Tuesday, July 9, 2019

"Origins" - By Damián Preciado, Executive Director

It was a rude awakening. The results of November 9th, 2016 were not something most of us were expecting. It didn't help that I got a frantic call in the middle of the night from my then employer asking us all to come in early due to the election results. I had for the past 6 months been actively engaged for the first time in politics. I didn't like the direction things were going and wanted to do my part. I was still learning the ropes, getting to know how the process worked within the parties and becoming active with my legislative district.

It was a whirlwind of information that shattered many of my previous assumptions about how politics worked. One of my first realizations was that everyone was a volunteer and that the little paid staff there was worked for the County and State boards. My second realization was that being a registered Democrat and voting wasn’t the end of it; it was just the beginning of our political engagement. I learned that the parties were made up of members known as precinct committee people or PCs. That they are either elected or appointed and have varying roles within the party structure. As someone who understands systems and people, I started noticing why there were so many gaps and why it was so difficult to fill them. So I took the next step and became a precinct committeeman which gave me a vote in party affairs. Still new to it all, I did my best not to be critical and follow the lead set by more tenured individuals.

That November 9th it all changed. I was angry and afraid that we couldn't keep a man like Trump out of office. I had been contemplating this worst-case scenario and I had a plan. My plan was to strengthen the Democratic Party by recruiting and training as many PCs as possible. My logic being that there is power in numbers and of the ten thousand or more positions available, less than 20% were filled. We were out numbered 3 to 1 against the opposition.

At that time there was a flurry of activity by many people who felt they wanted to do more and their energy manifested itself in many ways. I chose to focus on PC recruitment by forming a grassroots group called White Hat Democrats. I and a handful of others streamlined the process for application to become a PC and held training and information sessions. Over the next couple of years, we recruited hundreds of PCs and did our small part to lend a voice to people who needed that guidance.

While we were proud of our work, over those two years we also grew to understand more and more of the complexities of the political ecosystem. In particular, we learned how conservative organizations like the American Legislative Exchange Council and Goldwater Institute among others were using intellectual capital to poison the state legislatures with their agendas. How they chipped away piece by piece at our democratic institutions, masquerading as “freedom” when in reality it was just about lining their pockets.

We looked around and found that Arizona was missing a progressive policy group and at that point, we made the decision to take the fight to them. We formalized our nonprofit status and began to operate as the White Hat Research & Policy Group. It was a tremendous transition and we are glad to have made it. We have since then worked as Arizona’s progressive think tank. The antithesis of organizations like ALEC and Goldwater. We’ve made much progress, with more to come. Our first paper is complete. We’re building new partnerships. And we’ve established a fellowship program to help us craft our papers and train others on this important work. I am very proud of the talented individuals who dedicate their time and resources to this new mission and vision. We’re ready to keep fighting for our shared values with more purpose than ever before.

Wednesday, July 3, 2019

Mission and Values -By Michael Christensen,Board Member

Today’s political climate is highly charged and very divided. Even within parties there are differences that can be difficult to reconcile. In part, this is the human condition. We have always had bar room and dinner table conversations that are charged with more emotional responses and the occasional overstep that leads to apologies or long-term fractures in the relationship. But today we have a lot more voices that get a chance to be heard.

A strong opinion can now start from a Tweet building momentum from an ever greater majority that retweets and comments until opposing ideas are pushed into a back corner. Legal and moral judgments come in a 280 character declaration providing a new mantra for those in agreement. If not for a judicial system, we might see public hangings and witch trials easily resume. It also threatens our societal fabric.

Our social mores and democratic system are both exposed to the whims of technologies that can create digital riots with few or no boundaries. The benefits of changing long-held discriminations can also be leveraged to promote those same discriminations. The relative anonymity of the Internet gives vehement voice to good and bad ideas but are consistently exaggerated (or not) to get more likes and retweets with the hope that it goes viral. These extremes are now a defacto methodology of gaining media prominence.

WHRPG intends to drive meaningful dialogue through data-driven research, policy, and advocacy through meaningful research. We will create datasets that will produce insight that can change mindsets - even our own - and help Arizonans be informed about their community and the challenges it faces.

For example, in our first white paper, “Arizona’s ESA Vouchers,” we started with this question: “With Arizona public schools chronically underfunded, why is the legislature diverting funds to private schools through the ESA voucher program?” We answered that question by not just looking at the 2017 ESA voucher expansion which caused so much controversy and led to the Proposition 305 vote in November of 2018. We expanded our view to look at the history of the ESA voucher program and other school privatization programs in Arizona and across the country. This research clearly demonstrated that the ESA voucher program was not designed to address specific problems in Arizona’s school system, but to advance an ideological agenda that was hostile to public education.

Each white paper that WHRPG creates will generate actions to take with citizens, legislators and affected groups. It will also require careful review of new information to help improve the understanding of the issue beyond a point in time report. At the core of the WHRPG charter is the concept of being open to this new research and changing conditions to create better understanding, collaboration and opportunity to improve our state and the lives of every Arizonan.

"Origins" - By Damián Preciado, Executive Director

I t was a rude awakening. The results of November 9th, 2016 were not something most of us were expecting. It didn't help that I got...