For Arizona to continue its road to becoming a blue state, it is necessary to continue making inroads into the 12 rural counties of the Grand Canyon State while also maintaining high turnout levels in Coconino, Maricopa, and Pima.
Based on election results, the counties that may warrant the most attention from Democratic rural activists, when thinking about 2024, are Apache, Pinal, Navajo Yavapai, and Yuma.
Rural Democratic Activists Kari Hull and Nicky Indicavitch (who is also a leader of Save Our Schools Arizona) graciously took the time to discuss the rural outreach strategies that worked in 2022 and what plans they will promote in 2024.
The questions and their responses are below.
- With respect to rural outreach, what were two strategies that worked well for Democrats in Arizona in 2022?
Kari Hull: “I would say that out of a lot of different choices starting early, is critical and then that has also led us to believe not just starting early, but then never stopping. So, therefore, I guess that’s a full circle of organizing. It’s never been done before in Arizona. I think Nicky and I started in December 2020 when we were thinking about the 2022 campaign. I am always a glass-half-full kind of girl except when it comes to the results of an election. Then all of a sudden, I’m a glass half empty. I look at things upside down and how close was it? What did we not win? And then go from there. So, I’ll say, start early.”
Nicky Indicavitch: “Election data is not quite available yet, but we do have some numbers. And one thing that I noted was there were three rural counties that really knocked it out of the park in terms of turnout for Democrats. They did a good job increasing their vote share and turning out in Pinal, Yavapai, and Apache Counties and they all increased over 10 solid percentage points with Pinal being 20. And I think what you can see there is these were counties that had dynamic strong local leaders that took the lead early. I worked closely, obviously in Yavapai. I live here but I also worked a lot in Pinal and. Apache. I have a great organizing partner up there that did a lot of work in these counties where you saw successes. It was because they had strong local leadership that controlled how that happened. They were in charge of their field operations. They were in the game early, as Kari noted. They were locals versus the kind of like parachuting somebody from who knows where into a rural county and expecting them to know what to do. I think a lesson I pull away in a success for Democrats is you have got to have that local leadership baked in and ready to go so that they can control and therefore implement strategies that work for their community. It’s reflected in the elections data and it’s also reflective in how those volunteers feel. If they feel like they had control. If they feel like they were in charge of their fate there, they’re going to want to come back and do it again. So, I would anticipate these three counties continue to set that standard if they’re given that autonomy again, and they’re given that support to do what they know is best in rural.”
- Can you point to any Statewide races that went the Democrat’s way as a result of the efforts you made?
Nicky Indicavitch: “I would say Katie Hobbs probably owes Pinal, Yavapai, and Apache County some thanks here because these votes add up to well over what she won by, which was a thin margin compared to the 2018 turnout. So these are extra votes in her bucket that she may not have gotten, had these rural counties not done this work and increased that Democratic turnout so significantly.”
How about any of the local races, LD (Legislative District), or county or school board? Is anything reflected there?
Nicky Indicavitch: “I think Pinal increased their turnout by 21.9 percent from 2018 for Democrats.
So Keith Seaman’s house race really did come down to Pinal County Democrats doing the work locally and increasing that.”
Would you say Pinal, Yavapai, and Apache are probably the new purple counties in Arizona?
Nicky Indicavitch: “They’re not quite purple. They increased their democratic votes, which is great, but they’re still some pretty tough terrain to work in. I would say.”
Kari Hull: “I think the point to that assumption is with a big turnout, these counties would turn purple. These super red counties and I can speak mostly for Yavapai because I live here, turned out. Regardless of its non-viability in winning local races or legislative districts, Democrats turned out. That is what helps in the margins for statewide candidates like Kris Mayes and Katie Hobbs. You can look at these things from different perspectives, but you know that’s what we are striving to do in other marginalized counties like Yuma. When some counties underperformed and others overperform, then that diminishes our results. Investing in strong turnout for ALL counties is a winning strategy.
- With respect to rural outreach, what were two strategies that did not work for Democrats in Arizona in 2022? Please explain.
