Update: On Friday, Luna voted for McCarthy in the 12th and 13th votes for speaker.
If you’ve been paying close attention to Anna Paulina Luna’s political career, this week’s events in Washington, D.C., come as no surprise.
Since before she first ran for Congress in 2020, the U.S. representative-elect from St. Petersburg has been a rising conservative star.
Her entire career, Luna, 33, has been known for her brash, take-no-prisoners style. It earned her endorsements from high-profile conservatives like U.S. Rep. Matt Gaetz and then-President Donald Trump. Her style netted her jobs with influential conservative groups like Turning Point USA and PragerU.
She’s also landed in hot water from time to time. In 2018, she compared Hillary Clinton to herpes on Fox News — a comment she later said was a mistake.
Luna hasn’t even been officially sworn into Congress yet, but national observers are already beginning to take note of how she operates. She was part of a small group of Republican lawmakers refusing to vote for their party’s leader, Kevin McCarthy, to be speaker of the House.
Luna’s position, which contributed to a stalemate that has left one of America’s two main legislative bodies essentially paralyzed, has brought renewed attention to the conservative rising star and former model from St. Petersburg. Here are three things to know about her.
From the Air Force to politics
Luna was born in California, the daughter of a woman of Mexican descent and a man of Mexican and German heritage. In a 2020 Tampa Bay Times profile, Luna recounted a tumultuous childhood during which she frequently changed schools. Her parents never married.
At 19, Luna joined the U.S. Air Force, working as an airfield manager in Missouri and Florida. She left the service early to enroll in college, and she earned a Bachelor of Science degree in biology from the University of West Florida.
In the 2010s, Luna did some modeling work, appearing in Maxim, SI.com and Liberty Belles, a website that showcases women in camouflage bikinis posing with guns.
Although she at one time supported Barack Obama and considered herself a Democrat, Luna underwent a political transformation once she started looking more seriously into what each political party stands for, she said.
She became an outspoken critic of human trafficking, which gave her a modest online following and put her on the radar of Charlie Kirk, the founder of Turning Point USA, a nonprofit dedicated to educating young conservatives. In 2018, Kirk brought Luna aboard to be the group’s national Hispanic engagement director.
Luna rose quickly in conservative politics
By 2019, Luna was a political commentator for Turning Point USA with nearly 75,000 Twitter followers. She legally changed her last name to Luna from her married last name of Gamberzky, saying in part that she didn’t want her husband dragged into her political activity.
In 2020, she won a hotly contested five-way primary for a Pinellas County-based congressional seat for the chance to face then-U.S. Rep. Charlie Crist in the general election.
Luna lost by 6 points. But a Trump endorsement combined with a relatively strong showing in a blue-leaning district put her in good position for a future run. She also falsely denied Joe Biden’s victory in the 2020 election, saying: “President Trump won that election.”
She took another crack at the 13th Congressional District seat in 2022. This time, it had been redrawn by the Florida Legislature to include more Republican voters. After aligning herself with far-right, 2020 election-denying U.S. representatives like Marjorie Taylor Greene and Lauren Boebert, Luna won another primary. The primary was a high-drama affair, with Luna alleging that one early primary opponent who later dropped out planned to murder her, citing a secretly recorded call where the challenger bragged about access to a “hit squad.”
Luna said some members felt disrespected by McCarthy
Luna was one of about 20 Republican legislators who voted in at least some rounds for other candidates for speaker instead of GOP leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif.
There appear to be policy and personal reasons behind the anti-McCarthy rebellion. Some conservatives mistrust him because they think he’s not sufficiently dedicated to investigating Joe Biden’s family or cracking down on illegal immigration. Among the procedural changes conservatives want to see in exchange for a pro-McCarthy vote is an assurance that any member will be able to call a vote to oust McCarthy from his speaker role at any time. (The New York Times reported Thursday morning that McCarthy had given into that demand.)
Others simply don’t appear to like the way he operates. Gaetz, a close ally of Luna’s and a leader of the anti-McCarthy rebellion, said of McCarthy: “Maybe the right person for the job of speaker of the House isn’t someone who has sold shares of themself for more than a decade to get it.”
In an interview with The New York Times, Luna said McCarthy turned off several of her conservative colleagues with his closing argument in a closed-door GOP meeting earlier in the week. McCarthy reportedly told some of his fellow Republicans that their demands — like the stipulation that any of them should be able to call a vote to oust the speaker — were unreasonable.
“There were some members that felt very disrespected,” Luna told The New York Times. “And it pushed them into a category that — I don’t think they’ll ever vote for him.”
Luna did not respond to requests for comment for this story.