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Your power at the polls can be a force for change! The Arizona general election will be held on November 3, 2020. Reproductive health has been under attack, both nationally and statewide, but you can join Planned Parenthood Advocates of Arizona to back our endorsed candidates —  and put our health and rights first. 

Rep. Juan Mendez is a native Arizonan, a first-generation American, and a graduate of Arizona State University (ASU). Mendez completed his degree in political science in 2008, but he started putting education into practice well before he graduated. At both Phoenix College and ASU, he served as chapter president of the Young Democrats, and by the time he turned his tassel he was working as a political coordinator for Ironworkers Local 75 — and, months later, as a field organizer for the Arizona Democratic Party.

We need to pass legislation that guarantees reproductive freedom while repealing obstructions to reproductive healthcare access.

In 2012, Mendez set his sights on the state legislature, and he was elected to the House of Representatives to represent Legislative District 26, which includes Tempe, northwest Mesa, south Phoenix, and the Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community. Mendez was reelected in 2014 and then elected to the Arizona Senate in 2016. He's running again this year to continue serving in the Senate.

Mendez brings serious leadership credentials to his candidacy, but on his campaign website, he focuses instead on his humble beginnings. He speaks of growing up in a household that faced regular financial challenges — and that stayed afloat with the help of social service programs. His family relied on community support as case workers and mentors helped them turn their survival into success, gradually seeing their way from poverty to the middle class. That experience informs many of the issues he cares about today, from Medicare for All to affordable higher education.

Mendez’s campaign is one that merges the promise of the past with the promise of the future. He is campaigning together with House candidates Melody Hernandez and incumbent Athena Salman, all three of them branding themselves the Millennial Clean Team to represent LD 26. Their unified campaign website notes that LD 26 is the last district in the state that is still represented entirely by Clean Elections candidates — referring to the use of public funds instead of corporate cash to run campaigns. Their commitment to the public instead of the corporate interests is detailed in a long list of positions, spanning economic fairness, gender equality, racial justice, and the environment. And while they put “Millennial” at the front of their squad name, their list of positions pays tribute to Martin Luther King Jr.,Ruth Bader Ginsburg, and other pioneers of social change from previous generations.

Because of his passionate advocacy for reproductive justice, community empowerment, and the health of Arizonans, Planned Parenthood Advocates of Arizona is pleased to endorse Rep. Juan Mendez in his campaign for the Arizona Senate. He took the time to tell us more about his campaign in an interview on July 29.

Please tell us a little about your background and why you’re running for office in this political climate.  

I’m running for reelection to continue working towards an end to the political and economic inequalities that force many of us to work too hard to provide for a better environment for our families and our futures. Throughout college at ASU and since graduating, I’ve committed myself to building relationships to ensure positive outcomes for our community. My personal experience taught me that investment in community is the best way to contribute to our collective and shared good fortune, both economically and socially for us all.

However, under our current Republican leadership we’ve seen our incomes continue to stagnate and our inequality deepen for too long. It is impossible to climb out of poverty, let alone secure oneself in the middle class. I am running for reelection to improve the quality of our existing and future jobs we hope to attract and retain. Our jobs need to provide a living wage, benefits, and security.

What will be your first action as an elected official in 2021?

Reintroducing legislation I prime sponsored for Paid Family Leave. All parents, not just the wealthy with privileged job benefits, should benefit from the opportunity to take paid time off from working paycheck to paycheck to invest the deserved time, concern, and love their newborns are worthy of. Paid Family Leave fortifies people’s resilience and affords growing families the opportunity to breathe while focusing on their children. 

Despite a favorable ruling for abortion rights in June, the Supreme Court's current makeup is still cause for concern. What can legislators do to protect reproductive rights in Arizona?

We need to pass legislation that guarantees reproductive freedom while repealing obstructions to reproductive healthcare access. It’s that simple. 

Black Lives Matter has become one of the biggest movements in our history, prompting numerous reforms in government, education, and industry. What role can legislators play in keeping this momentum alive?

