Lake Erie
My brother and me on the beach.

I grew up in Amherst, Ohio, a small town on the shores of Lake Erie.

This is the story of how a small town girl from a working class family found her voice and decided to run for office. (If you’re looking for “just the facts”, go here.)

Family

My Dad was a third-generation electrician. As an employee of Thew Shovel, in Lorain, Ohio, he was a member of the United Steelworkers and served as a grievance man, vice president, and contract negotiator. My Dad ran for president of USW Local 1242 but lost. He had two explanations for this loss: he was a registered Republican and his printed matchbooks arrived late.

Dad was a union zealot and a hard-nosed political debater. He and I had regular sparring matches over the Vietnam War, Johnson, Nixon, McGovern, Watergate, unions, feminism, and all topics in between. Debating politics was the family sport.

family
Jim and Thelma Powers with my brother Jim Jr. and me in the late 1950s.

Because of my Dad’s union membership and my Mom’s office job at a factory with a union, we had a modest but comfortable middle class lifestyle. We always had health insurance, we took a paid vacation every summer, and my parents’ little house was paid off in 15 years. Thanks to the National Defense Student Loan Program, good grades, grants, scholarships, and Work Study jobs, my parents paid for my college education. When I look at the way we lived in the 1960s, I am appalled at the working conditions of many Americans today. The US 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 wide-spread wage theft. Most Americans don’t have the modest but much appreciated amenities that my frugal and folksy parents had, thanks to unionized employers.

My parents were Eisenhower Republicans. They often talked about whether or not certain politicians “stood up for the little guy”. They were social liberals but fiscal conservatives.

Grandpa and Grandma Springer on their wedding day.
Grandpa and Grandma Springer on their wedding day.

Mom’s parents were German immigrants. Grandpa Springer worked as a blacksmith for the sandstone quarry in South Amherst, Ohio. Grandpa was born in Germany, and Grandma was a first generation US citizen. They were honest, hardworking salt-of-the-Earth folks who entered the workforce in their early teens, without finishing middle school. They practically raised my brother and me because both Dad and Mom worked.

My Father’s family is from Oberlin, Ohio. Grandpa and Grandma Powers both attended Oberlin College and were very cosmopolitan compared to the Springers. They listened to jazz, owned a boat and a cottage on the beach, drank Kentucky bourbon, traveled around the country, and were well-read, interesting people and staunch Roosevelt Democrats. The Powers/Fox arm of my family tree has a history of activism– from the abolition movement in Oberlin in the mid 1800s to marching for women’s right to vote in the 1920s to my Dad’s union activities in the 1960s.

Education & Early Work History

I graduated from one of the best public high schools in Ohio–Marion L. Steel High School– in 1969. I attended Muskingum College for a year and transferred to Ohio State University (OSU) in Columbus to major in Journalism.

I worked my way through college with a variety of jobs– office clerk, laundry worker, waitress, telephone information operator. I was also one of the first three women hired by the OSU landscaping crew, after the Equal Employment Opportunity Act was passed. In 1973, I graduated cum laude with a B.A. in Journalism.

Throughout my career, I have used the writing, editing, and photography/darkroom skills, developed at Ohio State. In my first two professional jobs, I learned about printing and production– typesetting, paste-up and layout, darkroom work, etc. In my mid-20s, as production manager of Dean Graphics, a small printing and graphic design firm in Columbus, I learned how to do all of the jobs– including how to run a printing press. From Dean Graphics, I became the photographer at Richardson/Smith Design in Worthington, Ohio. Another small business, R/S was a product and graphic design agency with an international clientele and a small corporate jet. As the photographer, I often flew with the design team to client meetings and product installations. The product design team was “designing the office of the future”– an office dominated by computers. It was exciting to be part of that research and development effort.

Thanks to two winters of blizzards in Columbus and the urging of my soon-to-be husband, I moved to Tucson in 1981. Pregnant with our first child, I did freelance writing, photography, and graphic design after we moved. When Alexandra was 10 months old, I took a public relations job with Arizona Electric Power Cooperative in Benson, in the fall of 1982. Transitioning from an employer who was “designing the office of the future” to an employer who still used dial telephones was challenging, at best.

In 1986, Ted, our second child, was born. Before returning to work, I had had a difficult time finding daycare for 12 hours a day for a four-year-old and a newborn. People thought we were crazy to hand the kids over to a babysitter or daycare for such long days, but we both had good-paying jobs and long commutes. I met with my boss (herself a single mom) and asked if I could work at least two days a week in Tucson for at least six months. She said “no” and added that she “didn’t want to set any precedents” by making accommodations for my family situation. I said, “You are asking me to choose between my job and my family. I choose my family. I quit.”

