Meet Kelly Fryer – the Non-Politician that is going to make Arizona Great Again.

It is always with an air of nostalgia that I watch films of the early days of America. The days when normal, everyday people, decide to run for office because they have great ideas for the leadership of people.

Somewhere, along the crazy ride of the great American experiment, real people got left out of politics.

It did not take long, for those kind of pure-people politics, to be replaced with lobbyists, pork barrel spending, and huge payouts made to lawmakers for sponsorship. This created, along with shady campaign finance laws, the professional politician.

Just at the House of Representatives level, for instance, the term limits are only two years. What a difference it would make in America, if these representatives’ only agenda was directly to the constituents that elected them! For two years, regular people took a leave of absence to SERVE their state, and then returned to their lives.  Imagine! That is the way it was always supposed to be, but somewhere…. money got in the way, and well, radix malorum est cupiditas (Greed is the root of evil). We all know that, we learned it in either the Bible or Chaucer, if not both. But somehow, we do not apply it to politics until we end up in a climate like the one facing America right now… and, for the first time in decades, 2018 is on fire with new voices, new inspiration, and new hope. If there is one thing that is completely true; the pu**y grabber in chief, the sexual predator in the White House, the Manchurian Candidate, has led to the largest rise in women marching to take public office in the history of the United States.

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Famously red, but darkening to purple in recent years, Arizona is no different, where, inspired by the Woman’s March across the United States protesting Trump and the undignified treatment of Women, Kelly Fryer rose to the forefront, spoke with fiery passion, and was eventually pursued to make a run for Governor. On the first day of the #redfored walkout, with thousands of Arizona teachers taking to the streets of the capital, I had a chance to sit down with Kelly and ask her the questions… nobody else seemed to be asking.

Take a moment.  This interview was meant to quickly give you a crash course on the platform of a true Arizona Outlaw… who is trying to bring PEOPLE back to POLITICS; meet Kelly Fryer.

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Ryan B. Clark (Ghost Writer): President Trump moved to threaten Native Nations sovereignty, just this week, along with the funds for Native Health Services. As Governor of the great state of Arizona you would preside over the state with the largest number of square miles of Native lands. What power will you exert as Governor to stand for all Tribal National Sovereignty?

Kelly Fryer (Future Governor of the great state of Arizona): Well, Native sovereignty is not just being attacked by Trump, Ducey’s plan to fund education to give teachers a raise, includes the opening up of commercial gambling. This is yet another violation of treaties and agreements that we have with our Native neighbors. When we spoke to the various tribal councils as we have toured this state, one of the first things they request, is for there to finally be a governor that will not forget about them. “Don’t forget about us,” they said to me. “There are decisions being made right now about issues like water, and we are not part of the conversation. We are being told what the decisions are after they have already been made.” So I would say tribal sovereignty is not only under attack at the federal level, but attacks are being made, and promises are being broken, right now at just the state level. That being said, the first thing to do as Governor is to do just that, respect each Tribe as a Nation, a sovereign entity, and approach working with them as you would a foreign power.

In that light, the Arizona Governor is almost like a mini Secretary of State, and that is essential for allowing for the protection of Native lands and sovereign independence.

The other power of Governor is a voice, a national voice, and that voice needs to use the media and speak for the Native Peoples that are within the state’s borders.

Ryan: America is a divided place, Kelly.  Arizona is a divided place. Even among democrats, division is high in terms of clashing progressive ideals. Can you give me a few points of difference that separate you from the other Democratic candidates running for Governor?

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Kelly: I am the only one of the three that has actual leadership experience leading an organization. I am currently the CEO of the YWCA, but I have spent my entire career in leadership positions. I was also a senior pastor for fifteen years.

My specialty is walking into an organization that is in turmoil and helping the people of that organization come together over shared values and a shared vision, and grow. For 25 years, I have worked in this capacity of transitional leadership to bring struggling organizations back to life.

