Meet Our Candidates: Carmen Casillas for State Representative, LD 8

The Arizona general election will be held on November 4, 2014. Reproductive health care access has been under attack, both nationally and statewide, but Planned Parenthood Advocates of Arizona has endorsed candidates who have shown strong commitment to reproductive justice. To acquaint you with our endorsed candidates, we are running a series called “Meet Our Candidates.” In order to vote in the general election, you must register to vote by October 6 — and can even register online. Make your voice heard in 2014!

[L]egislative District 8 is geographically expansive, ranging from just north of Maricopa northeast past Globe and south as far as San Manuel. It includes all of Globe, Florence, and Coolidge, parts of Casa Grande, and many smaller communities. By making education, jobs and the economy, public safety, and comprehensive immigration reform cornerstones of her campaign — and by knocking on plenty of doors — Carmen Casillas seeks to represent this district in the Arizona House of Representatives.

She took time out from canvassing on September 19 to participate in the telephone interview transcribed below.

“Everyone, it doesn’t matter — color, race, creed, religion, sexuality — everyone should be treated equally and with respect.”

Tell us a little about your background.

I am a mother of three — I just lost my son, 36 years old, on August 2 — a grandmother of nine, and a great-grandmother of one. And I’m very proud of all of them. I am born and raised here in Globe, Arizona, and I’ve tried to improve the quality of life here. Hopefully, I did.

I was a past vice mayor for two years and past councilwoman for four years with the city of Globe. I am the founder and CEO of the DVVA Response Team, an acronym that stands for the Domestic Violence Victims’ Advocate Response Team. This program was started from scratch and ran for a period of 10 years. I am co-founder of the Boys and Girls Club here in Globe. I am co-founder of Gila House; that is a program for families who have been burnt out or are in the process of a foreclosure that is not due to their own making. And now we are moving into helping members of the homeless population who have passed drug tests and background screenings. I am a strong leader in my community.

When it comes to health care access, particularly sexual and reproductive health care access, what unique needs do your more rural constituents face?

In my opinion, the No. 1 issue is transportation. It is difficult in rural areas to be able to travel to the point of origin to be able to access reproductive health care. As I said, I just came from Dudleyville: Other than a facility being brought in there — which, of course, budget-wise, is just not feasible at this time — transportation is a huge issue in these small rural communities. They need to be able to get to metro areas like Tucson or Phoenix for quality health care access. Not to downplay anyone in these small communities that provide health care; I just believe there needs to be more resources for access in our rural communities. I see that as a huge need for my constituents.

How do you plan to advocate for these needs?

I have always been a part of advocating to get transportation to our rural areas, and I will continue to do so. I am very fortunate to have a mentor in Sen. [Barbara] McGuire, who has been a strong advocate for transportation. When I do get elected, I believe a team of two is a lot stronger to be able to push through that legislation for our rural communities. I believe our small rural communities are being overlooked, so transportation is going to be huge on my agenda.

Earlier this year, the state legislature — including a “yes” vote from T.J. Shope, one of your Republican opponents — passed HB 2284, which permits the health department to inspect abortion clinics without a warrant. What do you think about the need for heightened privacy and safety for patients seeking reproductive health services?

This is one of the reasons that I started the DVVA Response Team. I believe it is imperative for heightened privacy and safety for patients. Especially in a domestic violence situation, it can mean life or death for that individual. I can’t even imagine this vote.

Also, I believe that it is a possible violation of the federal HIPAA laws. The privacy of the patient needs to stay private. When we’re doing that, it takes away from getting the proper support, assistance, education in birth control, and counseling.

But the thing that I get worked up over is just the privacy and safety of that patient. With the DVVA Response Team, that was huge for us. Individuals need to feel safe when they’re going in for whatever procedure they are seeking.

What kind of beneficial legislation would you like to see introduced, and why do you think it’s important to fight for it?

The beneficial legislation I would like to see is to reverse this health bill. I believe a woman should be able to make her own health care choices. It’s between her and her religion, should have nothing to do with us. And only she knows the reason why she’s doing what she’s doing. I would strongly fight for that: Women need to be trusted to make their own health care choices.

Arizona Mayors released a report stating that high school dropouts cost the state $7.6 billion over the course of their lifetime. What do you think about the connection between teenage pregnancy and high-school dropout rates?

It’s hand in hand. I’ve worked for Arizona Youth Partnership. I know the stats we were getting out of Gila County alone. It works hand in hand.

Do you support comprehensive sex education?

I absolutely do. Knowledge is power. When there are comprehensive sex education programs, it helps youth delay the onset of sexual activity, reduce the frequency of sexual activity, reduce the number of sexual partners, hopefully increase condom and contraceptive use, and decrease STDs. How can anyone not support this?

Last legislative session, both of your opponents, Frank Pratt and T.J. Shope, voted in favor of SB 1062, a bill that was widely received as targeting Arizona’s LGBTQ residents and a bill that Gov. Jan Brewer vetoed, calling non-discrimination “a core American and Arizona value.” How do your opponents’ votes here compare with the beliefs and values of your constituents?

Thank you for that question. In my travels throughout the district and meeting with my constituents, their message is very clear: Everyone should be treated equally and with respect. I stand strong in equality for all. Everyone, it doesn’t matter — color, race, creed, religion, sexuality — everyone should be treated equally and with respect.

Why was it important for you to be endorsed by Planned Parenthood Advocates of Arizona?

It is extremely important for me to be endorsed by them because that shows that my message is clear. I am going to fight for women. I’m going to aggressively fight for women to have the right to choose their own health care. With my endorsement from Planned Parenthood, I believe that is a message that would be given out to my constituents.

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