Meet Our Candidates: Kelli Butler for State Representative, LD 28

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 have been registered to vote by October 10. Make your voice heard in 2016!

[T]he 28th legislative district has, until recently, been represented in the House by Democrat Eric Meyer and Republican Kate Brophy McGee, making it one of the state’s few swing districts. Dr. Eric Meyer, although termed out of the House, was not done fighting for his values and District 28. Evaluating his competition, incumbent Adam Driggs announced that he would not seek reelection. Kate Brophy McGee jumped at the opportunity to get in the Senate race, leaving two seats in the House up for grabs.

Kelli Butler, a Democrat, hopes to occupy one of those seats, keeping LD 28’s House representation split between one Democrat and one Republican.

Ms. Butler will be squaring off against Mary Hamway and Maria Syms, both of whom support heavy restrictions on abortion.  Ms. Syms also opposes including sexual orientation, gender identity, or gender expression in nondiscrimination laws. While all three House candidates have made education a central part of their platforms, Planned Parenthood Advocates of Arizona trusts Ms. Butler to advocate for a very important aspect of children’s schooling: comprehensive sex education. For that reason, and because of her strong support for reproductive rights, we recommend a single-shot vote for Kelli Butler.

Education, the economy, and child safety represent the three pillars of Ms. Butler’s platform, and comprehensive sex education links all three of these issues together. Including comprehensive sex education in schools empowers students with the information they need to avoid sexually transmitted infections and unintended pregnancies — the latter of which will help reduce dropout rates among teenage girls. When teens are able to delay childbearing until after they complete their educations, they are able to obtain better jobs and be less dependent on public assistance, helping to strengthen the economy. Knowledge about preventing pregnancy can help them start their families when they are ready, helping children to be born into more stable homes that are ready to raise them.

We need lawmakers at the Capitol to introduce legislation that improves sex education in all of Arizona, rather than making piecemeal advances one district at a time. Even school districts with relatively progressive sex-ed programs are constrained by state laws that, for example, forbid teachers from presenting LGBTQ folks in a positive light. We need representatives like Ms. Butler to give local school districts better laws to work with.

Kelli Butler is running to represent Legislative District 28, which includes Paradise Valley and parts of Phoenix. She took the time for an interview with Planned Parenthood Advocates of Arizona on October 12, 2016.

“Medically accurate and age-appropriate sex education is vital to every person’s health and well-being.”

Tell us a little about your background and why it’s important to you to be involved in your community.

I am a native Arizonan and I grew up largely within the boundaries of my district. I attended local public schools at a time when Arizona was near the national average in per-student funding. We had access to quality programs and educational options that are no longer available to our public school students today. When my two boys attended our neighborhood public school, I witnessed the dire results of budget cuts — programs like art, music, and electives were cut, class sizes increased, and teachers began leaving the profession. I got involved in politics because I am a passionate advocate for education and I want to be part of a different vision for our state.

In the most recent legislative session, the state Senate refused to hear SB 1020, which would have made sex education opt-out rather than opt-in. Can you explain why this seemingly small change would have made such a big difference?

So many families in Arizona today are struggling — in fact, one in four children in our state is living in poverty. If parents are terrified about how they will feed their children or if they’re in a safe environment, smaller details like school permission slips become less important. But we know that medically accurate and age-appropriate sex education is vital to every person’s health and well-being. There are dire consequences to not receiving accurate sex education, including life-threatening disease and unintended pregnancy, and those consequences demand that we do everything possible to educate people about reproductive health. Making sex education automatically available in school, while allowing parents the option to opt out, means that more students receive essential, accurate information about their sexual health.

According to current Arizona law (ARS 15-176), no school district that includes HIV/AIDS education in their curricula may use instruction that “promotes a homosexual life-style,” “portrays homosexuality as a positive alternative life-style,” or “suggests that some methods of sex are safe methods of homosexual sex.” Why do you think it’s so important for sex education in Arizona to be inclusive of all students?

To be effective, sex education must be medically accurate and age appropriate, and it must provide comprehensive information that promotes public health and personal well being and safety. People express their sexuality differently and those differences should have no bearing on the accuracy of information delivered.

What do you think about the connection between teenage pregnancy and high-school dropout rates?

The connection between teenage pregnancy and high school dropout rates is obvious — only 38 percent of teen mothers aged 15-17 are able to earn their high school diploma. Too often, these become the families who live in poverty, without the education and training to get good-paying jobs. We must do everything possible to help educate and empower young women to prevent unintended pregnancy so they will have a greater chance at success, for themselves and for their families.

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

I have great respect for Planned Parenthood and their mission to provide reproductive health care services to diverse communities. I am thrilled to have received the endorsement of Planned Parenthood Advocates of Arizona. As a state Representative, I will be a strong advocate for comprehensive reproductive health care services for all.

Find out more about Kelli Butler’s ideas about abortion access, LGBTQ rights, and sex education by reading her 2014 interview with us. You can also check out her website, like her on Facebook, or follow her on Twitter!

If you don’t know what legislative district you’re in, you can click here to find out! You can also contact us if you’d like to volunteer for an endorsed candidate in your legislative district.