For instance, the YWCA was on the verge of closing, when I came on board, and my initial assessment is that it would take ten years to turn it around. I hit the ground running, and we were able to turn that organization around in less than five. The YWCA is now financially stable, and has grown 400%. We have started new programs, pulled in new businesses, and we have really turned that organization into a vehicle for racial and social justice in southern Arizona.

Ryan: So you are a problem solver.

Kelly: I am a problem solver that gets things done. Another key difference is that I am just not scared. I am not running for Governor because it is the next step on my career ladder. I am not a professional politician.

I am doing it because I am really pissed off.

I got in because the other candidates were not talking about the stuff that I care about for the state of Arizona. Everyone is talking about education, but they are not discussing poverty. They are not discussing mass incarceration. They are not keeping their doors open while we give tax breaks to huge out of state companies. They are not looking out for small businesses. I am not afraid to talk about these issues.

I am not afraid to face them directly, and address them to the people of the state that I serve.

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Ryan: I had a wonderful teacher friend, Judy Peterson, up in Pinetop while I was teaching English at Blue Ridge High School, and she had a rubber stamp that said “show, don’t tell” and she would stamp it all over student papers who had not given enough detail. The other interviews you have done have told me you are a pastor, they have told me that you love Bisbee, and they told me that you marched in the Women’s March last year, and they told me that you were disenchanted with the democratic party. Can you give me an anecdote, or a small story, that shows me and my readers the real Kelly Fryer in one of these contexts?

Kelly: I graduated from ELCA seminary when I was 25. I grew up in the city, but upon graduation I get assigned to a region in north-central Illinois where there is nothing but corn fields and hogs. In my particular denomination, you have to interview with the congregation, and they have to vote for you to become their pastor. So I get sent out to this 125 year old Lutheran church out in the middle of the country, and I walk into a meeting with the committee and they are all men. I quickly come to find out that this particular church doesn’t allow women in leadership. These men are all looking at me, this 25 year old city girl, and they are all just sitting there like, ‘there is no way this woman is going to be our pastor’. Now, this is in the late 80s.

The farm crisis in America was very real, families in the congregation were losing their farms, several suicides had rocked the small community, and we sat down and started talking about what was really going on in these people’s lives.

Anyway, after two hours in this meeting, the men… they just loved me, and I am kinda in love with them a little bit, and we start talking about how although this is weird, they want me to come back and interview with the whole congregation. Well there was this one gentlemen, sitting at the end of the table, his name was Delphin Schlesinger, and he says,”I just have one thing to say. If this congregation calls a lady pastor, me and my whole family are leaving.” And, like I said before, in the spirit of fearlessness, I said, “Well, Delphin, I’m really glad you brought that up, because nobody else has, and now we can talk about it. We talked for another hour, and at the end of the night, Delphin did not vote for me, but the rest of the congregation did. Three and a half years later that church had become fastest growing congregation in the fastest declining county in Illinois, and I had been called to do that same work at a different congregation. On my last Sunday there, Randy Schlesinger, Delphin’s son, comes up to me and he says,

“Kelly, my mom and dad are not going to be here this morning, I’m really sorry about that, but my dad doesn’t want everyone in the church to see him cry.”

The reason this story is important, is that it shows that I really have spent the entirety of my adult life getting people who do not agree about stuff to come together because we share so much more in common than things that divide us. In some ways, maybe this sounds weird, but in this state, with all of the division, and fear, and anger, and hatred…. I think maybe Arizona just needs a pastor. (She laughs) Well, maybe at least a leader with that skill set, bringing people together to get things done. It is about getting people to see beyond what keeps us apart.

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Ryan: Well said, and thank you for sharing that story. That is awesome. Now, Kelly. The Border. We have a dead teen. We have acquitted border officers. We have heavily armed, mostly white men, that have been empowered by increased militarization from the Federal level as Trump marches on towards pushing his wall on America. I would argue they are men afraid of ghosts and empowered by fascist rhetoric. As Governor, Kelly, in terms of both ecological problems, and humanitarian crisis, what needs to be done for the Arizona Borderlands?

