“The Blue Wave Starts Here” as Maricopa County Democrats Gather at the Summer Convention

Photo courtesy of Maricopa County Democratic Party

About 700 excited and enthusiastic Democratic activists, including many candidates, precinct captains, and Legislative District chairpersons, filled the auditorium at the Performing Arts Center of Horizon High School in Paradise Valley on June 30 to attend the Summer Convention of the Maricopa Democratic Party.

They heard speakers including the County Party Leadership, Maricopa County State Representatives Kelli Butler and Mitzi Epstein, House Representative Ruben Gallego, the three Democratic Gubernatorial Candidates (Farley, Fryer, and Garcia), Maricopa County Recorder Adrian Fontes, and Guest Speaker Senator Jeff Merkley of Oregon.

Maricopa County Democratic Party Chair Steven Slugocki speaking at June 30 Maricopa County Summer Convention; photo courtesy of Maricopa County Democratic Party.

The gathered assemblage conveyed an optimistic mood, cheering when Maricopa County Party Leader Steven Slugocki proclaimed that the “Blue Wave starts here” in the “largest Battleground County.”

He happily reported that the Democratic Party has surged in growth since 2016, citing examples of the quadrupling in the number of Precinct Captains in some Legislative Districts (with LD 18, for example exploding with 254 of which I have to disclose I am one) and legislative offices.

Slugocki also relayed that there has been a surge in the number of candidates. In 2014, the Democrats recruited 55 people to run and there were some positions where Republicans ran unopposed, today there are 75 people running and all legislative offices are being contested. LD 23 was singled out for being the district that gathered the most ballot signatures and LD 12 for the most voter registrations.

Read: LD 23 State House Candidate Eric Kurland sees 2018 as a Referendum on Public Education.

Highlights Before the Convention

  • The packed parking lot: Arriving at the Convention well before it began, the parking lot was already fairly filled. It was also striking to see the bumper stickers on many of the cars. There were many SOS (Save Our School) stickers and you can tell where the drivers lived by the local candidate bumper stickers on their vehicles.
  • A very well-organized and managed check-in process that directed the attendees to the gathering for candidates and ballot initiatives and the cafeteria as well as monitoring when it was time to venture to the auditorium for the convention.
  • The gathering place for candidates and ballot initiatives before the meeting was filled with vibrant energy and positive interaction. Virtually all the major candidates were represented by their teams with some of them there to meet people and answer questions. Some of the candidates present at the pre-convention gathering were Dr. Hiral Tipirneni, Kiana Sears, Kathy Hoffman, Jennifer Samuels,  Jennifer Jermaine, Jennifer Pawlik, Kristen Dybuig Pawelko, Jennifer Longdon, Anita Malik, Heather Ross, and Eric Kurland Volunteers for the Invest in Ed, Outlaw Dirty Money, and Clean Energy for a Healthy Arizona were also there gathering signatures in this last week of collecting them.

Highlights During the Convention from the Speakers

State Representatives Kelli Butler (left) and Mitzi Epstein (right) speaking at the summer convention; Photo courtesy of Maricopa County Democratic Party.

After Chairman Slugocki’s report, several dynamic and passionate speakers followed, conveying the same themes which included:

  • Get out and Fight for every Vote
  • Saluting the Red for Ed, March for Our Lives, and Stop Separating Families Unit.
  • Help grow the infrastructure of the Democratic Party
  • Help register voters.
  • Take the Democratic Case for the State and America to all the people, including Independents and Republicans.

They called for campaigning on the following issues:

  • Quality Affordable Health Care.
  • Economic Opportunity.
  • Quality Education.
  • Fight for Social Security and Medicare.
  • Fight for every child, American, and Dreamer.
  • Sensible comprehensive immigration reform.
  • Preserving our Democracy.
  • Protecting the environment.

There were several memorable remarks from the speakers. These include:

Dr. Hiral Tipirneni speaking at the Maricopa County Democratic Party Convention; photo courtesy of Maricopa County Democratic Party.

Hiral Tipireni (who received a standing ovation before speaking), running to finish the job she started in the special election in Congressional District Eight, commented that Trump and the Republicans are “not even hiding it” with their intentions to overturn Roe vs. Wade with the potential appointment of the next Supreme Court Justice to succeed Anthony Kennedy. She also told the crowd, quoting Civil Rights Icon John Lewis “Do not get lost in a sea of despair…..Be hopeful. Be Optimistic.”

