes Academy, an all-girls Catholic school in Miami, she was on a debate team that went to Washington, D.C., and won a national championship.
Classmates ribbed the team for caring more about competing in the “We the People…the Citizen and the Constitution” program than going to their senior prom happening at the same time. But it was an easy choice for Flores, who said she and the majority of her classmates were children of political exiles from Cuba.
“It was particularly impactful and meaningful to show that our parents raised us to love the Constitution,” said 41-year-old Flores, whose parents fled Cuba as children.
Loving the Constitution and the rule of law has propelled Flores’ legal career, and she is now Florida Senate president pro tempore, serving as Senate President Joe Negron’s right-hand woman on policy decisions.
“I would say that President Negron has empowered me as a president pro tempore to have a strong voice in his administration,” said Flores, R-Miami, whose District 39 consists of part of Miami-Dade and all of Monroe County.
Her legislative load is full: She chairs both the Appropriations Subcommittee on Health and Human Services; and the Banking and Insurance Committee. She also serves as vice chair of the Appropriations Committee and serves on the Judiciary Committee, the Appropriations Subcommittee on Criminal and Civil Justice, the Rules Committee, and the Joint Legislative Budget Commission.
Giving praise to her husband, Dustin Anderson, a general contractor, for helping her balance her professional and personal lives, Flores refers to her two sons as her “House baby” and her “Senate baby.” Máximo Monte, now 9, was born when Flores served in the House from 2004-10; and Lucas Ignacio, now 6, was born after Flores was elected to the Senate in 2010.
“People will remember I had a little baby office next to my office, and students from FSU would come up to the office to babysit,” Flores said. “It made for some fun stories.”
When the Cuban Revolution was beginning, Flores’ maternal grandfather was already doing seasonal work in Miami as a waiter.
“He could tell the news was looking bad, so he advised my grandmother to quickly get on the ferry to Miami,” Flores said.
Her mother was 9 years old at the time. One day, she went to school in the morning, came home for lunch and was suddenly packing to leave for Florida.
Flores’ Cuban father first went to live with family in Spain, but eventually ended up in Miami, too.
Her family’s love of freedom found in their new home in United States, while still celebrating their Cuban heritage, has helped shape Flores, who is a member of the Cuban American Bar Association, as well as serving as a board member of the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials Educational Fund.
When she reflects on her legislative career, she said she is most proud of a scholarship program called the First Generation Matching Grant Program designed for the first in the family to go to college.
“It has helped close to 1,000 students in the last 10 years,” Flores said.
Focusing on education came early in Flores’ career.
“Going to law school at the University of Florida had an unintended effect on me,” Flores said. “I started to question the whole being-a-lawyer thing and working in a law firm. Law school was incredibly challenging. While I did well, I started for the first time ever to question whether or not this is what I wanted to do. Not a great time to question it,” Flores said with a laugh.
“But that is when I had an opportunity, through law school, to take part in an internship program at the Florida House of Representatives. I was a legal intern in one of the committees in the Legislature. Through that internship, I realized, OK, the law thing is still something I enjoy. But maybe rather than being a lawyer in the traditional law firm setting, there are other opportunities for me. That internship led me on a professional path.”
That path led her to Gov. Jeb Bush, where she worked as his education policy chief.
Currently, Flores is director of development for the A.C.E. Foundation, a nonprofit that financially supports charter schools.
“We serve the majority of Title I schools that have lower-economic students,” Flores said. “We have been able to provide after-school tutoring care and summer camps.”
Flores has demonstrated that she deeply cares about children, said Alan Abramowitz, executive director of the Florida Statewide Guardian ad Litem Office, who named her Legislative Champion of the Year in 2016.
“Even as a law student at the University of Florida, she was a volunteer guardian ad litem, advocating on behalf of abused and neglected children,” Abramowitz said. “She continued her advocacy as a lawmaker, championing human trafficking victims and students with disabilities. . . . And she has provided steadfast support for the GAL Program through the years.”
Flores considers herself conservative on social and economic issues, but, she says, “The term conservative doesn’t mean the same thing for everyone.”
Flores sparked the wrath of the NRA and the support of Mom’s Demand Action for Gun Sense in America, who heralded her as “Florida’s new gun-sense champion.”
Flores said she does not support guns on campus, in airports, or in school zones.
Her biggest frustration serving in the Legislature, she said, “is the time that we are in, where, at some point over the last 10 or 15 years, compromise became something that people don’t want to strive for. I would say never compromise your guiding principles, be it for pro-life issues or things of that sort. But with so many pieces of legislation that come through, compromises can be reached. The gun issue is a good example. I strongly believe in a person’s right to protect themselves, their families, and their home. But to debate whether or not to allow guns on campus or at school, to see it from somebody else’s point of view, that has been lost. It is frustrating when issues that do not have to be partisan end up being partisan.”
Flores said she will consider the 2018 legislative session a success if it ends on time.
She encourages Florida’s lawyers to be involved and to get to know their legislators.
“A lot of times we hear from individuals that they don’t want to get involved in politics,” Flores said. “But politics play a strong day-to-day role in our lives and in our legal profession. No matter what area of law a lawyer practices in, the Legislature wrote that law. That’s why it’s important to know who are your lawmakers, because the lawmakers will not always have your professional experience.”
Asked about her future after the Legislature, Flores quotes her former boss, Jeb Bush: “Success is never final.”
“It is important to realize that all of us are on a path to lifelong learning, professionally and personally. We are learning about other people’s experiences. . . .
“I am not sure where my next role will be, formally. No matter what, I am hopeful that I am still able to be a voice on the issues that I have had a voice in the Legislature: education issues, access to higher education and making sure students academically able to succeed in college have the financial wherewithal to succeed in college. No matter what the next stop is, I am hopeful I will still be able to have a voice on these issues.”