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Putting Equity on the Ballot: Anabel Maldonado

Anabel Maldonado needs some well-deserved rest after a big year. An alum of Public Allies Arizona (‘12), Anabel has not reached her 30th birthday, yet she has significantly impacted the political landscape of her home state of Arizona and beyond.

Raised by Mexican immigrants who worked as support staff in Arizona Public Schools, Anabel grew up near the Nogales border. She bore witness to family members in detention centers, and when Arizona enacted legislation in 2010 that entitled law enforcement to make stops indiscriminately, injustice moved her to action.

Though Anabel recognized the need for reform in both immigration and education systems early on, it was her experience in Public Allies that helped her discover community work as a viable career path. At 19, Anabel was the youngest Ally in her cohort and was placed at Casa de Sueños, a shelter for unaccompanied minors. There, she curated a culturally relevant curriculum for youth during a sensitive and impactful period in their lives. 

Anabel’s most provoking personal moment came toward the end of her year in the program when she was required to turn over a minor to Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). Though the goal of the program is to reunite minors with their families before they turn 18 and become legal adults, this unfortunately doesn’t always happen.

“That really sticks with me,” Anabel said. “Something sparked in me. I can’t just sit back. I have to find other ways to help these people. While being in the shelter and providing a safe space for them is really important, especially during that really hard transition time, I knew that was not what I wanted to do. I needed to be more bold.”

Nine years later, Anabel is a seasoned organizer with experience in international migration and refugee issues, workers rights, education reform, and democracy reform.

Most recently, Anabel worked as the state director of Invest in Ed, her second successful ballot initiative, which supported the passage of Proposition 208. Invest in Ed adds a 3.5% income tax surcharge only to the wealthiest earners in Arizona and puts it into the state’s public K-12 system. Individuals earning more than $250,000 annually and households earning more than $500,000 annually are subject to the surcharge, which is estimated to generate $940 million a year.

“I know for a fact that this money going into schools is going to make a difference,” Anabel said. “I get really emotional thinking about what this is going to look like 10 years down the road.” 

As for Anabel, only time will tell where she will be 10 years down the road. She is open to what will come, whether it is a national organizing position or a ballot measure in a different state or something else altogether. As one of the few young women of color in the field, she hopes to continue cultivating her niche as a ballot measure practitioner and bring others along with her at every step of the way.