Gubernatorial Candidate and Senate Minority Leader Steve Farley brought it to the crowd with a passionate oration saying “Are you ready for a Governor that won’t take orders from billionaires from Kansas?” Saying “complacency died in November 2016” and borrowing the Obama phrase “this was our time” stated that we needed a Governor who would invest in education and that “I need you to rise up and help change Arizona,” no matter who was chosen as the Democratic candidate for Governor in August.

State Representative Mitzi Epstein, who channeled the crowd to repeat her catchphrase “Who will make Arizona Better? We will.” Speaking with State Representative Kelli Butler, both commended the Red for Ed movement (which also resulted in the crowd chanting “Red for Ed”), they both showed how Democratic leadership at the State Legislature helped steer progressive legislation in opioid prevention, suicide prevention, and school safety.

Gubernatorial Candidate David Garcia had a mixed performance. He started off well by walking the stage (whereas all the other speakers before him spoke from the podiums) and saying positive comments like this race is “about being the voice for the disenfranchised, the vulnerable….Arizona needs to fight for the most,” “It is not patriotic to split up families,” and Democrats “embrace diversity.” He then seemed to lose some of the crowd by seeming a bit self-absorbed with himself in some comments about the endorsements he has received and stating that someone in the audience had told one of his volunteers that he would not support Garcia because he talked too much “about Latinos.”

Like Garcia, Representative Ruben Gallego, a former veteran, walked the stage. He connected well with the crowd throughout his presentation calling the President “crazy’ and saying the job of the military is to “liberate,” not detain people by “imprisoning thousands of families.” Worried about our county sliding into autocracy and saying Trump and his allies have no shame and will do anything to maintain power, he said: “if we could not get out the vote, we are going to be in this forever.”

Maricopa County Democrat Executive Director Miguel Medrano called on all the activists to work on promoting the ballot from the bottom up, emphasizing the three goals of voter registration, persuasion, and turnout.

Gubernatorial Candidate Kelly Fryer gave an impassioned speech, remarking that “Arizona should work for everyone,” “children do not belong in cages,” “this is about morality (when discussing the plight of some Native American and rural populations that do not have access to running water or broadband),” and “what happened to vision, dreams, and innovation?” (when commenting that Governor Ducey claims we cannot fully fund public education or repair potholes). Championing a bottom-up plan to end poverty in the state. Fryer wants to make Arizona a model for human rights and justice that the whole world can emulate.

Joe Downs delivered the Treasurer’s Report and outlined how the contributions delivered to the County Party have been distributed. He also made the request to the audience (this would be repeated by County Recorder Fontes) to help solicit more funding to help continue the Party’s operations.

Guest Speaker Oregon Senator Jeff Merkley, telling the crowd “this is what Democracy looks like,” ably repeated the themes and ideas conveyed by the previous speakers. He did propose shifting the $80 billion in increased defense spending over to make college and career/technical education affordable. He also endorsed Medicare for All, greater investments in infrastructure, partnering with Rural America in clean renewable energy, and getting out the vote by aggressive door knocking and creating a Democratic majority in the Senate where the “likes of Betsy DeVos, Scott Pruitt, and Mick Mulvaney would never be confirmed again.”

The only potential hiccup in Merkley’s comments was his singling out (endorsement) of Senate Candidate Kyrsten Sinema in the coming election. One of the audience members in the front row had to correct him and point out that there were three Democrats vying for the Democratic Senate nomination at which time Merkley corrected himself.

Maricopa County Recorder Adrian Fontes finished the proceedings by repeating the earlier themes, telling the audience that Republican claims of voting fraud are baseless and calling for a groundswell among the people to fight corporate greed and to elect Democrats up and down the ballot.

Moving Forward

If a Blue Wave does hit Arizona, it will in all likelihood start in Maricopa County. In an earlier piece (see link below), Chairman Slugocki said that the “road to a Blue State Legislature goes through Maricopa County.”

If the enthusiasm and passion of the audience and speakers that gathered for the summer convention is any indication, the Blue Wave, built on both progressive ideas and energy along with a thorough disdain for Republican policies, may indeed be coming.

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