Arizona Democrats have an opportunity to show real leadership. So why are they blowing it?




Katie Hobbs in January 2019. Photo by Gage Skidmore | Wikimedia Commons/CC BY-SA 2.0

In the age of Donald Trump, it’s easy for Democrats to point a finger across the aisle and highlight the inconsistencies between the values Republicans espouse when campaigning and the ones they uphold when governing.

Republicans often say they are the ones who value the rule of law, yet they’ve been curiously silent as the president and his family flout the emoluments clause of the U.S. Constitution and court foreign interference in our elections.

Likewise, their claim of being the party of “family values” rings hollow when the leader of their party brags about grabbing women by the genitals and pays off porn stars and mistresses for their silence. 

But right now, Arizona Democrats are dealing with some of their own contradictions.

Democrats are supposed to be the party that embraces diversity and fights for equality, particularly in the workplace. When individuals in the private or public sector experience discrimination, we are oftentimes the first to demand accountability. 

Yet recently, Talonya Adams, a former staffer for the Arizona Senate Democratic Caucus, received a million-dollar verdict after a jury found her supervisors guilty of unlawful termination based on race and gender discrimination.

It seems Adams, an African American, was fired because she had the audacity to ask for a raise after finding out she was getting paid less than her male counterparts.

Adams’s dismissal occurred even though she had a heavier workload than her male co-workers and had former and current Democratic state senators testify that her work was exemplary.

Perhaps even more egregious, she was informed of her termination while on approved emergency medical leave for her son.

This is a story that plays out on a regular basis across America. Women, and especially women of color, get paid less than their male (and oftentimes white) co-workers for doing the exact same job and, sometimes, doing the same job better.

But rarely do the discriminated parties end up with a unanimous million-dollar verdict. 

That tells me the evidence in this case must have been convincing. And it begs the question as to why Democrats are staying as silent as Mike Pence in the middle of a Pride parade.

Of course, I understand the real reason the party has remained mute: One of the three individuals found liable for the firing is none other than Secretary of State Katie Hobbs, a beloved Democrat and possible contender for governor.

As the former Senate minority leader, Hobbs was Adams’s boss and the ultimate decision-maker in her termination. Firing a black staffer because she raised concerns about unfair and unequal pay doesn’t jibe with Hobbs’s brand as a champion for equality.

Nor does it jibe with Democrats who insist we should never tolerate race or gender discrimination in any form.

But so far, the party — and other elected Democrats — have done just that. They have been duplicitous in living out the values they say they hold sacred.

I understand how difficult it is to demand accountability from individuals you have a personal relationship with or have campaigned for or consider a friend. There is nothing easy or satisfying about placing yourself in that type of situation.

But if we want voters to believe politicians and party leaders are capable of integrity, then we must speak up, especially when it’s hard.

Consider the courage that will be required by Adams, who was ordered to be reinstated. If she goes back to her job at the state Senate, she will once again be the only African American staffer under the supervision of the same two chiefs of staff – one Democrat and one Republican – who were found at fault in her termination. No one has been held accountable since Adams was fired, and large gaps remain in personnel policies, such as a lack of performance reviews, to prevent against future unlawful terminations.

What Democrats should be asking themselves is whether they’d treat this situation differently if the party affiliations were reversed. If Adams was a Republican and a Republican secretary of state had been found complicit in a discriminatory firing, would Democrats be sitting on the sidelines?

No.

We’d take the side of the wronged individual, while lambasting the policies or environment that made the discrimination possible.

That would be the right thing to do in that instance, and it’s the right thing to do in this one.

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Julie Erfle hails from North Dakota, but has called Arizona home for more than twenty years. She began her career in Phoenix as a creative services producer at KPHO-TV5 and 3TV. Blending her background in communications with her passion for community activism, Julie launched the political blog Politics Uncuffed in 2011, and began working as a communications director and consultant on candidate and initiative campaigns. She is the former executive director of Progress Now Arizona, a progressive communications and advocacy non-profit, and a fellow with the Flinn-Brown Arizona Center for Civic Leadership and Leading for Change.