Kelly: First and foremost, we need to demilitarize the border. Immediately. We need to stop the progress of the Wall. On one of our first trips on this ride meeting the great people of Arizona, we stopped in Sells, Arizona. After meeting with the Tohano O’odham tribal council, I met this elderly woman, who told me, “From where we are sitting it used to take me ten minutes to walk across the border to visit my husband’s grave. Now, the gates have been sealed, and it takes three hours to drive down to the crossing south of Why, and then wind back along all these unpaved, unimproved, dirt roads back along the Mexican side of the border. I have not been back to visit him in years because of this.”

This is simply not right, it is not acceptable, and it is not necessary.

I certainly would not have cooperated with Trump, as Ducey did, to send the National Guard to the border. This is an uncalled for escalation, that did nothing but harm relations with our friends to the south. Internally, in the state, I think that the most important thing that the Governor of Arizona can do, as the Governor of a border state, is change the conversation: in the state, and in the country. What I am going to tell them is that these are our neighbors, in some cases right next door, and they are our neighbors to the south. They are not rapists. They are not murderers. They are good, hard working folks who in many ways do great work and a great service to this country by being here. We need to treat our neighbors with dignity and respect.

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Ryan: In a relatively lengthy report on the state of Arizona education, a good friend of mine, and teacher, Kimberly Monfred-Prock devises a plan that could save 34 million dollars just in terms of the way that we implement mandatory testing. Many ideas from taxes, to shrinking programs, to, as you mentioned, gambling dollars, have been voiced as ways to address this problem. Kelly, we are sitting here, downtown, as teachers across Arizona are marching on the state capitol. As Governor, what do we do about this crisis in education?

Kelly: First, thank you for giving me that report, and I will certainly take a look at those ideas and numbers, but yes, we must absolutely address the ‘for-profit’ testing industry. This is a major problem, and one that is doing our students no good whatsoever.

We literally are running schools to pad the pockets of people who write tests for a living, not to really find out how our students are doing, or how our teachers are doing.

But, I have not heard anybody else talking about dollars that could be saved internally just by modification to standardized test frequency, and that is a fascinating idea I am excited to look into.

Ryan: You have mentioned being disillusioned with the democratic party. You mentioned not being a professional politician. When I look around, I see a citizenry that is absolutely fed up with business as usual in politics, and the degree to which they are becoming complacent to the process is, frankly, troubling in a democracy. Governor, hopefully, what can be done to restore people’s faith in our democratic system.

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Kelly: We must have leaders who actually walk the walk. We have to vote those people out, who are proving that their number one priorities are themselves, and elect people who are actually going to work for us.

We have to elect real people, of the people, not business as usual candidates who are going to work for their wealthy donors and themselves.

We have to get rid of those people who are only working for their big paycheck when they get out of office, and put people in that office who are there to do the people’s work. This is a huge problem. As I marched and talked, and met people mobilizing around this country, I kept hearing over and over again that people: just didn’t believe in the system, didn’t want to get involved, questioned why they should even vote. They were sick of having nobody to vote for, not just a bunch to vote against. I kept hearing that all of these politicians are the same. Well, I am not the same. I am not a politician. Ask my wife, I have never taken a single job for money. {laughing} I think she probably wishes I would sometimes, but that is not what motivates me.

I feel that I have been called, as a human being, to make a difference. Obviously, there is more we can do.

First, there is absolutely no reason whatsoever to not have automatic voter registration when you get a driver’s license, and if you are 16, the voter registration kicks in on your 18th birthday. I think we need same day registration, so if you show up to vote, and they do not have you registered there is an immediate way for you to be able to vote. We need automatic restoration of voting rights for our citizens who have served their time for crimes and are now ready to re-engage in public life. I mean, I think we need to take a serious look at why we remove their voting rights to begin with.

