Candidate Profile – Representative Rosanna Gabaldon, Legislative District 2
Last month, Arizona List staff, endorsees and elected officials had the opportunity to meet and train with Be One Texas CEO, Robert Jones. Jones has started a donor collaborative that directs investment in groups doing civic engagement, voter registration, and GOTV among under-represented populations in Texas. At the start of the Arizona List Incumbent Protection Workshop, he told us, “You are not normal.” Apparently, I’m a political junkie. Who knew? Like I’ve said before, I never imagined that I’d find myself so involved in the political world, but I’ll own it anyway.
His point was that everyone at the training was not like the average person. We’re obsessed with politics, we never stop listening to NPR, we’re actually aware of what’s going on in our government, and most of all, we’re passionate about creating positive, progressive change in Arizona. As much as I do agree with him, I’m still going to argue with his statement. In the process of updating Arizona List’s candidate profiles, I have had the amazing opportunity to meet and interview all of the women our members have helped elect. Although they work in the legislature everyday and have obviously programmed NPR to be their #1 radio station, what I’ve learned is just how “normal” they truly are.
It’s one of my favorite parts about the work I’ve been doing with Arizona List. I’ve had the chance to meet such wonderful yet powerful women, but in reality, they are just like me and just like you. They are Arizona citizens, someone’s neighbor, community members, consumers, mothers, sisters and daughters – just average people who eventually became so frustrated with their government that they decided to be the one to make the change.
Representative Rosanna Gabaldón from Legislative District 2 in Southern Arizona is no different. As one of the warmest, kindest and most humble politicians you could ever imagine, she proves that good people – normal people – who care about their communities can be the change our state needs.
What inspired you to run for office the first time?
I moved to Sahuarita in 2004 with my husband and son. At that point in my life, I had always wanted to give back to my community. So that’s what I started doing, attending town council meetings and volunteering in Sahuarita on several different boards. I got involved and became Town Commissioner for Economic Development and Commissioner for Parks and Recreation. That really taught me about what was going on in the town and how to have a good relationship with the current council members. At first, I really admired the individuals on the town council, but after a few years, I said, “I can do that.”
The reason why I felt it was important to run for Sahuarita Town Council was because we were rapidly growing. In the year 2000, the population in Sahuarita was 3,200 people, and when the census came back in 2010, we were close to 26,000. Obviously, the growth of our community and town was incredible. Thinking about that, Sahuarita was moving in a very different direction, and at that time, I didn’t feel that our existing council was moving in the same direction. They didn’t want to grow anymore, but the thing is, we went from a bedroom community to a town where people wanted to work, play, and have their children go to school. Serving on the Parks and Recreation Committee, I found that there was a lack of fields for our children to play on and that we were destroying those of neighboring school districts from overuse. It really became about the families and what they were dealing with in regards to the school districts and recreation, or the need for more schools, roads and employment centers. That’s when I felt we needed to change the direction where our town council was going. That really inspired me to work hard on becoming a public servant. Plus, I was meeting all of these wonderful women (and men) at Arizona List events at that time. There’s a positive energy that surrounds you, and I found that women do have a place in government and in leadership roles, so that also inspired me. I decided to run in 2007, but in 2009, I was successful in my campaign for town council and I’ve never looked back.
To go from Sahuarita Town Council to the House of Representatives is kind of a big deal!
Yes! I sit in my chair [in my office] sometimes and think, “I can’t believe I’m here!” and especially when I sit on the floor of the House. With that transition though, I’d have to say I’m very glad I started in a municipality because that has brought a lot of insight when I’m making these decisions now, which really do impact our municipalities. I was really glad to have that experience when I came to serve LD 2. People say that transition could be difficult, but I think I grew up a little bit more. The rewards are so incredible, the possibilities are there and I feel so honored that I’m here able to serve. How I make my decisions is by looking at District 2 and seeing how they would be impacted, then thinking about how Southern Arizona would be impacted, and finally how it would affect the entire state. It is a responsibility that I take very seriously, but at the end of the day I am humbled.
