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!
Legislative District 26, which includes Tempe, Mesa, Phoenix, and the Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community, is the home of Arizona State University, where Athena Salman got her start in student government. She now seeks a seat in the Arizona House of Representatives, where she hopes to continue LD 26’s tradition of fighting for such important causes as education, reproductive justice, LGBTQ equality, and immigrants’ rights.
“Sex education empowers young people to make informed decisions and leads to healthier communities.”
Some might say that Athena Salman was destined to dedicate her life to serving her community: Her mother named her after the Greek goddess because “the world needed more heroines.” Her activism began in childhood, blossomed in college when she organized fellow students to protest budget cuts to universities, and continues to this day. Her recent work has centered around increasing voter engagement among Latinos — campaigns that ultimately increased Latino voter registration by 500 percent — as well as empowering girls and young women through her involvement with Girl Scouts. Once in the House of Representatives, she will continue to fight for women’s rights, voting rights, and keeping education accessible to all Arizonans — “from cradle to career,” as she says on her website.
In LD 26, Planned Parenthood Advocates of Arizona recommends casting your two votes for House of Representatives for Athena Salman and Isela Blanc, candidates dedicated to social justice and making Arizona a better place for everyone. Ms. Salman generously took the time to answer our questions on October 21, 2016.
Tell us a little about your background.
I am a native Arizonan and community leader. I have worked tirelessly to strengthen the fabric of our communities. This year, I was presented with Tempe’s MLK Diversity Award for my experience advocating for women, education, working families, and immigrants. In light of severe budget cuts to education I organized hundreds of students to protest and pass state legislation. I have worked on several successful campaigns to expand Latino voter engagement, served as a union shop steward, empowered women and girls through Girl Scouts, built community support for early childhood development through First Things First, and authored national health care and higher education policy. I graduated magna cum laude from Arizona State University with degrees in economics and political science.
What kind of beneficial legislation would you like to see introduced, and why do you think it’s important to fight for it?
The United States is the only industrialized nation to not mandate paid maternity leave for new mothers. I will fight for paid family leave for both mothers and fathers, because research has shown this is what is best for the family and strengthens our community.
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?
We are doing a disservice to our state’s young people by not providing comprehensive sex education programs. By denying our children education on their changing bodies, on affirmative consent, on diseases such as HIV, and other topics covered in sexuality education, we are setting them up to make risky choices. Sex education empowers young people to make informed decisions and leads to healthier communities.
Your Republican opponent, Steven Adkins, said in his Center for Arizona Policy questionnaire that anyone wishing to obtain an abortion must go before a three-doctor panel that will confirm the procedure is necessary to save the mother’s life. How do your views on abortion access differ from those of Mr. Adkins?
My opponent’s position is invasive and condescending. Women on both sides of the aisle are tired of politicians and bureaucrats intervening in our reproductive health, whether it’s routine check-ups, birth-control, or abortion. Abortion is a deeply personal decision that should be left up to the woman.
Why was it important for you to be endorsed by Planned Parenthood Advocates of Arizona?
When I was a freshman in high school, my mother, aunt, and I flew to Washington, D.C., to the March for Women’s Lives. At the rally, I met women who recalled their lives before Roe v. Wade. I listened to them share their pain from losing friends to backroom abortions. They had heavy hearts that the Bush Administration and state legislatures across the country were trying to turn back the clock. I realized in that moment how fortunate I was to be born into a time where women like myself have basic control over our bodies. I made a vow to do everything to protect and expand these rights for the next generation of women.
Planned Parenthood has been there every step of the way fighting for us. PPAA plays a critical role in defending women’s rights at the state legislature. They are an organized voice that Arizona needs.