Prospective U.S. Congressional candidate and current environmental law professor at the University of Arizona, Kirsten Engel, fielded questions from students at a town hall hosted by UA Young Democrats on campus Thursday night, Oct. 7.
Engel stepped down from her position in the state legislature in early September to focus on her campaign for a seat in Arizona’s 2nd Congressional District. The current holder of this seat, Congresswoman Ann Kirkpatrick, is retiring at the end of this legislative session.
When telling the student audience gathered at the town hall about her motivation for running, Engel expressed a desire to make Arizona a better place for her daughter and for future generations of children to grow up in.
“What really pushed me into it is I came here with my young daughter, and when I first came to Arizona and put her into public school, I realized how incredibly underfunded our public school system was here in Arizona,” Engel said. “I saw front and center the way in which the Republicans were taking money away from educating our kids and young people and that got me mad. It got me motivated, and I was like, ‘gosh darn it, I'm going to do something about it,’ and I ran for office.”
Aside from her passion for funding Arizona's public education, Engel says she is also committed to addressing mass incarceration, voting rights and women’s reproductive rights among other issues. However, at the forefront of her list of goals in Congress is a focus on climate change, especially as the issue impacts her Tucson constituents.
“The thing I would really like to do in Congress is, you know, first and foremost, work on climate change,” Engel said. “ We are all reading, almost every day, headlines about the water shortage issues. For the first time, a shortage has been declared on the Colorado River. I don't know how many of you know, but the Colorado River supplies all the water that we're drinking here in Tucson, Arizona, and 40% of the water that is used in the state.”
This passion for environmental action can be traced all the way back to the start of Engel’s career. After earning a law degree, she worked at the EPA and gained experience in environmental policy and bureaucracy.
“I started my career at the EPA after graduating from law school. I was there for a few years, learning the ins and outs of government bureaucracy,” Engel said. “I got a little tired of that and actually went to Sierra Club Legal Defense Fund, which is now Earthjustice, major national environmental group, where I worked for several years before going into teaching at Tulane Law School in New Orleans before working at the Massachusetts Attorney General's office where I lead the Environmental Protection Division.”
Engel currently teaches environmental and administrative law at the University of Arizona. Engel has used her role as a professor to try and increase civic and political engagement among students like those assembled at the town hall.
“I've been teaching a course on the legislative process,” Engel said. “And so I've really been trying to share what I'm doing in the legislature and make it more accessible for students so that they understand the process, and then can engage in it and advocate for themselves.”
The confidence Engel maintains in her abilities to secure this open seat stems from her history as a candidate in the area as well as the precedent set by the women who have held the seat in the past.
“My voters make up 30% of the voters of the congressional district, so actually I'm somewhat known in this district. I've won elections three times in this district and this district has a history of electing strong Democratic women, from Gabrielle Giffords to Ann Kirkpatrick, and I'd be very proud to be to follow in their footsteps,” Engel said. “I've won every race I've ever run for, and I'm not about to stop now.”
The Democratic primary for Engel's prospective seat will take place on Aug. 2, 2022, while the general election is set for Nov. 8, 2022.
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