We need to reconcile with our past, or there isn’t going to be much progress. While we’re still uncovering past atrocities, we know that trauma is multi-generational. We need a truth and reconciliation movement with reparations for historically marginalized individuals and groups. College should be free and we need single-payer comprehensive healthcare for all. We need job guarantees with living wages and paid family leave. We need more hospitals and pollution mediation in neglected neighborhoods. We need to expand desegregation funding for schools — not end the funding as if it’s a problem that we no longer live with. People of color and other marginalized communities need investment on the same level as the GI Bill from the 1940s, a government program many were excluded from in the past. 

On your campaign website, you've shared how social service programs, both state and nonprofit, helped your family through challenges and set you up for the success you've had today. What concerns do you have about the strain those and other programs are under today because of the COVID-19 pandemic?

Not even a full generation after I benefited from many publicly funded services and programs these opportunities were already underfunded and unable to reach those in need, even before the pandemic. Now, COVID-19 changes everything as we are more dependent on each other in a pandemic and none of us can afford for any of us to be left out in the cold to fend for ourselves. Neglecting each other’s resilience during a pandemic only lengthens how long we have to shelter at home. The entire human services delivery and infrastructure system has been neglected so long that too many will remain without access to services because of the extra pressures of COVID-19. Instead of slapping on a band-aid and moving on to the next problem, we need to meet this crisis as an opportunity to redesign how we deliver services. We need to meet people in need as human beings worthy of respect and opportunities instead of making people jump through hoops for benefits so low people stay trapped in poverty. 

What other issues are you fighting for?

There currently is no law guaranteeing clean air, water, or healthy lands. We need a constitutional amendment guaranteeing our right to a clean and healthy environment. We simply lack the legal definitions to allow us to keep water in the environment. Currently, water law is only about who gets to use it first with no regard for our future. As the law stands today, protecting the environment is not a legal use of water, but we can change this with legislation progressive Democrats have previously introduced.

What gives you hope for the future of Arizona?

Young people, demographic changes, and the simple fact that Republicans haven’t been able to entirely destroy the Arizona Clean Elections Commission. Republicans try every session to discourage its use and weaken its independence, but we still have the option of publicly financing our campaigns for public office. If we had to rely on politicians who had to privatize their campaigns to the highest donor to bring about the change we need, I wouldn’t have much hope.

What is the most significant thing you will do as an elected official to support Planned Parenthood?

I will unapologetically introduce legislation that guarantees my constituents’ right to choose their own reproductive healthcare, free of government coercion, and proactively expand everyone’s access to healthcare.

For more information about Juan Mendez, visit his website, like his Facebook page, or follow him on Twitter or Instagram to stay up to date about his campaign.

If you don’t know what legislative district you’re in, you can click here to find out! You can also contact us if you’d like to volunteer for an endorsed candidate in your legislative district.

Most important, don’t forget to vote. You have until October 5 to register for the November general election, and you can register to vote online right now.

Tags: Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Martin Luther King Jr., Maricopa County, Arizona State University, Arizona House of Representatives, Meet Our Candidates 2020, covid-19, Arizona Clean Elections Commission, Athena Salman, Ironworkers Local 75, LD 26, Legislative District 26, Medicare for All, Melody Hernandez, Mesa, Millennial Clean Team, Paid Family Leave, Phoenix, Phoenix College, Pima-Maricopa Indian Community, Tempe, Young Democrats, desegregation, Gender Equality, higher education, Clean Elections, environment, living wage, racial justice, Arizona Democratic Party, Arizona Senate, reproductive freedom, Arizona, Planned Parenthood, reproductive health

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About Matt

Matt has a background in human services, health disparities research, and administrative support at an academic health sciences center. In addition to Planned Parenthood Advocates of Arizona, he volunteers with Read Between the Bars, a program that sends books to people in Arizona’s prisons. In his free time, he enjoys reading, studying Spanish, and playing Scrabble.