Photo credit to Florida House of Representatives.
“Being a state legislator is not for sissies.” That’s what Rep. Heather Fitzenhagen has discovered since joining the Florida House of Representatives in 2012.
As the District 78 representative, Fitzenhagen represents a pocket of northeast Estero, including Miromar Outlets, Grandezza and Florida Gulf Coast University. She was a driving force in enticing Hertz to relocate its international headquarters to Southwest Florida, playing a key role in convincing fellow legislators to put state money on the table.
“I think my excitement came across,” Fitzenhagen said, flashing her famous smile. “I am thankful for the opportunity to build relationships with my colleagues and advocate on behalf of Southwest Florida because I’m very positive about our community.”
A Texas native, Fitzenhagen moved to Southwest Florida in 1993, settling in Edison Park 18 years ago, where she continues to live with her husband, Richard DeBoest, and their two children.
“We love that downtown is having this great resurgence,” said Fitzenhagen, who lives just five minutes from her Main Street office. “It’s a great place to be.”
While she’s in the fast lane of state politics now, Fitzenhagen didn’t start out with those ambitions. She grew up near Dallas, the oldest of three children being raised by her father and living in a modest rental home.
“I put myself through law school with jobs and two loans,” she said. “I’m very happy to achieve what I have today and for the opportunity to give back.”
She calls her current role as a state legislator “unequivocally the best job I’ve ever had.” Fitzenhagen says she tries to be empathetic when listening to her constituents and straightforward with her responses.
She’s a go-getter, with ambition radiating from within.
“I’m one of those personalities that are always reaching for the next success,” she says. “I’m never satisfied. I’m always trying to move toward to the next achievement.”
Her personal passions include helping children, especially girls, overcome struggles and succeed. She’s a founding board member of the Betty Allen Ovarian Cancer Foundation and serves on the board of directors for the PACE Center for Girls of Lee County.
“If you can inspire young people and empower young women, I have a passion for doing that,” she said.
Another passion is Southwest Florida’s water quality. Fitzenhagen says she’s appalled the Caloosahatchee River has turned so brown its been dubbed the “Coca-Cola-Hatchee.” With record rainfalls, this summer, the Army Corps of Engineers made numerous freshwater releases into the Caloosahatchee to avoid overburdening the aging Herbert Hoover Dike. Now the river is running fast and dark with low salinity which is taking its toll on the local ecosystem.
“Beyond anything else, water is our most important resource, and we are going to experience a clean water shortage if we don’t make some changes,” Fitzenhagen said.
Another big issue state representatives will consider this session is healthcare. Last session, the Florida legislature rejected an expansion of Medicaid under Obamacare. Fitzenhagen agrees the state should fund its own plan.
“Being a free market fiscal conservative, I believe the House plan is sustainable for Florida’s own economy,” she said. “It doesn’t rely on federal monies which are, in essence, borrowed dollars.”
Fitzenhagen will join Rep. Ray Rodrigues and other local legislators in supporting a bill giving Estero residents the right to vote on incorporation. She’s also looking forward to taking on a number of other issues in Tallahassee this spring.
“During the session, it’s a frenzied beehive of activity.”