Submitted by Serah Blain, Spectrum Experience
Four years ago, when Arizona’s only Black legislator, State Senator Leah Landrum Taylor, announced she was leaving the legislature, the Arizona Republic lamented: “Arizona could be one of only a handful of states with no Black state lawmakers.”
It would have marked the first time since 1950 that no Black legislators represented Arizona, and when the Republic reported on Landrum Taylor’s departure in 2014, not a single Black candidate had announced for the Arizona House or Senate (Reginald Bolding threw his hat in the ring shortly afterward).
But in 2018, eight Black Arizonans ran for state legislature, and three were elected. Twelve other Black candidates running for local offices throughout the state also won their elections. Overall, more than 40 African Americans launched campaigns in Arizona in 2018.
“We didn’t just knock doors this election cycle,” said Lindsay Love, a Black woman elected to the Chandler Unified School District Governing Board. “We knocked down doors and some of us became the first Black woman elected to our positions within our communities. That is monumental and sends the message to others behind us that they can do it too.”
Love ran as a progressive underdog in a conservative district where racism in schools had been making headlines all year.
Another notable victory was Elaissia Sears, the youngest candidate on the ballot in Arizona, who beat a white male incumbent for West Mesa Justice of the Peace. Sears, along with Kyrene’s Sharron Sauls, joins Judge Cody Williams to make a historic total of three Black JPs for Arizona.
“These are crucial positions, especially because people of color are arrested and incarcerated at higher rates than their white counterparts,” Sears told Voyage Phoenix in September.
Black candidates who won their 2018 races in Arizona include:
• Walter Blackman – State Representative, LD6
• Reginald Bolding – State Representative, LD27
• Devin Del Palacio – Tolleson Union High School Board
• Coral Evans – Flagstaff Mayor
• Gary Harrison – Pima County Clerk of the Court
• Mahogany Kennedy – South Mountain Constable
• Sandra Kennedy – Arizona Corporation Commission
• Bryon Kilgore – Avondale City Council
• Akanni Oyegbola – South Tucson City Council
• Lindsay Love – Chandler Unified School Board
• Dr. Geraldine “Gerae” Peten – State Representative, LD4
• Naketa Ross – Phoenix Unified High School Board
• Sharron Sauls – Kyrene Justice of the Peace
• Elaissia Sears – West Mesa Justice of the Peace
• Henry Wade – Maricopa City Council
• Cody Williams – South Mountain Justice of the Peace
This historic surge in Black candidates represents the fruits of a concerted effort by African Americans in Arizona and nationwide to organize politically and elect leaders who will not take their votes for granted.
“In a time when many elected offices are dominated by white males it is very inspiring to see a record number of African American candidates that were elected this cycle,” said Devin Del Palacio, who went unchallenged in his bid for re-election to the Tolleson Union High School Board. “What’s even more special is that a majority of the newly elected are women of color. We still have a long way to go in terms of diversity in politics but I’m more excited than ever for what’s to come in 2020.”
The importance of diverse representation at every level of government was a focus for Black organizers and candidates locally and throughout the country this election cycle. Many of these newly elected officials pledge to continue working to ensure more minority voices are included in the policy-making process.
“When you have Black women sitting at the table, we make sure everybody gets served,” said Love.