Nicky Indicavitch: “I’ve been publicly critical of the Democratic Party about this, and I think fairly enough. We’ve seen a departure in rural counties from Democrats for decades. This is not new. This is a trend that started pre-Obama and it keeps getting worse. And I think what we’re seeing here, this divergence is caused by just a real lack of understanding of rural America. I have a lot of good friends that I work with that are Maricopa County activists, and they will say to me, why don’t you just do this. I’m like, well because I live in Yavapai County and that would never work. What we’re missing are the Democrats being willing to relinquish their power and let rural Democrats really drive what happens in our communities because we live it and understand it. I am a battleground Democrat. I am on the front lines up against the radicals that are coming out of the GOP right now. I know better than other organizers that haven’t been here and you could say the same for every county. Whoever’s the movement in that county, they know what needs to happen because they live it every day. So that autonomy and that blind support from Democrats, I think it needs to happen. They need to just relinquish that power and empower their local activists to do the work that they know needs to get done.”
Kari Hull: “Yeah, and I’d add on to that. Their lack of understanding, like Nicky, said, but also the lack of willingness to change and to create new playbooks for different areas because that’s going to take time and work like some serious effort getting to know the areas and the organizers from a statewide perspective. So instead of always coming from the top down, we want them to come and support from the bottom up and have a better understanding and know that it’s a different playbook.”
- Based on this last electoral cycle, what are two new outreach strategies you were thinking of implementing for the next election cycle and beyond?
Kari Hull: “I want to just like keep it going. It was the ADP 15/30 project, investing in the 15 counties and having paid organizers year-round to help build what we’re talking about. When you have a playbook, if nobody is running the playbook or teaching everybody how and what to do, then the playbook doesn’t matter. Right. And you can only ask for so much volunteer support. Here in Yavapai County, we get a lot of volunteer support because it’s high retirement, so that’s easy for us. But in other areas, like up in Coconino County, you have to invest in and pay those young organizers. That’s a strategy that Nicky and I want to see statewide investments in: organizers year-round that support the grassroots county-community building work before it’s crunch time. We want everybody to be knocking on doors early, inviting them to house parties, just to meet each other (relationship building), so that they get the sense of how all that works.”
Nicky Indicavitch: “I would say for me, going forward, one of the things that we, we tried to do up here, and we did pretty good in Yavapai, was supporting other areas and other counties. We kind of adopted LD 16, Pinal County up here, and we made calls into that legislative district and we sent money down there. We kind of focused on that because we knew that we couldn’t win our LD. So when Pinal was so successful, Yavapai County, despite the fact that we obviously didn’t win our legislative races, we were able to kind of say to our volunteers, this is the value of what you bring to this community, is you understand well enough to know that working in Pinal is important and so you did it and now we have a lawmaker from rural Pinal which is a great model to keep moving forward. So, I think for me, I’d like to see that grow where rural Democrats are valued for what they can do, even if it’s not in their community or their own legislative races. The same with Hobbs and Maye’s race. We talked to our Democrats shortly after the election and we said every vote matters and every door counts. Here we have this living, breathing example of how important rural Democrats are in the grand scheme of, these races, especially if you look at those two. I mean, Kris Mayes, for sure but even Katie Hobbs was pretty close. So, you can say to your rural Democrats, it mattered that you spent time on these races, even if you didn’t win locally, and keep that going and keep that energy up for them so that they know they’re valued in what they do. because it’s volunteer time. Nobody’s paid to do this for us. We, we have to let them know how important they are and that is by explaining these races and what they might have looked like had we not done what we did.”
Kari Hull: “Yavapai County adopted a “competitive” sister district in Arizona so everybody’s all working together. There’s equity there. I liked that I participated in this strategy and I liked the idea when we did the outreach around issues. That made it more meaningful and so I think that is a new strategy as well to communicate to voters what Democrats deliver. Communicate the strong contrast between the candidates. How are our candidates going to make a difference? When we’re talking to voters, clear messaging about important issues is essential to get to their emotions and honestly educate voters. I do want to give credit to the Democratic state party. They did that for the Navajo Nation. They had a big call bank for the Navajo Nation. They had cultural humility training before you made the calls. That’s an example but it needs to be scaled to reach more targeted voter communities with customized messaging.”
