During her first campaign for office last year, Democratic Rep. Pamela Powers Hannley spurned her party’s usual talking points to hammer on more overlooked issues like equal rights, public banking and getting money out of politics.
Party officials warned her that she is too progressive for her district, and tried to convince her that the only way to win is to focus on education issues. But as a progressive and longtime political blogger at the Democratic site Blog For Arizona, Powers Hannley said she didn’t want to run as a generic Democratic candidate.
Instead, while campaigning for Tucson’s Legislative District 9, Powers Hannley called herself “the Bernie Sanders of Tucson with Hillary Clinton’s gender issues.” And she proved the party officials wrong, easily beating out an incumbent Democrat in the primary.
Now at the Capitol, Powers Hannley said she’s been surprised that her progressive ideology often aligns with the most conservative Republicans in the Legislature.
Where did your interest in politics come from?
I grew up debating politics with my dad. He was a union guy, so I grew up debating the Vietnam War. So, when I take these guys on, on the floor, I’ve had a lot of decades of experience arguing with old men.
After being down here for a session now, how has it been different watching it from the inside rather than the outside?
I was one of those people who would watch the videos, who put notes in on the Request To Speak system, and blogging about the issues and tweeting. So I think I understand the steps of the process now. And the other thing I learned is the Democrats would come back to Tucson and say, ‘We’re the minority party. We can’t do anything.’ And I learned there were things we could do. We can try to add amendments, and there were a few amendments that I offered to Republican bills that made them better. And those got adopted. We can speak out on the floor.
You’re big on public banking. That’s an interesting issue because it’s something that the conservative right and the progressive left agree on.
I was surprised how many times I voted with Eddie Farnsworth this year. There were many times where, I guess you would call them the Libertarians, the very fiscally conservative Republicans, and the progressive Democrats voted together and we stopped a lot of stuff. Several of those (are) what I would call giveaway bills. So, my point with the public banking is, rather than giving the money away, why don’t we offer a low-cost loan program? The state needs revenue. Rather than just giving away millions into the future, why not help smaller businesses? Right now, our economic policies are benefitting the big corporations, not the mom and pop businesses, and as a Democrat, I ran as a small business person. I had two small businesses. My husband has a small business. Our policies are doing nothing to help small business, and that’s where public banking could help. And a lot of those rural counties could really benefit from something like that, rather than spending millions on Intel. That’s just going to help Chandler. It’s not going to help the rest of us.
Are there other crossover issues like that?
I see the women’s issue as a crossover issue. I have a lot of Republican women who voted for me because they see the inequality of pay scales now. And that hits women at all levels. There was an article in the American Journal of Medicine in the last year that said women medical directors at academic health centers like Banner make 75 percent of what the men do. So, here’s a woman with a six-figure salary with all sorts of credentials, and she’s still not making fair pay.
Were you surprised your attempt to get an Equal Rights Amendment didn’t get more support from Republican women? I think there was only one Republican woman who supported it?
There were two: (Republican Rep. Heather) Carter and (Republican Rep. Michelle) Ugenti-Rita. We really debated about tipping off the Republican women that that was coming ahead of time, or at least trying to feel them out a little more. But we were really concerned that they would just rat us out. And we really wanted that element of surprise. But, yeah, there are a lot of professional women here and I think some of them have even signed onto a bill in the past, when (former Democratic Rep.) Victoria Steele proposed it. But we’ll bring it up again. The issue isn’t going away.
You were a longtime blogger and writer. What do you think of the Capitol press corps?
I think you guys do a good job. I wish we had more reporters here though. I wish there was somebody from Tucson. Down there, there’s very little coverage of the Legislature. They re-print a lot of AP and Capitol Media Services stories, but that’s it. It’s sometimes crazy and fast paced, but it’s always interesting to see what you do with the stories.
I wasn’t fishing for compliments there, but thanks. You also voted against that student journalist freedom bill. That kind of surprised me, and I don’t think you explained your vote on that.
I went back and forth on that one. When I was at Ohio State University, we had full freedom. The faculty advisers didn’t read the Lantern until it was out on the street. But I changed my mind on that because a really good friend of mine, she’s a blogger in Tucson, agreed with Farnsworth that especially for the charter schools, they’re more likely to shut those student newspapers down than give them freedom. So, that’s why I voted against it.