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, 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!
Two years ago, when Jennifer Pawlik first ran for a seat in the Arizona House, the voters she met often doubted her chances of winning in such a red district. Pawlik lives in Legislative District 17, which spans the communities of Chandler, Sun Lakes, and part of Gilbert. Republicans have controlled LD 17’s House seats since the mid-1960s — and they’ve had a longstanding hold on its Senate seat as well.
Pawlik lost in a close race, though, and in this year’s election — her second bid to represent her district — she has seen growing optimism among her supporters. What has motivated Pawlik in both elections has been a desire to stand up for education in the state’s Legislature. A veteran educator herself, her concerns over education cuts prompted her to run in 2016. After this year’s #RedForEd movement, her platform resonates even more strongly today.
“I am fighting for access to affordable health care and affordable college education.”
For Pawlik, education is the foundation for everything that matters in this state. As she told the Gilbert Chamber of Commerce, “a well-educated workforce and excellent schools” will help attract businesses to Arizona — and prepare Arizonans to develop “innovative solutions … to address issues of drought, solar power, air pollution, and mass transit.”
Pawlik also sees public health as a key foundation for a better Arizona. Addressing poverty and improving access to health care are additional priorities she would take to the Legislature. Her commitment to Arizona’s health is why Planned Parenthood Advocates of Arizona is included in the long list of endorsements she’s received. Pawlik generously took the time to tell us more about her background and her candidacy on September 13.
Please tell us a little about your background.
I am an Arizona native, and a product of Arizona’s public schools. I’m an educator who has taught in Arizona’s public elementary schools for 17 years, and I am now teaching individuals enrolled in Northern Arizona University’s College of Education. In my final years in the classroom, some of my colleagues broke their contracts and left the field of education because they couldn’t afford to continue teaching. Many of us who continued to teach picked up other jobs outside of our contract time so that we could pay our bills. I decided that I needed to do something rather than just complain. In 2016, I decided to run for the Arizona House so I can make a positive impact on the way we fund our public schools. Despite losing that race by only 2.5 percent, I consider our work to be a small victory for my district because we were finally close to a win after years and years of work. My team and I took off just six weeks after the election and got back to work in January 2017. We have been actively contacting as many voters as possible since that time.
What kind of beneficial legislation would you like to introduce should you be elected?
Without a doubt, I want to sponsor or co-sponsor bills that increase dedicated, sustainable funding to the public school system. Funding the public school system embodies so many elements, including recruiting and retaining teachers, creating smaller class sizes, providing modern technology and curriculum, and maintaining our buildings and buses. A student’s access to quality education should not be limited to certain ZIP codes in our state. I would also like to also play a part in bills that would require more transparency within the charter school system. Charter schools operate under a different set of rules, even though they are funded with public money.
One of your challengers, incumbent Jeff Weninger, has supported increasing regulations on abortion and giving more power to Republicans when drawing legislative district boundaries. Do you think his voting record represents the interests of his constituents?
There are certainly conservatives in the district who fully support the votes of Rep. Weninger. However, the Democrats and many independents I speak to have a different opinion. Many feel that the regulations on abortion should not be increased, but instead they should be reduced.
Constituents across party boundaries are very concerned with the idea of gerrymandering that would give excess power to either party. The Independent Redistricting Commission is actually a model for other states.
Why do you think it’s important that people make their own health care decisions?
It is important that people have the freedom make their own health care decisions. If women choose to use birth control, elect to have a tubal ligation, or decide to have an abortion, they should be able to make that decision — the government should not limit their access. We are a free people, and we should have the autonomy to make decisions that impact our bodies.
What other issues are you fighting for?
Other issues I am fighting for include access to affordable health care and affordable college education. When we’ve spoken to voters at the doors, many people in our district have shared that their deductibles are too high — so high that they are forgoing preventive care. KidsCare, a health care program for the children of the working poor, is often targeted for cuts. I believe that when people have access to preventive care and necessary medications, they are more productive at work and school. Young people and parents of young people have expressed frustration with the cost of college. Even with scholarships, students are working while attending college, and they are graduating with a heavy debt. Some students are more apt to pursue a job in skilled labor, so we need to ensure there are programs like JTED and CTE that will allow students to graduate from high school with a certificate that will allow them to begin a well-paid, skilled labor job right after high school.
What gives you hope for Arizona’s future?
What gives me hope for the future is the youth. Our entire paid staff is under the age of 25 years old. They are motivated, hard-working, and dedicated to fighting for equality and change. Seeing the world through their eyes gives me hope for the future.
Why was it important for you to be endorsed by Planned Parenthood Advocates of Arizona?
It was important for me to be endorsed by Planned Parenthood Advocates of Arizona because it emphasizes the contrast between myself and my opponents. As mentioned in an earlier question, Rep. Weninger has voted to increase regulations on abortions. Vice Mayor Nora Ellen regularly tweets about crisis pregnancy centers. While both of my opponents are pro-life, I am pro-choice. I do not believe the government should dictate private matters.