Starting My Own Business

With that move, I started my own small business– Powers/Queen Associates (PQA)– specializing in writing, photography, and desktop publishing. It was a hot combination of skills. My sole proprietorship, home-based business was successful, with several long-term clients– Tucson Mall, Jones Intercable, Home Federal Savings and Loan, Great American Bank, University Medical Center (UMC), the University of Arizona (UA) Foundation, the UA College of Medicine, and the Arizona Cancer Center. Ted was a calm baby who took long naps, which gave me plenty of time to write.

My niche was corporate communications– particularly newsletters and annual reports– and I won several Silver Quill awards from the International Association of Business Communicators (IABC) for my work. I juggled my time between being a young mother, wife, and a business owner, and I loved it.

Climbing the Corporate Ladder

In 1990, I somewhat reluctantly took a $10,000/year pay cut (compared to what I was making at Arizona Electric) and started working in the Communication Office at the Arizona Cancer Center on the University of Arizona’s medical campus. The Cancer Center had been a long-term client of mine. When my husband was being threatened with lay-off at Hughes Aircraft Company, they offered me a job. With two small children, a steady paycheck and health insurance were extremely important. I kept PQA going until 1992, but eventually became too busy to maintain my business. There were many days at the UA when I regretted that decision and longed for the return of those days as a freelance writer and photographer.

I was at the UA in the College of Medicine and eventually the College of Public Health for 14 years. I climbed the career ladder successfully at the UA and transitioned from public relations to behavioral research along the way.

In 1996, I earned my Masters in Public Health (MPH) in health education/health promotion from the UA; going back to school was one of the best decisions of my life. At the UA, I went from being a lowly information specialist to a program director/principal investigator of the Arizona Smokers’ Helpline and related services, with a $1.2 million budget, 40 employees, multiple grants, and a consulting stint with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). I grew the Helpline from a tiny group of guys working in a trailer in UMC’s parking lot to an internationally recognized, fully bilingual service, funded by Arizona’s tobacco tax. Behind well-established smoking cessation helplines in California and Massachusetts, Arizona’s was third in the country. I became a sought-after expert in smoking cessation telephone intervention and the use of media to promote behavior change. I had speaking engagements from London to San Diego to county health department offices in rural Arizona. Two great honors that I received while at the UA are the Leadership Award from the UA’s Commission on the Status of Women and a scholarship to the Life Enhancement Center at Canyon Ranch, which changed my life.

During this time, I was a total workaholic. I was ruining my health with stress, I gained weight, I was a chronic insomniac, and my marriage dissolved during this time frame. Although my career was at a high point, my health and personal life were a mess.

Getting Laid Off

All of that went up in smoke in June 2004, when I got laid-off, along with two Helpline counselors, my secretary, and the program’s accountant in a round of budget cuts. I had worked such long hours for so many years; the Helpline was my baby. I was devastated when I realized that if I didn’t find a comparable job within a few months I would have to sell my house– the house where we had raised our children, the house I thought I would live in forever.

One night, I sat in my living room trying to figure out my next steps. Depressed and broke, I looked around the room and realized that I did have money, but it was tied up in the equity of that house. Immediately, I started selling my stuff and looking for a small house to buy with the equity in my big house. I sold or gave away two-thirds of my furniture and belongings that fall. My plan was to buy a small historic dump with a studio, pay off both mortgages with the sale of the big house, and eek out a living doing clay, freelance writing, and teaching. (When I hear politicians talk cavalierly about budget cuts; I think of the hard-working people who will lose their jobs.)

When One Door Closes…

In November 2004– the week that I signed the mortgage on my tiny midtown adobe– I was offered a position as managing editor of the American Journal of Medicine, one of the most influential internal medicine journals in the world. The serendipity of finding this position just a few months after being laid-of was the ultimate case of when one door closes, another opens. When it happened, getting laid-off was emotionally and financially devastating, but it turned out to be a most fortuitous turn in my career.

During my 11 years at the Journal, the digital and social media revolution happened and swept me up in it. I started blogging in 2006 and shifted from lifestyle blogging to politics in 2008– thanks to Sarah Palin. I have my own blog Tucson-Progressive.com, and I am a contributor to BlogForArizona.net and the Huffington Post. In 2012, I was one of four citizen journalists to cover the Democratic National Convention for the Huffington Post.

Also during this time frame, I started my second home-based business– Wind Dancer Design (WDD)– making jewelry and clay/mosaic home decor in my backyard studio. WDD closed its doors after the Wall Street crash dried up sales for non-essential goods.

In 2014, my husband Jim and I started Arizonans for a New Economy, a non-profit educational organization to promote public banking and economic reform in Arizona.

Going Forward

I’ve been broke, and I’ve been comfortable. I’ve been sought-after, and I’ve been laid-off. I’ve been an employee, and I’ve been a small business owner. I’ve had a family, and I’ve been a single Mom.

I’m a working woman who’s had to make tough choices throughout my career. My latest choice is to run for political office. I hope you will support my run for the Arizona Legislature, representing district 9. Let’s move Arizona forward together.