One of the things I’ve learned, as I’ve become more politically engaged the past four years, is just how important local elected officials are.
It’s primary time here in Arizona, so I thought I’d talk about why a few of the most-overlooked, county-level offices on the ballot matter in all communities, as well as giving some recs for the candidates in my community, Pima County.
Starting from the very bottom of the ballot:
Why this position matters: Constables serve papers— including eviction notices. That potentially puts them at the forefront of eviction policy reform—where they have power to help more people stay in their homes, and to provide more support to those who are evicted.
A dedicated group of Pima County constables have done just that. They launched a pilot program that gives those being evicted several days notice instead of the fifteen minutes that had been standard—time that helps evictees accept the reality of their situation make plans. The constable have also worked to get more resources to those being evicted, including information about housing grants, and they’ve pushed for a freeze on evictions during the Covid-19 crisis.
Four years ago I had no idea what constables did. Now I know they literally have the power to save lives, if they choose to use it.
My recommendations: Joe Ferguson (JP 9), Kristen Randall (JP 8), and Bennett Bernal (JP 6) have been at the forefront of eviction reform here. They deserve to—and Pima County needs them to—continue this work.
Why this office matters: The county recorder handles all things voting—registration, polling places, mail-in ballots, and so on. She’s also in a position to address barriers that keep people from voting and to make voting more equitable—things at the very heart of our democracy.
My recommendation: Gabriella Cázares-Kelly has a long history of voter outreach within the Tohono O’odham reservation and throughout Pima county. She has a master’s degree in higher education, experience encouraging civic engagement as a co-founder of the grassroots organizing group Indivisible Tohono, and is president of the Progressive Democrats of Southern Arizona.
She’s also one of the most dedicated people I know, and as county recorder she’ll work tirelessly to make voting more accessible in underrepresented communities.
Why this office matters: The county attorney oversees the local criminal justice system—and so has the power to reform it.
My recommendation: Laura Conover won’t settle for maintaining the current status quo. She’s committed to criminal justice reform and opposed to maintaining the status quo. A former public defender now in private practice, she promises to end the county’s policy of pursuing felony prosecutions for minor, nonviolent crimes.
Why this office matters: The county board of supervisors (in some places called the board of commissioners) oversees county services and controls the county budget. They set policies related to public health, economic development, community safety, management of natural resources, and countless other things (including, in Pima County, the local animal shelter).
Supervisors also have the power to accept or reject grants, something that became critical when community members drew attention to Pima County’s routine acceptance of Operation Stonegarden grants, which fund collaboration between local law enforcement and border patrol—and in doing so both harm vulnerable families and cost the county money via indirect expenses. Thanks to community engagement, the county ultimately rejected these funds, a move with not only local but also national implications.
Wherever you live, give your downballot candidates some attention and research and love this primary season—and in November. In the end, they truly do have as much power to change lives as the upballot headliners do.