South Hillsborough County native Z.J. Hafeez is only 26 years old, but don't tell him he's too young to run for the Florida State House.
A New College of Sarasota and Georgetown Law School graduate, Hafeez is an uber-achiever who considers himself a bridge builder in working with various groups - whether it be of the ethnic or religious variety (he's Muslim), as well as getting Republicans and Democrats to get along.
Hafeez says as he contemplated running for office over the past half year, he was encouraged by one of his New College professors, Sarasota House Democratic Representative Keith Fitzgerald.
"He told me to go for it," the Pakistani-American told CL in an interview. When asked what issues he'd like to tackle if successful in replacing term limited Republican Ron Reagan in District 67 (which encompasses parts of Sarasota, Manatee and Hillsborough Counties, including Riverview, Apollo Beach, and Sun City Center), Hafeez lists much of the major issues that have taken hold in Tallahassee over the past few years, such as property insurance, property taxes, the Public Service Corporation, public corruption, among others.
After graduating from Georgetown, Hafeez spent some time in Geneva, working for the World Trade Organization, before returning back to the Tampa Bay area earlier in 2009.
Sounding like a young man in a hurry, Hafeez says that if elected, he plans on being more engaged in policy than Reagan, who he says "has been depicted as one of the least active legislators (in Tallahassee). He hasnt really passed anything in office."
Although Hafeez is running as a Democrat, he's describing himself as post-partisan, saying, "One of the things about my candidacy is Ive tried to frame myself as an independent advocate. I'll cross party lines whenever necessary, just trying to represent the best ideas. I think in Tallahassee right now is a lot has become too partisan and the bickering has gone on for far too long."
To demonstrate his bipartisan tendencies, Hafeez is willing to take on one of his party's strongest financial supporters, lawyers, by saying he supports tort reform when it comes to addressing health care issues.
So far, Hafeez is the only declared Democrat in the race. There are four Republicans in the race; Jeremiah Guccione, Robert McCann, Marie Nisco and Greg W. Steube.