Meet Our Candidates: Athena Salman for State Representative, LD 26

The time to fight back — and fight forward — for reproductive justice is fast approaching. The stakes are high in this year’s state election, with candidates for governor, secretary of state, attorney general, and other races on the ballot. The Arizona general election will be held November 6, 2018, and with early voting beginning on October 10. Voters need to be registered by October 9 to cast their ballots. Reproductive health has been under attack, both nationally and statewide, but Planned Parenthood Advocates of Arizona has endorsed candidates who put our health and our rights first. Get to know them now in our series of “Meet Our Candidates” interviews, and make your voice heard in 2018!

[L]egislative District 26 is a magnet for people who care about Arizona’s most pressing issues: reproductive justice, immigrants’ rights, LGBTQ equality, and strong public education. Given the deep pool of talent from which this district draws, it has a history of exciting legislators who fight for these values at the Capitol. Athena Salman is no exception. After a successful first term, she is running for reelection in order to continue representing her district, which includes Tempe, Mesa, Phoenix, and the Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community.

“If we don’t remain diligent in protecting our rights, then the discrimination we see now will pale in comparison to what’s down the pipeline.”

When Salman began her first term in 2017, she soon joined women from both parties in accusing Rep. Don Shooter (R-Yuma) of sexual harassment. The story ended in February, when the House voted 56 to 3 to expel Rep. Shooter, an event that marked the first time a state lawmaker was ousted from office in the #MeToo era. Around the same time, Salman was making headlines for spearheading the #LetItFlow campaign, bringing awareness to female prisoners’ lack of adequate access to menstrual hygiene products. In both instances, Salman centered her actions on protecting the dignity of women everywhere in the state.

Thanks to her passionate advocacy for these and other issues during her first two years in office, Planned Parenthood Advocates of Arizona is pleased to endorse Rep. Salman for a second term. She took the time to respond to our questions on September 18, 2018.

Since we last spoke, how has your commitment to serving Arizona grown? What has happened during that time to give you hope, and what has happened to strengthen your convictions?

My entire life, my mother’s entire life, even my grandmother’s entire life, for as long as we can remember, women have been harassed and shamed for exercising our constitutional right to reproductive health care and self-determination.

However, from #MeToo to #TimesUp we are seeing women from all backgrounds uniting and saying “Enough is enough!” With Roe v. Wade hanging in the balance, women are raising our voices in the one place where we are truly equal, the ballot, and making sure we are being heard loud and clear. Need proof? This primary election alone saw women in Maricopa County outnumber men in early voting by 65,000. As several have already stated, the future is female.

What have you accomplished in your previous term?

Not only did I successfully push our prison system to change their internal policies on feminine hygiene products for incarcerated women, but when the time came, I spoke out against sexual harassment by one of the highest ranking House members at the Capitol, having been one of his first targets last session. Because of the bravery of several women, we held him accountable for his behavior and reaffirmed that the Capitol should be a welcoming place for all.

You introduced HB 2222, which would have required female inmates to have access to feminine hygiene products. Why was this issue important to you, and are you happy with the outcome?

When I learned from my friend and Colorado State Rep. Leslie Herod that women in Colorado prisons were being denied sufficient feminine hygiene products, I was appalled that this was even happening. It felt like every woman’s dignity was being violated and I demanded to know if the same treatment was being allowed in my home state, Arizona.

As I started asking questions, I was disturbed to find that the same inhumane treatment was being allowed in Perryville, our female state prison. I knew things needed to change. I built a broad coalition to codify menstrual equity in prison into law, prompting the viral campaign #LetItFlow. Unfortunately, Rep. T.J. Shope from LD 8, the district with the most prisons in the state, sided with the Dept. of Corrections in shelving HB 2222 over the women in prison who wanted the legislation to move forward.

However, in the short-term, because of our campaign, we were able to triple the monthly quota of pads and for the first time in the Perryville’s history, women were able to choose to receive an allotment of tampons as well. I still believe ultimately we need to codify this alongside many other protections for female inmates into law, but in the meantime I am glad women no longer have to face this nightmare for the time being.

What will be your first action as an elected official in 2019?

I plan on introducing legislation to repeal all the burdensome restrictions on women’s reproductive health care in Arizona in conjunction with landmark legislation to codify reproductive freedom for all.

The uncertain future of the Supreme Court highlights the importance of protecting our rights at the state level. How can state legislators stem the tide of attacks on reproductive rights, for example by addressing so-called conscience clauses, targeted regulations, and access to family planning?

It’s both fitting of the times yet horrifying that Justice Kennedy, the swing vote on abortion, announced his retirement. Now let’s be clear — the vast majority of Arizonans support the constitutional right to abortion — but if we don’t remain diligent in protecting our rights, then the discrimination we see now will pale in comparison to what’s down the pipeline with a Brett Kavanaugh appointment to the Supreme Court.

We need legislators to step up and defend women’s rights like our lives depend on it. This not only includes fighting for universal access to reproductive health care, but also access to comprehensive pre- and postnatal care, quality jobs that you can support a family on, universal health care, quality education and childcare, and of course one of the greatest economic factors — family planning.

What can state legislators do not just to safeguard existing LGBTQ rights in Arizona, but to move them forward?

I appreciate living in a country where our Constitution guarantees our right to privately observe any faith or lack thereof we so choose. However, the Constitution does not allow individuals to impose their religious doctrine on others, as that is discriminatory, immoral, and wrong.

Our laws fall short by not categorizing this group as a protected class with equal rights individuals are afforded based on their race, sex, religion, etc. Denying protections in public accommodations and elsewhere to LGBTQIA+ people on any grounds is simply discrimination no matter how conservatives try to spin it. It’s time for elected officials to take a stand in support of all their constituents instead of abuse the privilege of their elected office to restrict freedom for LGBTQIA+ families. I’m committed to standing with this community in fighting for full equality.

What is the most significant thing you can do as an elected official to Stand With Planned Parenthood?

We need to acknowledge we all are Planned Parenthood. Having full control over your body and deciding if and when to start a family are essential to your self-determination.

Simultaneously, what once used to be considered the extreme religious right is now mainstream conservatism. The movement to allow discrimination under the guise of religion puts all of us at risk of being forced to submit to another’s religious beliefs. No one needs a stranger interfering with what you do in your personal life because they’ve decided their religious beliefs trump your own.

As a result, Republicans have imposed some of the most unnecessary and intrusive restrictions on abortion in an attempt to override the private decisions you make about your body and life and defund Planned Parenthood.

Since our state’s inception, conservatives, who have historically controlled the governor seat and state Legislature, have also refused to repeal laws that would impose mandatory prison time of up to five years for any woman who seeks or has an abortion in addition to making it a misdemeanor to advertise abortion or birth control if Roe v. Wade is overturned.

My goal is different. As an elected official, I recognize the privilege that comes with public service should not be taken lightly. I understand that everyone has the constitutional right to self-determination; part of being free is deciding if and when to have children without government interference.

As the youngest woman currently in the Legislature, I’m personally committed to empowering you with the right choice for you. This starts with standing with Planned Parenthood.

To learn more about Athena Salman’s background and platform check out her website, like her on Facebook, and follow her on Twitter and Instagram!

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