Committed to public service: ASU Watts College alumni elected to public office
Graduates of Arizona State University's Watts College of Public Service and Community Solutions fared well in the November general election. One was elected to the U.S. Senate, two to statewide offices in Arizona and others to legislative and local offices.
Democratic Congresswoman Kyrsten Sinema won the race to replace U.S. Senator Jeff Flake, who chose not to run for re-election. Senator-elect Sinema is an alumna and instructor at the ASU School of Social Work, one of four schools and two dozen research centers that make up the Watts College of Public Service and Community Solutions in downtown Phoenix. Sinema would fly back to Phoenix from Washington, D.C., to teach day-long graduate courses on Saturdays and Sundays during the fall and spring semesters.
“We're just really pleased and honored that she's a graduate of our school and she's had the opportunity to actually work with our students as an instructor while serving as a member of Congress,” said James Herbert Williams, director of the ASU School of Social Work. “She’s a wonderful role model of what can be accomplished when you put your mind to it and work hard.”
Two other graduates of the Watts College of Public Service and Community Solutions lead statewide races for public office.
Republican Senate Majority Leader Kimberly Yee, who earned a Master of Public Administration from the ASU School of Public Affairs, was elected to be the state’s next treasurer. The position as Arizona’s chief banker and financial officer is currently held by another graduate of the School of Public Affairs, Eileen Klein, who was appointed earlier this year by Gov. Doug Ducey. Klein, who also earned an MPA, is the former president of the Arizona Board of Regents and a former chief of staff to Gov. Jan Brewer.
Katie Hobbs, a Democrat who earned her graduate degree from the ASU School of Social Work, emerged as the leading candidate in the race for Secretary of State. Hobbs is currently the state senate minority leader. Results in that contest have not yet been finalized.
“This is an unprecedented year for people stepping up to be part of the solution,” said Jonathan Koppell, dean of the Watts College of Public Service and Community Solutions. “Serving in elected office is one of the most important things we can do as citizens, and I’m proud to see so many of our graduates elected to office.”
School of Public Affairs alumna Jennifer Jermaine won a District 18 seat in the Arizona House of Representatives, serving Ahwatukee and Chandler. The Democrat's election came two years after co-creating nonprofits Stronger Together Arizona and We the People Summit. Both efforts are aimed at getting people to collaborate in the hopes of more effectively influencing public policy.
"When I started the nonprofit, I never intended to run for office," Jermaine said.
As an advocate for public education, she says it was the passage of private school vouchers that compelled her to seek a legislative seat.
"The number one issue in District 18 is public education," Jermaine said. "I would really like to see us find a permanent funding stream for public education as our economy goes in cycles, and where we are at in the cycle is anyone's guess."
Jermaine says her education from the School of Public Affairs allowed her to hit the ground running. She credits retired professor Jerry Miller for giving her the knowledge to understand the state budgeting process. Creating a state budget is one of the most important functions of the state Legislature.
“We are enormously proud of the fact that people who have received our degrees are being elected, which means that voters are showing confidence in them to formulate public policies and implement them effectively," said Don Siegel, director of the ASU School of Public Affairs.
Phoenix Elementary School District voters elected Carmen Trujillo to the east Phoenix school board. The mother of three grew up in the school district. She earned her bachelor’s degree in criminology and criminal justice. As president of the ASU Chapter of the National Criminal Justice Honor Society, she helped the student group win an ASU Pitchfork Award for Outstanding Undergraduate Student Organization in 2014.
“Carmen is an outstanding leader and will serve her community well,” said Cassia Spohn, director of the ASU School of Criminology and Criminal Justice.
Earlier this fall, another graduate of the Watts College of Public Service and Community Solutions was appointed by the Phoenix City Council to represent District 5 on an interim basis. The council selected Vania Guevara to fulfill the term of Daniel Valenzuela, who resigned from the council to run for mayor, until a special election is held March 12. A first-generation graduate, Guevara earned her Masters of Public Administration from the ASU School of Public Affairs. She also has a degree in political science from ASU and a law degree from Summit Law School.
“For anyone who is jaded by divisive politics, all you have to do is look at the quality of people running for office,” Koppell said. “No matter where you fall on the political spectrum, there is reason to believe in the future.”
Guevara serves with another graduate of the School of Public Affairs. District 2 Councilman and Vice Mayor Jim Waring earned both his MPA and PhD from the School of Public Affairs. Waring also served as an Arizona state senator.
Several alumni won re-election to the state Legislature. State Senator Rebecca Rios (D-Phoenix) earned both her bachelor’s and master’s degree from the ASU School of Social Work. She faced no general election challenge as the incumbent state senator serving south Phoenix (District 27). Rios is one of the most experienced lawmakers in the Legislature with more than a decade of experience in both the House and Senate.
State Senator Martín Quezada (D-Phoenix), a graduate of the ASU School of Criminology and Criminal Justice, easily won his District 28 election. Like Rios, he faced no competition on the general election ballot. Quezada, who also earned his law degree from ASU, represents southwest Phoenix.
Otoniel “Tony” Navarrete (D-Phoenix), a graduate of the ASU School of Public Affairs, faced no competition as he won the state senate race for District 30 in west Phoenix. Navarrete, who earned his undergraduate degree in Urban and Metropolitan Studies, was previously elected to the House of Representatives in 2016.
Tony Rivero (R-Peoria), was elected to the House of Representatives from District 21. Rivero earned his Master of Public Administration from the ASU School of Public Affairs and has served the city of Peoria as a civil servant in a number of capacities.
Out-of-state success story
One of the most distinguished graduates from the School of Community Resources and Development was re-elected to office in Minnesota. Voters in Maplewood, a town of 38,000 people, returned Nora Slawik to the mayor’s office. Slawik earned a degree in recreation administration with an emphasis on nonprofit organizations from ASU in 1984. Earlier this year, she was selected as the Certified Nonprofit Professional of the Year by the national Nonprofit Leadership Alliance.
“Nora truly defines what it means to be a public servant,” said Robert Ashcraft, executive director of the ASU Lodestar Center and the Saguaro Professor of Civic Enterprise in ASU’s School of Community Resources and Development. “She is the greatest example I know of someone who blended her education in nonprofit leadership and management with a laser focus on impactful results to make positive outcomes happen.”