There is simply no reason at all for the reasons we make it so hard to vote, other than to discourage people from participating in the process.

Ryan: Water. Phoenix, as a city, is a testament to humanity’s arrogance. Take Standing Rock. Take Flint, Michigan. Take Nestle making corporate grabs for water sources all over the world and bottling it for profit. Every time I see these headlines I am reminded of the final seconds of the film, The Big Short, where we learn that after making millions on the housing collapse, the next venture for Michael Burry was… Water. This ought to really concern people, especially with the propensity of water issues in the news. What can be done, now, to save Arizona from a coming water crisis?

Kelly: The number one way to address these concerns immediately is to get people with a profit motive out of office. In our troubled modern world, we need leaders who are putting People and Planet above their own selfish financial gains. If you look at Ducey’s water commission, it is made up of major utility companies, people from the mining industry, and people from large corporations. These are the people making decisions on water use for the state, and there is no way they have the people’s best interest at heart. Continuing for profit politics is a sure path to more cities like Flint, Michigan. I am going to put together an environmental Justice League. I used to say I would call it something like a Blue Ribbon Task Force, but no, we need heroes working for the Planet and its People. I really do think I will call it the Environmental Justice League.

Ryan: Well, check Facebook. I am like the comic book super geek as a middle aged man. I dig it!

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Kelly: Right! It’s made up of superhero scientists, unlike at the Federal level where scientists are being limited, silenced, and removed in droves. It’s made up of Energy Entrepreneurs. It’s made up of members from the Tribal Nations, communities being directly effected by mismanagement of resources and water rights. And finally, we need to prioritize environmental issues, such as water, at the top of our priority list, and actually provide this Justice League with the resources they need to solve the problems facing Arizona. We have so much ground to make up in this state. These problems have been allowed to go on for so long, that it is going to take quite a concerted effort to address these concerns in a way that can begin to reverse, or at the very least, stop the progression of these issues. We need our best minds working on this, not cronies put in place to fleece environmental laws for their own pocket books.

Ryan: Kelly, I know that you are a huge advocate for the arts. Many foundations, associations, grants, and endowments are in place to fund many programs, artistic endeavors, not only in schools but also in the private sector. So you have band, choir, debate, and art programs in schools that are continually being defunded and cut, but you also have private programs. One in particular, for example, would be University of Arizona professor Richard Shelton’s enormously successful Prison Creative Writing Workshops that use creative prose and poetry and the teaching of the craft of writing as rehabilitation and skill building for Arizona’s prisoners in four different prisons and also in one maximum security Federal Prison.

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Kelly: If you look at Ducey’s proposed budget plans, it slashes all funding for the arts in public education. Additionally, all around the state, if you look at communities that are thriving, if you look at communities such as Bisbee, Jerome, Sedona, Ajo, Globe that are all kind of experiencing this kind of economic renaissance, at the center of that growth are art and culture.

In the United States, the arts sector generates more in terms of income, than either transportation or agriculture, but in Arizona, we slash and cut these programs as expendable.

We have a governor and a state legislature that has zero imagination. Even these private programs, like the prison programs you mention, all of these lead to the social good. They lead to social betterment, and deeper cultural understanding. Creative Writing programs in places like prisons are going to help people: recover their self esteem, provide the tools necessary to explore their value system, and provide actual, tangible, communication skills. These programs also directly effect recidivism rates. These programs are not expendable. Creative energy is at our root, in terms of who we are, that creative ingenuity of America.

Ryan: Madeleine Albright admonishes us in an article released last week, to not let the warning signs of Fascism go unchecked, and if we do, it may be too late to reverse. I can think of no better example of modern state fascism than for-profit mass incarceration. What can be done, as Governor, to end this act of slavery in Arizona?

