The Arizona general election will be held on November 8, 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 election, you must register to vote by October 10 — and can even register online. Make your voice heard in 2016!
The 17th legislative district hangs just southeast of Phoenix, covering the greater part of Chandler, western Gilbert, and Sun Lakes. It is currently represented in the Arizona Senate by Steven Yarbrough, who has a history of opposing reproductive rights and LGBTQ equality. LD 17 needs better representation, and Planned Parenthood Advocates of Arizona endorses Steve Weichert, who will fight for improved education and health-care access — including comprehensive sex education and access to family planning services.
“Women can count on me to protect their health care and reproductive rights.”
In 2003, Mr. Weichert moved to Chandler, where his family has put down permanent roots. He and his wife are raising two school-age daughters, so he knows first-hand just how crucial quality education is. He points to the importance of attracting and retaining talented teachers and attaining smaller classroom sizes. As such, a key component of his platform is improving education funding in Arizona, and, as he tells us in today’s interview, he believes comprehensive sex education is an integral aspect of a student’s overall education.
Just as Arizona needs to be able to hold onto good K-12 teachers, Mr. Weichert knows how vital it is to retain a vibrant population of physicians and other health-care providers. As a health-care administrator, he has a front-row seat to Arizona’s shortage of health-care providers. While the University of Arizona College of Medicine provides affordable education, Mr. Weichert says Arizona loses its investment when its graduates are lured out of state by better salaries and benefits. And, as an employee of Gila River Health Care, serving the Gila River Indian Community, Mr. Weichert sees the importance of expanding health care access to historically under-served populations.
According to the Center for Arizona Policy’s 2016 candidate questionnaire, LD 17’s current senator, Steven Yarbrough, is in favor of strict prohibitions on Arizonans’ access to abortion; he is also opposed to recognizing individuals’ gender identity and including the LGBTQ community in nondiscrimination laws. In 2014, Sen. Yarbrough helped propel Arizona to national headlines when he sponsored SB 1062, which would have given businesses the right to refuse service to LGBTQ customers. He sponsored a similar bill the year before — but both that bill and SB 1062 were vetoed by then-governor Jan Brewer.
We need lawmakers who prioritize issues that have a direct impact on Arizonans’ quality of life — and Steve Weichert will focus on quality education and health-care access, without wasting time introducing fear-based bills like SB 1062 that solve no problems. Mr. Weichert generously took the time to answer our questions on September 18, 2016.
Tell us a little about your background.
I grew up in San Jose, California, and moved to Arizona with my wife Maria in 2003. Today, there are three generations of the Weichert family living in the Phoenix metro area, including my two young daughters, Caitlin and Sara.
I currently work as a director at Gila River Health Care on the Gila River Indian Reservation, where I assist our chief medical officer and other staff to improve the quality of care we provide to Native American patients. So, making sure all Arizonans have affordable access to quality health care is something I’m really passionate about.
What kind of beneficial legislation would you like to see introduced, and why do you think it’s important to fight for it?
I believe that the physicians, nurse practitioners, and other medical staff at Planned Parenthood provide an essential service for women and families in Arizona. We need to protect a woman’s right to make her own informed choices about her reproductive health and family planning options.
This isn’t just about birth control and abortion. This is about protecting important services like family planning counseling, breast and cervical cancer screenings, and testing for STDs. State legislators like my opponent Steve Yarbrough have been chipping away at these rights for years, and we simply have to stop it.
As state Senator, I will introduce legislation that protects the funding Planned Parenthood receives from the federal government for non-abortion services, which is especially vital for those with low incomes. And I’ll work to reverse HB 2284, the bill that expanded the state’s ability to allow warrantless searches and inspections of Planned Parenthood health care facilities. These kinds of laws are nothing but a thinly veiled attempt to intimidate women when they’re most vulnerable, and to take away their right to make their own reproductive health choices.
Your opponent, Steven Yarbrough, supported HB 2599, which lays the groundwork for Arizona to kick Planned Parenthood out of AHCCCS, our state Medicaid program. If that happens, AHCCCS patients couldn’t choose Planned Parenthood for their preventive health care and birth control needs. Why do you think it’s important that people be able to choose their own health care provider and make their own health-related decisions?
Medicaid grants cannot be used to fund abortions and there isn’t a single shred of evidence that Planned Parenthood has ever violated federal, state, or local laws. What’s most disturbing about HB 2599 is that it would hurt lower-income women most of all. They depend on these kinds of programs to get the reproductive health care they need.
Since entering the state Legislature in the early 2000s, Yarbrough has been a dependable mouthpiece for organizations like the Center for Arizona Policy as they’ve mounted an aggressive campaign to restrict women’s reproductive health care choices. When I’m elected to the state Senate, women can count on me to protect their health care and reproductive rights. I’ll work to reverse HB 2599 and other laws that have chipped away at those rights.
Recently, Tucson Unified School District voted to include comprehensive sex education in their classrooms, but progress has been slow. How would you like to see sexuality education addressed on a statewide level?
I’m in favor of any program that gives our children the information and counsel they need to make responsible choices about sex. We’ve seen plenty of evidence that sex education — which is another important service that Planned Parenthood provides — has contributed to a significant decrease in teen pregnancy across our state. We had about 8,700 teen pregnancies here in 2013, which is a third fewer than we had in 2003.
I believe that age-appropriate classroom education should be one part of a comprehensive approach. But I also appreciate that this is a very personal subject and should be family-driven first and foremost. I understand parents who prefer to take responsibility for educating their kids about sex, so we should give them the right to opt out if they prefer.
Why was it important for you to be endorsed by Planned Parenthood Advocates of Arizona?
As a health care administrator, I have a special appreciation for the programs Planned Parenthood provides to our communities. There’s no doubt that its work saves lives, and we need someone in the state Senate like me who will fight to defend that work, not restrict it.
I want voters to know that I’ll fight in the state Senate against any government overreach that would restrict a woman’s right to choose. Republicans like Steve Yarbrough have tried multiple times to chip away at that right, and unless we stop them they’re going to keep on trying.