The Grand Canyon State

Arizona is one of my favorite states in the nation.  I have many fond memories of descending into the Grand Canyon and hiking the mountains around Tucson.  It is a place of exquisite light and indelible imagery—the painted desert, the saguaro cactuses, the unique flora and fauna.  Arizona also claimed a piece of women’s political history in 1999 when it appointed 5 women to top executive offices (Governor Jane Hull, Secretary of State Betsey Bayless, Attorney General Janet Napolitano, Superintendent of Public Instruction Lisa Graham-Keegan, and Treasurer Carol Springer).  The “Fab Five,” as they were known, accompanied the first female U.S. Supreme Court Justice, Sandra Day O'Connor, into the history books. 

Many of these remarkable women started their careers in the Arizona State legislature, so it was only fitting that the first Arizona PiP subject was State Representative Victoria Steele.  I took her portrait encircled by the Santa Catalina Mountains of her Tucson district.  

As she put it, “The exquisitely beautiful Santa Catalina Mountains overlooking Tucson have always been a source of inspiration and power to me.  When I need to balance the strong and steady nurturing power of Mother Earth with the hectic pace of being a Legislator, I escape to these mountains with my little power puppy Moki.  From the Catalina Mountains I can see my entire legislative district—my heart fills with love and I can return to this work that I am so honored to do.”

And as it turned out, the portrait coincided with an emotional time for Victoria during which she needed the nurturing powers of the mountains.  Two weeks before, she courageously testified against the proposed Arizona State Bill—SB 1318.  This bill would make it mandatory for sexually assaulted women seeking an abortion to disclose their experience to their insurances companies in order to be financially covered for the procedure.  Victoria stood up in a hearing and unexpectedly revealed her own highly personal and traumatic story about sexual assault, offering an intimate perspective on how this law might effect women.

That evening, I headed back to Phoenix right away since I had a 7am appointment the next morning with Congresswomen Kyrsten Sinema at the bottom of a climb to Piestewa Peak.  Knowing that the congresswoman is an accomplished athlete, I wondered whether I would be able to keep up with her—Kyrsten has completed  an ironman triathalon and has summited Mt. Kilimanjaro.  Fortunately there were others on the climb who kept the pace from becoming too punishing.

Having climbed Piestewa Peak countless times, Kyrsten could have done it with her eyes closed.  She enthusiastically pointed out all the various Phoenix landmarks in the panoramic view.  When we reached the peak, I understood why this ambitious woman is able to bring such energy to her political achievements.  It was all there in her unflagging athleticism.

Later that day, I met  the Mayor of Surprise at a dance studio.  For Sharon Wolcott, practicing ballroom dancing provides a necessary respite from her busy life as a mayor.  A number of years ago, she underwent surgery to remove a brain tumor, which left her deaf in one ear and compromised her sense of balance.

When Sharon began learning how to dance, she told her partner, Nick, “whatever you do, don't let go!”  She was terrifying of falling down.  Not only did Sharon master her personal health challenge, but she went on to compete professionally in ballroom dancing, garnering at least one gold metal in her division.  Watching Sharon, I was struck by her confidence and graceful movement.  She is a true inspiration, proving that one can overcome a health challenge with dedication and hard work.  I’m sure the community she serves is grateful for her strength and triumph.

Congresswoman Ann Kirkpatrick has the honor of representing 12 distinctive native tribes in her district.  Growing up alongside White Mountain Apache Nation (her mom was a schoolteacher and her dad owned a general store), she has a deep connection to the  spirit and culture of Native peoples.  So it was only appropriate that she chose Heard Museum as her place of special meaning.  Their extensive native art collection focuses on telling the stories and personal histories of Native people through artistic expressions.

Ann was wearing casual jeans, her trademark cowboy boots, and a beautiful Native American turquoise necklace—taken together, an apt representation of her diverse constituency.  The congresswoman is a delightful and generous person.  Her warm inviting smile bespeaks of her reputation as an authentic voice for her community.  It’s no wonder she has earned the respect and trust of her district, which includes conservative ranchers, Native Americans, and more liberal-minded voters from the Flagstaff region.  It was a wonderful finale to another very successful PiP adventure in the Grand Canyon State!