SiX Condemns Arizona House Leadership for Denying African-American Members’ Right to Speak When Focus Should be on Education Funding

April 2018

PHOENIX, Ariz. — Today, thousands of educators across Arizona are staging a walkout to advocate for better teacher pay and more investment in Arizona public schools as part of the #RedforEd movement. But instead of working to boost education spending, leaders in the Arizona House of Representatives spent Wednesday denying the chamber’s only two African-American legislators the right to speak on the House floor.
 
Arizona Reps. Geraldine Peten and Reginald Bolding voiced their opposition Wednesday to a racially insensitive comment in an op-ed about the #RedforEd movement written by a fellow legislator and were silenced through use of a rarely used procedural motion with the full support of House Speaker J.D. Mesnard. Video of Rep. Bolding’s statements can be seen here.
 
The State Innovation Exchange (SiX) believes Reps. Peten and Bolding have the right to be heard and condemns Arizona’s House leadership for denying their right to speak.
 
“House leadership should be ashamed—they just shut down the most important voices in the room,” said Joaquin Rios, SiX’s Arizona State Director. “Reps. Bolding and Peten deserve to have their voices be heard no matter what the issue, but especially on issues concerning racial prejudice.” 
 
“I find it incomprehensible that in 2018 a sitting lawmaker can use the N-word so freely in an op-ed and the Arizona State Legislature defends her and votes to silence the state’s only two African American lawmakers for speaking out against it,” said Rep. Bolding. “Now more than ever, it is important to ensure a diverse group of voices speak out when they see injustice anywhere and everywhere, even if it happens to be in the halls of government.”
 
“In the midst of a critical educational crisis, this op-ed created a major distraction and diverted attention away from the situation at hand to attack the movement’s leaders and their mission,” said Rep. Peten. “The despicable manner in which it was done was unprofessional and far beneath the high standards set for members of the legislature. At this time in our history, it is generally accepted that the N-word is not acceptable in any form of communication. Yet it was used to insult the movement, interrupt negotiations to fully fund Arizona’s educational system, and cause chaos. We will ‘keep our eyes on the prize’ and do all we can to create a budget that creates sustainable revenues to fully fund our educational system.”
 
The focus of elected leaders today and everyday should be on how they can support teachers, students, and public education—not political gimmicks intended to silence people of color. A live-dial poll conducted by TargetSmart for SiX showed Arizonans are in agreement. The survey showed 80% of 900 likely Arizona voters support raising teacher salaries by 20%, and 78% support an increase in funding for neighborhood public schools. The poll was conducted between December 17-28, 2017 and had a margin of error of +/- 4.0%. In contrast to conservative leadership, Arizona’s progressive legislators demonstrated their commitment to boosting education funding earlier this year in their new Arizona Sunrise Agenda.