Arizona Teachers Get Fed Up, Run for Office

Earlier this spring, thousands of teachers stormed the State Capitol, demanding increased funding for education. This was done as part of the demonstration known as #RedForEd. #RedForEd was a six-day school walkout in protest of the lack in education funding. One of the many teachers who took part in this demonstration was Jennifer Samuels.

Mrs. Samuels teaches English to eight-graders in north-Scottsdale. Amongst her peers, the teacher sat in the front row of the Arizona Senate gallery. With bated breath, she waited until 5:30 am for the conclusion of the Arizona legislature’s all-night budget vote.

During this vote, the Legislature did sign off on raises for teachers. Republican Governor Ducey signed off on giving teachers a 20 percent raise by the year 2020. This was a big change in tune from the one-percent he originally called for. However, seeing the #RedForEd movement made him change the budget.

While the teachers received a little victory, they still left upset. That’s because the government did not address the more pressing concerns to not only Mrs. Samuels, but every single teacher who stayed throughout the night. They wanted answers about:

  • Outdated Texts
  • Buildings Falling Apart
  • Overcrowding Inside Classrooms

The lack of foresight got the ire of Mrs. Samuels. This has prompted the English teacher to run as a Democrat in the Arizona House. She is doing this in north Phoenix’s District 15, a historically GOP-sided suburb.

Not to be intimidated, Jennifer Samuels garnered 538 signatures over a 17 day period. She thanks fellow teachers for organizing this revolution, “It’s a testament to the fact that teachers are still fired up. We need to act now. We need sustainable funding now.”

This is a time in the world where first-timers are running for office more than ever. According to the Secretary of State’s Office, there are currently 225 candidates qualified for an August 28th primary ballot election for both the House and Senate. A typical year sees 190 candidates, making this year the second-most populated over the past 20 years.

The record number is 229 and was a year where there were primarily Republicans running. This year’s shift is being inspired by the Democrats. Of the 225 candidates, they break down as followed:

  • Democrats – 115
  • Republicans – 107
  • Green Party – 3

The majority of incumbents are Republicans. However, Democrats are predicting that not only will they flip the Senate, but the group will also secure extra seats in the House. Arizona Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee Executive Director, Charlie Fisher, pointed to the anti-Trump movement as the reason behind this shift. Combining that with the #RedForEd movement, Fisher, stated, “It’s all adding up to a really incredible opportunity. Regardless of party affiliation, I think a lot of people would agree our current president doesn’t represent our country well, and that has an impact on people.”

This movement has touched districts that have gone uncontested in the past as well. Far East Valley and rural areas that are rich in GOP followers are now facing Democratic challengers. In fact, this year there is only one legislative race that doesn’t have a Democratic candidate.

Alongside Jennifer Samuels, other teachers are becoming first-time candidates. This includes Republicans. Kristina Kelly is a fed-up second grade teacher who is running to get the Republican nomination for the already crowded Senate District 23 race in Scottsdale and Fountain Hills. Throwing her name into the hat, Kelly will be going up against long-time Republican, Rep. Michelle Ugenti-Rita, who is also running for that particular seat. Kelly spoke on running, saying, “I think the governor has done a great job starting us off. But we need to do more. We need to find more permanent funding sources for education.”

While Mrs. Kelly is a Republican teacher, most of the teachers running are Democrats. Out of the 115 Democrats that are running for office, five are currently teachers. On top of that, 58 of the Democrats are women, 51 are of color, and eight are members of the LGBTQ community.

The future looks hopeful for Democrats. However, Charles Fisher will not get too confident. He stated, “The blue wave is not a guarantee. It’s a possibility.”