Two days after becoming the youngest person elected to Florida’s House of Representatives, Amber Mariano was hiking her way to the top of Mount Major in New Hampshire with her family.
“We just needed a break, so I’m hiking here right now,” said the 21-year-old University of Central Florida political science senior. “I’ve been taking calls all day. I am so excited.”
On this afternoon, Mariano isn’t worried about the climb up the mountain, and even less so about heading to Tallahassee in the spring when Florida has its legislative session from March to May. She’s prepared to work hard, she said, representing Pasco County on the west coast of the state.
“This is my passion,” she said. “I always wanted to be the first woman president. Right now, this is how I serve. I just want to work as hard as I can and do the best job for my community; work hard for my constituents.”
Mariano’s win was one of the biggest upsets of the Florida state races. She ran against incumbent Rep. Amanda Murphy, and defeated her in a squeaker by just 732 votes. Murphy outspent Mariano, raising more than $200,000 for her campaign and enjoying support across party lines. Mariano, the daughter of Pasco County Commissioner Jack Mariano, raised about $47,000.
Her rise to win the 36th District seat took sacrifice and some luck. First, she was a college student running against an established incumbent; she was shuttling between UCF and Pasco, working at the university’s Student Government Association and maintaining a 3.7 GPA.
“That was the hardest part, the back and forth. My family helped so much. My sister took a month off to help. I could not have done it without them,” Mariano said.
Then came the good luck: Mariano scored when U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio and Gov. Rick Scott endorsed her. She had worked for Rubio’s Washington, D.C. office as an intern and calls him her biggest role model. He called her election night to congratulate her.
“That was the most incredible night of my life, my family’s life,” Mariano said. “I could not stop crying. The amount of support I received was incredible. And I am so excited to serve the people of Pasco.”
Mariano participated in UCF’s Legislative Scholars Internship program, and last session interned with state Reps. Rene Plasencia and Scott Plakon, earning her the support and admiration of the university and its leaders.
“To now see her stepping into the shoes of a newly-minted member of the Florida House of Representatives speaks volumes, not only to her abilities but also to the opportunities provided to UCF’s students,” said Associate Vice President for University Relations Fred Kittinger Jr. “Just nine months ago I called her Amber—now I look forward to greeting her as Representative Mariano!”
Mariano has a handful of bills she’d like to see get through the legislature. She plans to ease her coursework in the spring, resign from the SGA and focus on Pasco. She recognizes her legislative work will take a lot of time., so she is planning on graduating in the Fall of 2017, she said.
She wants to help her community receive funding for infrastructure upgrades to help ease persistent flooding. She also wants to tweak the Bright Futures scholarships to cover summer classes for college students.
“I received positive feedback for my candidacy, and it’s awesome that I get to fight for my community,” she said. “I’m ready to work.”