Kelly: I would lead the state in breaking the contracts that the state has with the private prison companies. We will get sued, but I would rather get sued for breaking these contracts than continue to spend the kind of money that we are spending incarcerating people. It is frankly, immoral, for people to make money off of putting other people in jail. It is indeed slavery, and I will lead the way in moving Arizona away from for profit incarceration. However, we also need to do other things to aid this problem. For instance, we need to de-criminalize and tax marijuana. We need to really take a look at the crimes that are labeled as “felonies” on the books. There has been this complete proliferation of them in recent years, and there is no reason for that other than to keep people in prison. We really need to revisit the felony distinction, and be sure that they really are indicative only of violent crimes. There is simply no reason to jail non-violent offenders. Have them do community service. Take their money. But, they do not to be increasing the prison population, and wasting the tax revenues of the people of Arizona.

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Ryan: Kelly, I am not going to push for more information here. Arizona is a divided place, as we have discussed, and I am not sure how much war I want to start right off the bat. However, it needs to be addressed, at least in the terms of how it effects governance. So, I would simply like a yes or no answer, to this question. Arizonans love their guns, and they have stockpiles of them. The number of AR-15 shirts that I see, daily, in Gilbert Costco is frankly, astonishing. Do you have nightmares about Sandy Hook, Parkland, and Columbine, Arizona?

Kelly: Yes. Yes, Ryan, I do.

Ryan: Me too Governor, me too. Last question, Kelly, and it is a personal one. A couple of years ago, my son came out as Transgender. He changed his name, and promptly wrote herself out of my family. I have had to try to explain, to two young children who loved their step-brother, that she no longer wanted to be part of our family.  We have not seen Nicole in almost two years. In a world of diversity, where the doors are being open to difference, and uniqueness, in terms of gender and sexual identity issues, and where efforts are being made to normalize and accept these human differences, is there a way, as we try to advocate for the rights and the integration of these differences, to also not marginalize the rights and emotional needs of the displaced or dispossessed family members left behind? There is this massive push in our society of acceptance and outreach, but at times this can fly directly in the face of the family that is now having to sort out all sorts of things they, or their other children, were in no way ready to deal with. I guess my question is stemming from the idea of how do we advocate and help the one, without completely marginalizing and disenfranchising the other?

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Kelly: This is a very complex situation. You know, the way that I have managed to be so successful in every organization that I have worked in, is that I bring to the mix the ability to help People see Each Other. I do everything in my power to erase, or to lesson the things that divide us, and try to focus on a greater humanity. So, in terms of that, I think as Governor I can be storyteller-in-chief, someone that is capable of changing the narratives that exist to try to break down those divisions that so many seem to fight to keep entrenched.

Ryan: Thank you Kelly. I appreciate you very much taking the time, and the honesty and forthright nature of your responses. You are indeed right, we need more people in politics, real people, just like you. Best of luck to you in your pursuit of the Governorship of our great state.

Kelly: Thank you, and it was my pleasure.

As I walked away from that little coffee shop in downtown Phoenix, and headed out, driving among the hundreds upon hundreds of cars marked up with #redfored slogans, I found myself marveling at the human dilemma. I found myself thinking about strength. I found myself thinking about kindness. I found myself thinking just how much better the world could be… and about how much better it should be. I found myself returning to the fundamental principles we all had, learning civics in school, believing that if we had great ideas, we could change the world.

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Somewhere those idealistic visions got subverted, by the greed, and rampant power lust of the current climate. But, what if… we could imagine a world where people who want to serve others: do. What if we could image a world where the people with the most powerful ideas get the most powerful positions. What if the people with the greatest capacity to serve… were also those with the greatest capacity to lead. What if political leadership was less about power, and more about conveying ideas among people to improve their lives. Imagine… the America we could be. Imagine the problems we could face… together…. and overcome.

This vision…. is a vision of Kelly Fryer as Governor of Arizona.

 

Keep the Greasy Side Down my Friends!

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Ghost Writer

Arizona Enthusiast. Writer. Rider. Dreamer.

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