By Brian Powell
By 2014, Cynthia Aragon had worked alongside lawmakers at the Arizona Legislature for several years—but had never actually voted for any of them.
But that year, Aragon became a United States citizen and exercised her right to vote for the first time. And she made sure to cast her ballot in person.
“I walked out and I started crying in my car because it meant so much to me. I always considered myself an American but now I was an American citizen voting,” says Aragon, who emigrated to Arizona from Chihuahua, Mexico, with her family while she was in elementary school.
Aragon, a Flinn-Brown Fellow who has worked at the Legislature for eight years and is now chief of staff for the House Democratic Caucus, is a one-time community organizer who has worked on many high-profile issues in Arizona while also encouraging residents to participate in the political process.
“My passion is empowerment, involvement, and engagement. I believe the more engaged people are, the better off we all are,” Aragon says.
The 2017 legislative session that concluded in May was her first as the House Democratic chief of staff. In this role, Aragon explains, she is involved in creating a political strategy for the minority and navigating both the external and internal politics of the caucus to help make its members more effective.
Aragon also facilitates the process for Democratic legislators to meet with constituents and stakeholder groups. She was encouraged by what she saw as an increase in participation during the legislative session this year, with more people attending bill hearings, testifying, and meeting with legislators than she had seen before.
Before becoming chief of staff, Aragon served in the role of community- and constituent-outreach coordinator—where she helped organize town-hall meetings and forums—as well as policy advisor for the Democratic caucus. In 2012, she ran former Arizona legislator and current U.S. Rep. Kyrsten Sinema’s successful field campaign for Arizona’s 9th Congressional District.
Aragon spoke proudly of the effort to challenge—and ultimately stop—an initiative from reaching the ballot in 2008 that would have banned the use of affirmative action by the state of Arizona and local government entities. She served as campaign coordinator during a three-month effort to challenge petition signatures and engaged more than 1,000 volunteers. The effort succeeded and kept the issue off the ballot that year.
And in 2010, after the passage of SB 1070, the controversial immigration measure, Aragon was the liaison between the protest groups and law enforcement.
Before joining the Legislature, Aragon worked as a community-outreach director for the United Food and Commercial Workers labor union. In fact, it was a three-day training for community organizing sponsored by the unions that sent her along this political path. Aragon went on to earn her bachelor’s degree from Arizona State University and is now working on her MBA from the University of Arizona.
In 2011, she was a 40 Under 40 Phoenix Business Journal Award recipient and in 2010, a 40 Under 40 Hispanic Leaders Award winner.
Aragon was working at the Legislature by the time she was accepted into the Flinn-Brown Civic Leadership Academy, the flagship program of the Arizona Center for Civic Leadership at the Phoenix-based Flinn Foundation. The Academy was created to develop state-level civic leaders.
“I loved the experience even though I deal with policy every day,” says Aragon, adding that the Flinn-Brown Fellows learned from both the policy presentations during the seminar series and each other.
Aragon also credits the Flinn-Brown Network for going “beyond networking” by fostering genuine relationships among the 260 Fellows.
Today, Aragon is giving back to Flinn-Brown. She is currently serving on the Flinn-Brown Fellows Council, which has been charged with planning the first “Unconventional Convention,” to be hosted by Flinn-Brown in September and open to all Flinn-Brown Fellows, including the 2017 cohort that will begin the program that month.
By Brian Powell