WATERLOO — The middle of campaign season is always a hectic time.
Anesa Kajtazovic, already seeking a second term in the Iowa House of Representatives at the tender age of 26, knows what most days will bring: She spends much of her day knocking on doors in her district, sprinkling in meeting with constituents and fellow business and political leaders.
It is the other things that pop up that keep her on her toes. Her phone often rings and she finds out on short notice that her presence is requested at another campaign event. At one she meets Debbie Wasserman-Schultz, chairwoman of the Democratic National Committee, at a local event for President Barack Obama, then helps convince the national figure to drop in at a fundraiser for Sheriff Tony Thompson. She rides with Wasserman-Schultz from one event to the next, talking about issues related to life, balance and ambition.
State Sen. Jeff Danielson, one of Kajtazovic’s mentors, takes his own lessons from her, even as he helps teach her the political ropes.
“It is amazing that she came from war-torn Bosnia as a young girl and is showing us what the American dream is all about. Anesa is leadership personified,” Danielson said in recommending Kajtazovic for the 20 Under 40 award.
Kajtazovic came to Waterloo from western Bosnia as a 10-year-old. Her parents had worked in marketing and banking and her mother had a technical job. When they arrived in America, her father started working in manufacturing at Bertch Cabinets, and her mother worked in meat processing.
“I felt they always told me you can be anything, you have an opportunity to do better than we’ve done. That always inspired me, seeing them work two jobs. Even when my mom was sick she was still trying to work. That definitely influenced me and my work ethic,” Kajtazovic said.
Kajtazovic never has been one to sit idly by as life moves on.
Before she was a legislator, she was an honor roll student, a tennis player, cross country runner and pageant contestant. Her entry into politics started while she was pursuing a public administration degree at the University of Northern Iowa, working as an intern for Bob Kressig’s campaign for the Iowa House.
Since she graduated, Kajtazovic has worked jobs in the insurance and mortgage industries. She entered politics with an idea that she “wanted to change the system for the better,” then proceeded to take down former Waterloo Mayor John Rooff, racking up 59 percent of the vote in the process.
With such a diverse resume already, she hasn’t mapped out her future in detail. She has no interest in leaving politics at this time, but she does feel drawn toward the business world as well. She’s had an opportunity to travel to China and Taiwan as part of young leader programs and thinks perhaps a role as an ambassador would be attractive down the road.
“I want to do what’s right at the moment, to go on passion and my gut feeling. It’s what I’ve always done,” Kajtazovic said.
Wherever life takes her, Danielson feels her future is bright.
“Anesa Kajtazovic is a leader beyond her years. I’ve known her for about 10 years now, and I’m always impressed by her maturity, thoughtfulness and positive outlook,” Danielson said.