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

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!

athena-salman-scaledLegislative 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. Continue reading

Meet Our Candidates: Michael Muscato for State Senator, LD 22

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!

michaelmuscatoMichael Muscato was born and bred in Arizona, leaving the state briefly to play baseball, then moving to California, where he taught himself to be a recording engineer — a career that sent him around the globe supporting touring musicians and other entertainers. The year 2013 saw his homecoming to Peoria, where he raises his family in the community in which he grew up and now seeks to represent in the Arizona Senate.

Legislative District 22 includes Sun City West, Mountain Vista, Surprise, Peoria, and Lake Pleasant, and is currently represented in the state Senate by Judy Burges, who opposes comprehensive sex education, believes in severe restrictions on abortion, and would not include LGBTQ folks in nondiscrimination laws. Given that she doesn’t stand for the rights and health of her constituents — in the ability of children to learn about sexual health and healthy relationships, in the ability of women to control their bodies and fates, or in people’s right not to be discriminated against on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity — it’s time to replace Sen. Burges with someone who will stand for all of LD 22’s electorate.


“I actually care about people and fight for their interests and needs over those of corporations and special interests.”


In fact, it was his deep disappointment with Sen. Burges’ performance as a senator that compelled Mr. Muscato to run for the Arizona Senate. As he wrote in Your West Valley, “Nothing about her voting record on issues is in support of children, families, or small businesses. She has repeatedly voted against funding public education, continuously voted against KidsCare, and voted to cut TANFF for those most in need of help.”

Mr. Muscato generously took the time to answer our questions on October 10, 2016.

Tell us a little about your background.

I am a 32-year-old former minor league baseball player drafted by the New York Yankees. After finishing baseball I became a self-taught engineer and quickly became a director, crew chief, and systems engineer for some of the most famous entertainers in the world for their national and international tours and concerts. I am also a small business owner in LD 22, having started a CrossFit gym three years ago based on a passion of mine, which is fitness. I am the father of two little boys (Cooper, 21 months, and Canton, 2 months). I am happily married to my amazing wife, Alicia, and I could not be more proud to be in a position to represent my hometown this election. Continue reading

Let’s Talk About … Being the Parent of an LGBTQ Child

The following guest post comes to us from Planned Parenthood Arizona’s education staff. Contact them at education@ppaz.org.

father-and-son-thumbnailOctober is Let’s Talk month, when Planned Parenthood advocates for better parent-child communication around sexuality. Last year we wrote about why it’s so important for any parent to talk to their child about sexuality — early and often. Parents are the primary sexuality educators of their children, and children who can talk to their parents about sexuality wait longer to have sex, and are more likely to use protection.

Planned Parenthood has great resources to help parents talk to their kids. Advocates for Youth also has a comprehensive guide to help parents through difficult conversations. Planned Parenthood also has resources for parents of LGBTQ (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer/Questioning) youth. You might also ask your friendly local librarian about one of these books recommended by PFLAG, a national organization for families, friends, and allies of LGBTQ people.


Demand LGBTQ inclusivity and comprehensive sex education in your school district.


On November 2, Planned Parenthood will host an interactive workshop in Phoenix for parents of LGBTQ youth, where they can practice being an “askable” parent. Parents of LGBTQ kids may find it a little more difficult to be an “askable” adult. But it’s even more important because your children are at particular risk. LGBTQ youth face significant obstacles in their schools, in the world, and, sometimes, unfortunately, in their own homes. LGBTQ youth experience high rates of homelessness, depression/anxiety, and astronomically high rates of suicides — 3 times higher than straight youth. Study after study has shown that, in schools, LGBTQ youth face much higher levels of bullying, harassment, intimidation, threats, and physical assault than their peers. Stopbullying.gov reports that bullied LGBTQ youth (or youth perceived as LGBTQ) are more likely to skip school, smoke, use alcohol and drugs, and to engage in other risky behaviors.

If your child is transgender, their risks are exponentially higher. Almost all transgender students report being harassed at school about their sexual orientation and/or gender. More than half of transgender students report being physically harassed (pushed, shoved) in school. And about a third report being physically assaulted (punched, kicked, or injured with a weapon). For more information on transgender discrimination in schools, please see Harsh Realities: The Experiences of Transgender Youth in Our Nation’s Schools, available online here. Continue reading

Meet Our Candidates: Isela Blanc for State Representative, LD 26

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!

isela-blanc-scaledIsela Blanc knows how important it is that our governments work for us by supporting the means for us to better ourselves. Her family came to Arizona from Mexico when she was 6 years old, and she was educated by Tempe’s public school systems, eventually becoming the first in her family to attend Arizona State University — all during years “while our state invested in education,” as she points out on her website. So, Ms. Blanc knows firsthand what’s at stake when lawmakers decide to let quality education slide further down their list of priorities.


“Women should not have to answer to anyone when making a decision related to their bodies or their health.”


