Pamela Powers Hannley started crying as she remembered her father bringing home papers from steel workers.
“They were in Spanish. He was a grievance man and he had to defend these guys in the grievance committee but he couldn’t speak Spanish,” she said.
As a student at Marion L. Steele High School in Amherst, Pamela would translate those papers for her father.
“He was a champion of the common man,” she said.
Those memories helped mold Powers Hannley’s values. Today she is putting them on the line in the race for an Arizona House of Representatives seat.
A member of the Progressive Democrats of America and co-chair of the Arizona Progressive Caucus, she hopes to win the support of District 9 voters on Nov. 8.
Powers Hannley is making a bid for the seat formerly held by Rep. Victoria Steele, who resigned in January to run for U.S. Congress.
Arizona politics are cut-throat, she said.
The state, which leans red, is fed up with Big Money’s role in elections, which has benefited Powers Hannley. She is running as a clean elections candidate.
District 9 is fairly evenly split among Republican, Democrat, and Independent voters and Powers Hannley said she anticipates a victory.
Her campaign has reached out to impoverished residents of the district, including voters living in squalid conditions, and 58 percent of donations to her effort have been $25 or less.
Many of her would-be constituents find commonality with Powers Hannley because of her family’s union roots.
“When I look at the way we lived in the 1960s, I am appalled at the working conditions of many Americans today,” she says on her campaign website. “The U.S. working environment is not what it once was with the exodus of manufacturing to countries with cheaper labor, continued off-shoring of jobs, economic inequality for women and minorities, wage stagnation, scarcity of full-time work, a scarcity of jobs for college graduates, and widespread wage theft.”
Both her parents were members of organized labor and identified as Eisenhower Republicans — fiscally conservative but socially liberal.
Powers Hannley believes her father, if he were alive today, would have supported Democratic contender Bernie Sanders while her mother, who died in December, would have likely voted for Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton.
As a young child growing up in Amherst, Powers Hannley would often go toe-to-toe with her “union zealot and hard-nosed political debater” father on issues ranging from the war in Vietnam to Watergate to feminism.
On her mother’s side, she comes from German immigrants who worked at the South Amherst quarries. On her father’s side, her grandparents attended Oberlin College, were staunch supporters of President Franklin Roosevelt, and ancestors had a history of activism in the abolition and suffrage movements as well as union causes.
A distant relative of Powers Elementary School namesake Fred Powers, she began her journey graduating in 1969 from Steele High School and earning a journalism degree from Ohio State University.
While at OSU, Powers Hannley followed the McGovern-Shriver campaign bus during the presidential election of 1972. Seeing the political process at age 21, she decided she’d found her calling.
Moving to Tucson in 1981, she launched Powers/Queen Associates, a writing, photography, and desktop publishing firm and later took a job in the communications department at the University of Arizona’s medical campus, earning a master’s degree in public health. Working her way up the ranks, she became an expert in smoking cessation through Arizona’s helpline efforts.
After being laid off in 2004, she became managing editor of the American Journal of Medicine, where she worked 11 years.
While Powers Hannley has never held political office, the Amherst native has covered politics in-depth, including reporting for the Huffington Post at the Democratic National Convention in 2012.
Jason Hawk can be reached at 440-988-2801 or @EditorHawk on Twitter.