CEDAR RAPIDS | Patience may not be one of Anesa Kajtazovic’s strongest virtues.
As a child in war-torn Bosnia, she grew up fast. After immigrating to Waterloo, she quickly learned the value of hard work from her parents who took manual labor jobs to earn a living. Then she graduated from college in three years – with a double major. At 24, Kajtazovic beat a longtime Waterloo mayor to get elected to the Iowa House.
Now 27 and in her second-term, she has set her sights on winning a seat in the U.S. House.
She’s not willing to wait her turn – whatever that is, Kajtazovic told about 40 people at a house party in Cedar Rapids tonight.
“I don’t think Iowans feel that way,” she said, noting that women, blacks, Hispanics, gays and lesbians have all been told to “wait their turn.”
“Our future is now,” she said. “Iowans do want new leadership … someone to carry on the Bruce Braley legacy.”
Braley, another Waterloo Democrat, is not seeking re-election in order to run for the U.S. Senate seat held by Sen. Tom Harkin.
Kajtazovic is one of five Democrats seeking their party’s nomination in the 20-county 1st District that includes Cedar Rapids, Dubuque, Cedar Falls, Waterloo and Marshalltown. The others are: Rep. Pat Murphy of Dubuque, former state lawmaker and Iowa Utilities Board member Swati Dandekar of Marion, business owner and City Councilwoman Monica Vernon and attorney Dave O’Brien, both of Cedar Rapids. Democrats will select a candidate in the June 2014 primary.
Kajtazovic’s hosts for the meet-and-greet, Steve and Bonnie Sovern of Cedar Rapids, are among those who think she’s the right candidate for the time.
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“I’m taken by Anesa on two levels,” said Steve Sovern, a former legislator and longtime Democratic activist. “First, it’s time to send a woman to Congress and she’s the right woman.”
Also, Kajtazovic is part of a generational change in leadership – not just because of her age, but because of her Democratic principles, he said, comparing her to Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren. She also talks about the “real core values, why we’re Democrats.”
Introducing her, Sovern went further, playfully comparing her to someone else who was too young, ran before it was his time and had a name that was hard to pronounce: Barack Hussein Obama.
Like Warren and the president, Kajtazovic “recalls what being a Democrat is about,” Sovern told a crowd of folks who, for the most part, came of age in the Kennedy era.
Kajtazovic, who formally entered the race a month ago after a six-week exploratory campaign, talked about some of the issues Democrats care about: the economy, health care, education, the environment and campaign finance reform.
She also talked about her work in the Legislature and asked her audience to “look at my record and judge me based on that.”
“When I became a Democrat no one asked me old I was,” Kajtazovic said. “Certainly no one said I was too young to go out there and knock on doors and help register hundreds and hundreds of new Democrats.”
Kajtazovic believes she has an advantage over her rivals because she is the one candidate in the race who can bring more new Democrats to the polls in June.
Many Democrats are meeting her for the first time, Kajtazovic said, and she thinks her age will be less of an issue as the campaign progresses.
“When they get to know me, they’ll know I’ve gone through a lifetime of experiences,” Kajtazovic said, “and I’ve beat the odds before.”