One of the other great things about being here is showing other women that we can be leaders. Being moms and sisters is something that comes with being a woman, but being in the House, we can empower women. We can give them choices, and show them that they do have a choice when it comes to the decisions in their lives. Us as women, we are a different kind of leader and I think it’s very inspirational to see other women leaders. That’s what I tune into and they’re like my mentors, whether I read about them or actually speak with them. In visiting with my fellow legislators, you hear how they got here and it’s kind of the same story where they start out thinking this is something that needs to be focused on as a state. I’m very grateful that I work with some really great people from southern Arizona.
What did you find to be most beneficial from being endorsed by Arizona List?
I am pro-choice, but I do have other women who surround me and do agree with me in that aspect. So, Arizona List is an organization that has not only taught me how important it is to advocate for women’s issues, but the empowerment that Arizona List has given to me and other women has been wonderful. Running for public office is a challenge and what makes it a lot easier is having people that are supporting you and that you can fall back on – to encourage us to run, to give us the opportunities to learn, to teach us how to run a good campaign – it puts more tools in my toolbox in regards to being a successful candidate and also even now as an effective public servant.
Do you have any advice for future women candidates?
Don’t give up! In 2007, I knew I wasn’t going to win because I didn’t have name recognition. I hadn’t volunteered or put as much of myself into the community. So my advice would be to get involved in your community. You can’t do everything, but concentrate on what’s close to your heart. Also, believe in yourself and always remember that you are not alone. There are so many individuals that want to see you in that office and you need to work really hard – grassroots! That’s how I won in 2009. I was told that I would never win my election, so I actually sent a thank you letter to the person that was constantly telling me that. I thanked him for the encouragement and drive he gave me to win my election. It’s not about that one individual or small groups telling you it won’t happen. It’s about going out and knocking on doors, speaking to your constituency. It’s very grassroots. If you want to win, you have to go out there and talk to the voters. Also, live by the Four Agreements: Be impeccable with your word, don’t take anything personally, don’t make assumptions, and always do your best. When I decided to run, my father gave me that book, so that’s what I try to live by, and I think that’s what makes me a good public servant.
What are you trying to achieve while you’re in office?
Health care and Medicaid expansion has obviously been really important this session, but I ran on three issues: education, economic development, and water sustainability. I’m now on the Agriculture and Water Committee and next session, I’d really like to deal with legislation regarding water sustainability and quality. That’s a big issue for me, and being able to move the agenda forward in how Arizona looks at water issues because it affects every single one of us in this state. They say the Colorado River is going to dry out. So with water sustainability, where are we going to get that next bucket of water?
The funding for the Department of Water Resources has been cut and that really hurts Arizona in the long run. There are seven states that depend on the Colorado River, so when you think about that, Arizona has to be at the table, because if we’re not, we’re forgotten. So it’s very important that ADWR have the capacity to be able to go and fight for us. We as legislators, we can do that. We can talk to our congressional delegation in order to get federal funding to help ADWR. I also sit on the Southeast Arizona Citizens Forum Board through the U.S. International Boundary and Water Commission. We’re a group of citizens and we talk about what’s occurring between the boundaries of Mexico and the U.S. Those are the kinds of things I can bring to my legislative district in southern Arizona and then to the state. Also, I’m working with the Arizona Department of Environmental Quality and am learning how they’re trying to deal with water contamination. We have to look at that kind of thing, talk to the experts to understand how we deal with it, including our environmental practices and air quality. So, that’s my big push that I’d like to do – educate my fellow legislators on how important it is and work towards ensuring our state’s water sustainability practices so that everyone has access to safe, clean drinking water. It’s a really important issue to me and I think it should be really important to the people of Arizona.
Let Representative Gabaldón be your inspiration. As someone who simply wanted to give back, she went from attending town council meetings and volunteering in a town about the same size of my high school, to representing all of Legislative District 2 and serving our state in the House of Representatives. She proves that normal people and women especially, can be the ones to make progress in Arizona. As cliché as it’s become to sound, “be the change you wish to see in the world.”
-Milynn Mapalo is currently a Development Consultant at Arizona List, she also bakes killer vegan banana nut muffins.