The Arizona primary election will be held on August 30, 2016. 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 primary election, you must register to vote by August 1 — and can even register online. Make your voice heard in 2016!
After graduating from law school at the University of Arizona, Joel Feinman spent almost a decade as a criminal trial lawyer for the Pima County Public Defender’s Office. Last September, he decided to leave that role and devote his time to running as a Democratic candidate for the office of Pima County Attorney, where he believes he could play a bigger role in advancing justice. Since September, Feinman’s campaign messaging has shown the depth and breadth of what justice means to him, from providing legal assistance to refugees to ensuring that at-risk communities aren’t further distressed by misguided policies — and enforcement — that fragment families, criminalize people with mental illnesses, and leave high unemployment in their wake.
“People should be empowered to make their own choices and control their own bodies and determine their own futures.”
One of the strongest examples of Feinman’s commitment to justice has been the time and energy he has put into supporting reproductive justice. Feinman, who describes himself as a lifelong supporter of Planned Parenthood, started volunteering for the organization when he was 12 years old. He has continued to give his time to the organization and served for four years as Chair of Planned Parenthood Arizona’s Board of Directors.
Earlier this month, Feinman received an endorsement from Planned Parenthood Advocates of Arizona, and on July 12, he generously took the time for a telephone interview to answer our questions about his candidacy.
Please tell us a little about your background.
I was born in Tucson and was raised in Phoenix. I went to Northwestern University for undergrad and went back to Tucson for law school. I graduated from the University of Arizona law school in 2007 and went to work at the Pima County Public Defender’s Office as a defense attorney, defending poor people accused of felony offenses. I did that for eight years until I left my job in September of 2015 to run full-time for County Attorney. I’ve also been a volunteer, a donor, and a supporter and a board member of Planned Parenthood in one combination or another since I was about 12 years old.
Since 2010, Arizona has spent more than $1 million defending unconstitutional abortion restrictions that have been blocked from taking effect. Most recently, the Legislature passed HB 2599, which lays the groundwork to kick Planned Parenthood out of AHCCCS, our state Medicaid program. If that happened, AHCCCS patients couldn’t choose Planned Parenthood for their preventive health care and birth control needs. In 2013 a similar bill has been overturned. What do you think about the resources that Arizona has spent defending these laws?
It’s squandering precious resources. We clearly are wasting taxpayer money and wasting government resources defending laws that have been repeatedly shown to be unconstitutional on their face.
Recently, Tucson Unified School District voted to include comprehensive sex education in their classrooms, but progress has been slow. Could we tap into Pima County public health funding to work within existing statewide law to improve sexuality education for our students?
I don’t know what the state law on that is, but I am certainly in favor of public funds being used to increase the amount of students who are educated and face practical sexual education. I don’t exactly know what the law is regarding what kind of funds can be employed or not, but the more funds we spend teaching kids safe sex, the less money we have to spend on STDs down the line, the less money we have to spend on unplanned pregnancy down the line, the less money we have to spend on government assistance to single-parent households down the line.
A key platform of your campaign has been making sure the County Attorney’s office approaches cases with the right priorities, which means not wasting time and tax dollars on cases that shouldn’t go to trial — and taking a hard look at Arizona’s high rate of incarceration to make sure we’re using incarceration wisely and justly. But while being wary of overzealous prosecution for many cases, you’ve suggested that sexual assault is being met with the opposite response. On your Facebook page you recently used the Stanford rape case of Brock Turner to illustrate the problem. What changes would you like to see in the handling of sexual assault cases?
Well, sexual assault is severely underreported and underprosecuted throughout the United States, and sexual assault is exactly the kind of case we can place a higher priority on and invest a lot more resources in prosecuting than going after nonviolent drug offenders. What I would like to see is a lot of those resources that are currently being spent on prosecuting and incarcerating nonviolent drug offenders going after the epidemic of sexual assault that exists both in college campuses and in other populations as well. It really should be one of our top priorities.
Violent crime is another priority — and home invasions are another priority that I think we need to introduce a lot of resources into combating. For 11 of the last 12 years, the highest percentage of felony cases that my opponent has filed were for drug crimes. In 2013, I think 36 percent of the cases she filed were drug cases and 7 percent were sexual assault cases, so those proportions are completely out of line, given how damaging sexual assault is to our community, versus what a nonviolent drug offender does to it.
Changing the subject a bit, why do you think it’s important that people make their own health care decisions?
Because this is the United States of America. Because we live in a democracy, and we have a representative republic and one of the foundations of our entire system is that people should be empowered to make their own choices and control their own bodies and determine their own futures and the futures of their families.
Why was it important for you to be endorsed by Planned Parenthood Advocates of Arizona?
I’ve been a volunteer with Planned Parenthood since I was 12 years old. It’s been a tremendous influence on my life, and the organization Planned Parenthood has literally saved the lives of people I have loved very deeply. I could not imagine a better vote of confidence and more meaningful vote of confidence than one coming from an organization that I’ve devoted countless volunteer hours to and money to as a donor, all in order to repay what they’ve done for me and people in my life.