Yahyah Yuksel, a Democratic candidate for Tucson’s CD2 Congressional Seat, plans to capture votes by emphasizing universal health care, creating jobs that pay well and building a well-educated workforce.
“We know what is right for the people. It takes people with courage, integrity and experience to get that done, and that’s what we offer,” he said at a lively open house recently.
Charismatic, intelligent and energetic, Yuksel burst onto the campaign scene in March, stole the show at a candidate forum and promptly filed 2,400 signatures to get on the ballot (only 1,274 were required).
Offering a brunch of scrambled eggs, refried beans, tortillas, salsa, and coffee, he showed off his bustling campaign headquarters at 3776 N 1st Ave. (near Roger Road) in Tucson. He is the first in the field of 7 Democratic candidates to hold an open house where voters, staff, and the candidate could freely meet and mingle. He plans to hold more.
“We have a huge office, bigger than everyone else’s office,” he said. “It’s not that we’re raising a ton more money. We’re more efficient with our money.”
Building a campaign
Yuksel knows how to build a campaign. At age 14 he founded Teen Democrats in Tucson, and organized youth groups to campaign for John Kerry’s 2004 presidential bid. At age 19, Yuksel worked for Congresswoman Gabby Giffords’ successful congressional campaign. Afterward, he served as the Co-Chair for Vice Mayor Karin Uhlich’s successful 2009 re-election campaign.
Born and raised in Tucson, Yuksel is an attorney. He has a Masters in Chinese law from China’s top university. His heritage is Persian, Turkish and Kurdish, giving him a memorable name that is perfect for a bumper sticker.
He’ll need to work fast, because the primary is on August 28 and the early mail-in ballots go out in less than 60 days. To meet the challenge Yuksel has assembled an election machine of 20 people – ranging from young interns to seasoned campaigners:
- Kenny Jacobs came from Portland, OR, to be the Campaign Coordinator. He worked as Executive Director of the Pima County Democratic Party for the 2008 election cycle and also worked on the Obama campaign of 2008. His first federal campaign was with Jesse Jackson’s run for President in 1988. In the early 1990s, he worked statewide with Arizona for Fairness in support of LGBT issues.
- Dr. Robert Berrier is the Campaign Strategist. For 25 years he headed leadership and organizational development for clients of Spring International, a national survey and focus group business. Berrier has run 60 campaigns for Democrats and progressives and won 59 of them.
- Laura Little is the social media director. She is the Director of Marketing and Fan Engagement for UA Athletics, in charge of sports marketing and digital advertising.
- Diane Cuneo is the Creative Director in charge of advertising. She has advertising agency experience.
- Ivanna Ferra is the Campaign Manager, in charge of reaching young voters. She is a Tucson business owner with an education in marketing. She has worked with Mi Familia Vota, which visits schools, community centers and homes of citizens to register voters.
- Priscilla Teran is organizing a novel video ad competition for the campaign. She is the General Manager of Tucson Bike Share and was a Community Outreach and Recruiter for the University of Arizona.
Yuksel is competing with Democrats who have been elected to office, including Ann Kirkpatrick, Matt Heinz, and Bruce Wheeler. “Yeah, they’be been in office before, but that doesn’t mean they succeeded in office,” Yuksel said. “We need a new generation with new ideas to get into Congress and represent the people of Southern Arizona.”
“We want to have affordable and universal healthcare for everybody, from the day they’re born to the day they die,” Yuksel said. “I see a path forward with our current system, the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare). We just have to reduce a lot of costs and continually mitigate the growing levels of epidemics, the rising age levels and the cost of new medical advances.”
“We also have to hold the pharmaceutical companies accountable, as well as the state hospital networks and the insurance companies,” he said. “The ideas behind the Affordable Care Act are not just from Obama. They have been proposed since Truman first envisioned it and Lyndon Johnson enacted Medicare in 1965.”
Jobs that pay well
“When I was in China I gained a lot of experience learning about how they attracted investment and how they attracted a huge amount of jobs to their region,” he said. “It’s about industrialization and focusing on your strengths. Southern Arizona has a strong potential for solar energy, optics, planetary sciences, and cybersecurity. These are strong sectors that will bring high-paying jobs.”
“But it also a matter of education. I’m not talking about a 4-year or 10-year education. I’m talking about quick vocational training programs that are developed in tandem with the private sector. We’ve seen it done successfully all across the US.”
“A lot of people don’t want or need to go to 4-year education to get the job that is high-paying. The 2016 median household income is under $50,000 — it’s not that high. And one of three single-parent families live in poverty. Eight out of 10 families live paycheck to paycheck. It’s incredibly important to have a high-paying job.
We can do better by focusing on niches that are strong in this region,” he said. “We can focus on building a strong, educated workforce, and making sure the government is supporting that development through economic incentives.”
Campaign finance reform
“Campaign finance reform is the biggest issue facing our democracy,” he said. Candidates like me are spending a lot more time than they should on raising money because it costs so much to advertise.
“We’ve got to change it. We have public media like NPR and C-SPAN. Can’t we make them the primary sources of information about candidates?” he asked.
“Let’s also expose and disclose all money — from campaign contributions to individual donations — no exceptions,” he said. “We can create this system where the only money a candidate can get is from the voters in that district. It’s a small price to pay for democracy.”
“Right now I’m traveling across the US raising funds. Let’s incentivize a system where people in the district are the only ones making contributions to the candidates. That’s what democracy is — not candidates spending 75% of their time seeking contributions.”
A young generation with new ideas
Despite the odds, Yuksel is upbeat. “I’m willing to work with everyone to find common ground that we can all stand on. That’s the most important thing. We have to get back to the basics of working together again.”
“Congress is so broken. We’ve got to work together. This young generation has new ideas to solve the issues ahead. We will reinvent our institutions so that the 21st century can be another American century.”
“I would like everyone to come down and see the energy and the magic that’s happening in our office. It’s hard to explain the momentum we have. We have a lot of people volunteering and getting us out there. We’re going to win this, that’s for sure.”
Learn more at his official website www.yahya4congress.com.