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Campaign season triggers Dem Party staff exodus

Arizona Democratic Party headquarters is sparsely populated these days after most of its employees left for congressional and U.S. Senate campaigns.

In the last several weeks, the party has lost six of its nine paid staffers, mostly to Democratic campaigns that have started up recently. The party is down to three paid staffers, including Executive Director Luis Heredia, after a week of departures that included Chairman Andrei Cherny.

The 9th Congressional District alone was responsible for three of the departures.

Last week, party elections director D.J. Quinlan left for Sen. David Schapira’s CD9 campaign. Director of party affairs Justin Unga went to work for former Sen. Kyrsten Sinema. And finance director Lisa Fernandez joined Cherny, who is expected to announce his CD9 candidacy soon as well. Party spokesman Andy Barr also left to serve as communications director for former Surgeon General Richard Carmona’s U.S. Senate campaign.

The recent slew of departures came just a couple weeks after the party lost communications director Jennifer Johnson to Ann Kirkpatrick’s bid to retake the congressional seat she lost in 2010. The party also recently lost research director Jeff Stapleton to Phoenix Mayor Greg Stanton’s administration.

“It places us in a delicate situation,” Heredia said. “But I can tell you there are multiple candidates that are very eager and hopefully we can fill those positions fast.”

Operations manager Jackie Adams and deputy finance director Nick Holder are the only other paid staffers left at party headquarters besides Heredia.

In the meantime, Heredia said he’s been talking to possible candidates for the open jobs, including Arizona Democrats who have left the state but are eying a return for the election season. And even with a drastically reduced staff, the election-year work must continue. “We still need to meet our fundraising goals,” Heredia said.

While filling all those empty chairs quickly may be difficult for Heredia, former Chairman David Waid said it’s a good sign for the Arizona Democratic Party.

“A functioning party is in fact the farm team for candidate campaigns, and if you have a good party, people go to it to recruit staff,” Waid said. “As party chairman, it’s the cross you have to bear if you’re running a good shop.”

Waid pointed to several former party staffers who have moved on prominent jobs at the national level. Former elections director Chris Brill now works for the Democratic National Committee, former political director Toni Morales is with the committee organizing the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, and former communications director Emily Bittner moved on to the Democratic Governors Association before joining U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin’s staff.

“We are sort of a go-to talent spot for national political organizations,” Waid said.

Harriet Young, who had served as the party’s first vice chair, replaced Cherny as interim chairwoman. Heredia said the party’s executive board, which will meet next on Feb. 11, has not yet set an election date for the party to select a new chairman.

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