|Democrat challenger Hiral Tipirneni, MD|
On Tuesday, there’s a special election in Arizona’s Eighth Congressional District, which Donald Trump won by 21 percentage points. It’s to replace Trent Franks, the abortion opponent who resigned amid reports that he tried to create his own personal version of “The Handmaid’s Tale” by pressuring female employees to serve as gestational surrogates.
In the past two elections, Democrats didn’t contest the district, which encompasses suburbs northwest of Phoenix. This time, a Democrat named Hiral Tipirneni, a former emergency room physician and first-time political candidate, is running against a Republican state senator, Debbie Lesko. Though Lesko is expected to win, some polls show the race in a dead heat, and Republicans have spent more than $1 million on the campaign.
On Thursday, public school teachers in Arizona, among the lowest paid in the country, are planning to walk out, following the lead of teachers in West Virginia, Oklahoma and Kentucky. For 15 years, “we’ve continued to get cut and cut and cut,” Theresa Ratti, who teaches high school in Mesa, told me. “My A.P. government textbook that I teach from, the new president is George W. Bush.”
These two events — an unexpectedly competitive Eighth District election and a rare labor action by teachers — are connected. Partly this is because Lesko is a villain to many local champions of public education. . . . . Lesko has been an advocate of vouchers and privatization and pretty much anything she can do to destroy the public school system.”
But there’s a deeper link. Both the walkout and the surprising viability of Tipirneni’s campaign are manifestations of the explosive activist energy, particularly among women, set off by the catastrophe of Trump’s election. Since Hillary Clinton’s defeat, “college-educated women have ramped up their political participation en masse,” . . . . women who were once politically disengaged felt demeaned by Trump’s victory. Overcome by a need to do something in response, they’d turned to local politics, which had gradually come to consume their lives.
Save Our Schools, a prominent grass-roots organization supporting the walkout, is an outgrowth of an Arizona group called Stronger Together, which itself is a spinoff of the pro-Hillary Clinton Facebook group Pantsuit Nation. . . . . before the election, Republicans had more than 3,000 precinct committeemen in the county, and Democrats only 600. Since 2016, he said, the Democrats’ total has grown to 1,700.
Even with this new infrastructure, local activists realize that winning on Tuesday is a long shot. Unlike the pro-Trump district that the Democrat Conor Lamb won in Pennsylvania, Arizona’s Eighth has no Democratic roots. It’s both very white and, because of a high concentration of retirees, very old.
But whatever happens this week, politics in Arizona, which Trump won by a mere 3.5 percentage points and which is key to the Democratic dream of retaking the Senate, is changing fast. Though our national politics remains a horror show, here, among so many indefatigable women, it’s easy to be hopeful.
I will keep my fingers crossed and hope for a Democrat upset.Even if she [Tipirneni] comes up short, the work she’s done to build up the Democratic Party in her district will have a lasting impact, she said: “It’s going to be incredible to see what Arizona looks like after November.”