BlueWave Interview: Cat F. on campaigning in Arizona

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This week, our BlueWave Interview is with Cat F. in Arizona. I got to know her as a powerhouse volunteer for Hiral Tipirneni’s campaign in Arizona. You can find her at @catikins9 on Twitter. Now, get an insider’s look at being a campaign volunteer and poll watcher!

TS: Were you politically active before 2016?

CAT: I’m a voter, but until recently, considered myself more of an observer who paid close attention. Because I’ve been a civil servant (working for Maricopa County and then the City of Phoenix) for 29 years, I couldn’t participate in the political process easily. I did work on the receiving end of elections — i.e. when ballots are turned in.

Now I’m retired, so I started becoming more civically engaged. I had joined the Arizona chapter of Pantsuit Nation on Facebook, which later became Stronger Together Arizona. A local group formed from there & became Greater Peoria Indivisible. I’m one of the co-leaders. I began attending my local LD (legislative district) meetings, and have volunteered as a Deputy Registrar (registering voters). I’ve also collected signatures for various issues and for candidates, and volunteered for campaigns.

TS: Recently, you’ve been working on Hiral Tipirneni’s (AZ-08) campaign. Tell us how you got engaged with her campaign. 

CAT: One of the first activist events I attended in person was going to (former AZ-08 Rep.) Trent Franks’ office to talk to his staffers about healthcare. I didn’t know her then, but Hiral was at the same meeting–not as a candidate, but as a fellow concerned citizen. Later, I was attending Greater Peoria Indivisible’s events where they invite candidates to speak, and I saw Hiral speak there.

The more I got to know the local groups, and became politically active, the more I learned about what and where the big problems were. I thought that Hiral was the right candidate for this district and decided to get heavily involved.

TS: Going into this special election, though, this district was considered to be a +21 district in the Republican’s favor. Considering most strategists think that +10 is the range of competitiveness, how did that affect your involvment?

CAT: I’ve lived in this district for over 30 years. I had no illusions about how red the district was. And indeed, we had a lot of folks who were outside the district or new to the area that were lulled by the talk of a BlueWave — you know, “if it can happen in Alabama, it can happen here.” There were a lot of very energized people, but it wasn’t necessarily going to translate to votes.

On the other hand, many people here didn’t think we had a chance. It’s been very red for a long time. It was hard being a Democrat in this area, where a Democrat rarely wins anything. This district has a very large retirement community.

As red as the district was, though, I knew that volunteers and hard work could make us much more competitive than the statistics and polling said. It wasn’t easy getting people motivated enough to help, at first. But we got a new regional party office and that helped.

As the campaign rolled on, and hopeful articles and polling started to get communicated, we got more help. An outside group came in and canvassed the Independent voters, which was terrific. And locally, we got more and more people making phone calls and canvassing voters.

 

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Dr. Hiral Tipirneni with Cat F. and fellow volunteers

 

TS: Were there other signs that you could see earlier on that made you think this race could be truly competitive? 

CAT: I became a precinct committee person (PC) in my legislative district almost exactly a year ago. I was appointed first to the empty seat (there were many that were open), and just turned in my petition to be elected (for a 2 year term). When I went on my first canvass as a PC, I found out a lot of my neighbors thought they were they only Democrat in the neighborhood. I was thanked just for knocking on their door to tell them I was their PC. I told them they certainly weren’t alone.

There were local issues at play here, particularly around the issue of healthcare, that gave us a good sense that Hiral, a doctor who formerly worked in emergency medicine before becoming a cancer research advocate, was more competitive than what analysts were saying. Here’s another data point: Since the 2016 election, Democrats have signed up 4 times as many precinct committee people in the county than the Republicans.

TS: I love that data point! Through other interviews, it appears that your county is not the only one where that seems to be the case. Now, one thing I wanted to ask you about is your experience as a poll watcher. This seems like yet another way we can help protect our elections. 

CAT: I’d never been a poll watcher before this special election. Essentially, the job is to observe the activity at a specific poll location to protect voters’ rights. Counties often like lawyers to act as observers, but every poll watcher is trained, so being a lawyer isn’t required.

Each poll location can have one observer, per party, at any one time during polling hours. Your job is to observe what is going on and report any issues that arise. The toughest part for me was the rule that you cannot talk to the voters. We watch, but cannot interfere. If we see an issue — there is a paper jam, an issue with someone’s registration, a broken machine, an issue with a poll worker — we are required to take notes and send those to the central office. We also had a hotline to call in any issues requiring immediate attention.

The marshall who was at my location commented that I was the first observer he’d ever met. I really do think getting Democrats to sign up as poll watchers is a huge opportunity. Particularly important in red states.

Anyone who is interested needs to check with their county elections board or their local Democratic party to find out how to get signed up and trained.

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TS: The election was on April 24. Tell me how you feel about the election result. 

CAT: Well, obviously, we would have preferred to have Hiral win the election so she could go into the November midterms as the incumbent. That said, we took this +21 Republican district and closed the gap to +5. I honestly feel like we would have won this election if we had had more time.

The primary was on February 27 and the early ballots were mailed on March 28. We only had one month to get the word out. And, as more volunteers got involved, we saw the polling and early ballot results move significantly in Hiral’s direction. What most energizes me is that with Hiral running for the seat again in the general election, we can continue to build on this momentum. My eyes are wide open, and I think we can absolutely win this seat in November.

TS: Any final thoughts about Arizona’s primary (on 8/28) and the general election in November?

CAT: There is a LOT of energy in Arizona right now. It really feels like a wake up here. Despite the narrow loss in this special election, I’m more energized than ever to get Hiral and other Democratic candidates elected in November. I am committed to the long game.

Postscript: I want to thank Cat for sharing her story and giving us an insider’s view of campaigning and volunteering in Arizona.
Hiral Tipirneni is running again in the November midterms. You can learn more about Hiral and her campaign to flip Arizona’s 8th congressional district here.
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