Education is a major aspect of Ms. Blanc’s platform. She worries that Arizona is winning the “race to the bottom,” as $1 billion in cuts to education spending have resulted in fewer teachers, counselors, and school nurses; swelling classroom sizes; and shrinking after-school programs. As she tells us here, comprehensive sex education is just one part of a quality education, and she hopes to see it return to classrooms across the state.

Ms. Blanc seeks a seat in the Arizona House of Representatives, on behalf of Legislative District 26, which includes Tempe, Mesa, Phoenix, and the Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community. She generously took the time to answer our questions on October 1, 2016.

Tell us a little about your background.

I began as a volunteer serving on school site councils, participating in the PTA, and serving on a little league board. These opportunities drew me to education and my community. I managed early childhood programs through Tempe Community Council. I worked with First Things First to build awareness around the importance of the first five years. I have facilitated for various Arizona State University programs that focus on engaging families to provide them the tools and skills to support their child’s academic achievements. Continue reading

Meet Our Candidates: Steve Weichert for State Senator, LD 17

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!

steve-weichertThe 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. Continue reading

Meet Our Candidates: Mitzi Epstein for State Representative, LD 18

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!

mitziepstein-scaledMitzi Epstein is running for the Arizona House of Representatives in Legislative District 18. LD 18 includes all of Ahwatukee, parts of west Chandler, south Tempe, and west Mesa. Ms. Epstein is a small business owner, former state Parent Teacher Association leader, and American Youth Soccer Organization leader. As a community problem solver, she has spent her life working at both the community and state level to strengthen the economy.


“We need updated, comprehensive, medically accurate, and age-appropriate health and sex education curriculum that is inclusive of all.”


Ms. Epstein generously shared time with Planned Parenthood Advocates of Arizona via telephone on September 9, 2016, to discuss her background and her campaign.

Tell us a little about your background.

Professionally, for many years I was a computer systems analyst and team leader for multinational corporations such as Olin Brass, Inc., Citicorp Mortgage Inc., and Aerovox Corporation. I now own my own small business called Custom Language Training. In 2004, I was elected to the Kyrene Elementary School District Governing Board where I served for four years.

Personally, I have been married for 33 years. We have lived in our home for 20 years now, and have two adult sons who live in Boston and New York. I am passionate about the community, working collaboratively to improve our quality of life. I have served on the boards of several community organizations including AYSO, American Youth Soccer Organization. To be the best coach I could be, I worked to earn a National D Coaching license from USSF. To be the best school board member I could be, I earned a Master of Boardsmanship from ASBA, the Arizona School Boards Association. Continue reading

Meet Our Candidates: Betts Putnam-Hidalgo for Tucson Unified School Board

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!

betts-putnam-hidalgo-scaledBetts Putnam-Hidalgo, a lifelong social activist and a fixture at Tucson Unified School District Governing Board meetings, is running for the board for the third time. The at-large position is nonpartisan.

The retired landscaper studied at the University of Arizona and at New Mexico University. Her family, which includes several enormous dogs, lives in a historic downtown Tucson neighborhood.

In its 2014 endorsement of her, the Arizona Daily Star said that the system badly needed new leadership, and that Putnam-Hidalgo “best” understood “the complex issues facing TUSD. The board must make tough decisions to focus a district that has lost about 13,000 students in the last 12 years.” The paper noted that despite her loss two years earlier, Putnam-Hidalgo

still kept up her regular attendance at board meetings. She’s also been actively involved in school site councils, served as a community representative and taught English as a second language to parents.

She speaks with enthusiasm of participating in parent leadership training through Voices for Education as a starting point for her advocacy. Her positions include supporting an internal auditor, reducing kindergarten through third-grade class sizes to 18 and making schools a neighborhood hub for social services as well as education.

A board adversary on one issue may be an ally on the next, she says, indicating she will not vote with a bloc on the board [and] … she’d ensure the authority line clearly reflects that “the superintendent works for the board.”

These same points are in her platform today. In addition to increased honesty and transparency in the district, she is calling for an end to abusively high administrative costs and low classroom funding. She will not support enormous compensation packages for the superintendent or other administrators while TUSD teachers and staff are among the lowest paid across surrounding districts. She notes that with the current pay structure, “the further one is from the students, the more compensation one receives. This is backwards and dangerous.”


“When it comes to avoiding teen pregnancy and having healthy relationships, ignorance is dangerous.”


The native New Yorker came to Arizona in the 1970s and came to her interest in TUSD through her son, now 16. She was 45 when he was born, already stepmother to two boys.

“When we lived in New Mexico, before my own son was born, the military recruiters started to call for my stepsons. I could not get them to stop. That was when I knew there was activism to be done in the schools,” Putnam-Hidalgo told us in an August 26, 2016, phone interview, during which she answered the following questions.

TUSD recently voted to include comprehensive sexuality education in its classrooms. What would you like this new curriculum to look like?

I’m really excited about it being a whole lot more than just name-the-body-parts. From what I understood from a number of high school students, they want [information about] how emotions and sexual contact intersect … I had that at a private school in the eighth grade: how sexual activity was nothing to be ashamed of and should be fun. We made fun of the teacher at the time but I now realize she was a revolutionary! Continue reading