- Please explain how the legislative proposals of the Democrats in the Arizona State Legislature will help with the outreach efforts for 2024 and beyond. And as a quick follow-up, what did you think of Governor Hobbs’s proposals for rural Arizona in her State of the State address?
Nicky Indicavitch: “I was glued to my screen for the State of the State and I will say, I tweeted out shortly after, I lost count of how many times Katie said Rural Arizona. It felt to me, and a lot of other rural activists, like it, was the first governor I’ve had since I’ve lived here. I attempted to meet with Governor Ducey on rural issues for a long time. I was in his office, I was down at the Capitol and it fell on deaf ears. And it was obvious to me that my rural school didn’t matter.
My rural community didn’t matter. So, to have Katie get up there and say rural communities, rural schools, rural families, that many times; it had to have been at least six or seven times. It felt like the first time I could say somebody in this state in a higher office was really looking out for where I live and where my family is. So huge, huge relief, I think, for rural advocates across the state right now. In terms of policy, I think Katie and her administration fully understand what’s going on in rural America, and you see that reflected in how she talked about schools and water, which are two big issues for rural Arizona. I mean, when you talk water, Kari and I are in a county where our locally elected officials are not always accountable for what they do with our water and how irresponsible they are. So for us, we’re in unchecked water territory in Yavapai County, and we feel the impact of that. We have fires all the time. Yavapai County has had serious, serious drought concerns and fires that come along with that. You see Katie really positioning herself in a way, to express that she fully understands what rural counties are going through and that she intends to speak up for them in despite their lawmakers, to be frank. I mean, their lawmakers are not, obviously, are not speaking up for my values and so Katie looks positioned to step into that beautifully.”
Kari Hull: “Water is a big issue. And if Governor Hobbs can be the one that leads on that and can get bipartisan support, then that is the kind of “Democrats Deliver” messaging that we want to carry into 2024 so that we can get progressive legislators elected.”
- Is there anything not covered in the first four questions that you would like the readers to know about your future outreach strategies in Rural Arizona? Please explain
Nicky Indicavitch: “I think for me, I would like everyone to know that I fully intend to continue the work that I’ve done in rural communities. It’s incredibly rewarding. It is a fight that I think deserves more attention and I’m going to stay and keep talking about what’s going on in these communities for as long as possible. That is the goal for a very long time. We focus on the great state of Maricopa but there are families and Arizonans in every county that are being unheard and they have a lot of issues that are making their life more difficult, which I know Democrats would be better for. They just would be better suited to address those needs at every level so I will continue digging into these rural counties. I set a goal for myself to knock on doors in every single county before 2024, including La Paz County. I will get that done. This last cycle, I set a goal of knocking every legislative district and I did it. So, I fully intend to be on doors in every county in the state to set that standard that there are 15 counties here and there are people in every single one of them that are worthy of having a voice in state government in Arizona.”
Kari Hull: First of all, Nicky needs to share those goals with me because I know I’ll be right there beside her. I want to continue this work because I believe we have an opportunity to win big in Arizona in 2024! I believe the key to our success is we have to start early and the reason that you start early is that we will build really strong relationships statewide, especially in marginalized communities like Prescott where people do not know that there are Democrats that live here. When we say there are 33,000 Democrats in Yavapai County, they fall over backward. Where are they? And I’m like, come with us and we’ll show you where they are. And then it’s just like friendships are made. We have so much fun together. The work is hard, but it’s so rewarding that we just keep coming back to work together, we have a bond. We want to demonstrate throughout the state that this work can be rewarding and meaningful for ourselves, and within our community. Look at the difference that we can make with the policies that we’re bringing for our schools, and for our environment. I know it’s possible to do this work without it being crushing and just like those organizers, you know, laid off and completely exhausted. When it is time for them to come back, maybe they don’t want to come back. We want people to come back. We want all the training and investment that we give our organizers and volunteers to be sustainable and strong. They’re the future leaders. They should be taking a step up instead of a step out. Nicky and I agree that year-round investment in field organizers is a winning strategy and we are trying to model that here for Arizona.