Joel Edman was a high-school student in Chandler when he had his first serious foray into politics.
He was attending community-group meetings with friends when he had a role in recruiting a nonprofit executive to run for the Chandler City Council. Then he helped run her first campaign—and she went on to win two terms.
“The idea that you can make change by just talking to people was really intoxicating to me, and I’ve done this ever since,” Edman says.
Edman is a Class of 2005 Flinn Scholar from Corona del Sol High School in Tempe. He graduated from Arizona State University with Bachelor of Arts degrees in political science and history, and from Harvard Law School in 2013 before returning to Arizona to pursue his career.
Today, Edman serves as the executive director of the Arizona Advocacy Network and Foundation. Edman describes his nonprofit organization as one that is actively committed to defending democracy in three main categories: voting rights, the influence of money in politics, and fair and independent courts.
The organization promotes its agenda at the Arizona Capitol, the Secretary of State and County Recorders’ Offices, the Citizens’ Clean Elections Commission, and in court. The foundation side of the organization works to educate voters.
“The vision is a system where everyone in Arizona has an easy time registering to vote, casting a ballot, understanding what’s on the ballot, and will feel confident their vote will count,” says Edman, adding that the Arizona Advocacy Network works for more transparency in campaign donations.
During this time of year, Edman, a registered lobbyist, is focused on the Arizona Legislature session and spends a lot of time at the Capitol and meeting with community partners. During an election season, Edman is spending time organizing and training polling-place observers.
After earning his Harvard law degree, Edman returned to Arizona to take a position as a law clerk for the Arizona Supreme Court’s chief justice. He went on to work as a legal fellow for the American Civil Liberties Union of Arizona, then as a law clerk for a U.S. District Court of Arizona judge, before joining the Arizona Advocacy Network and Foundation in January 2017. Dating back to his undergraduate years, he has previously worked on candidate campaigns in Arizona for the U.S. House of Representatives, the Maricopa County Board of Supervisors, and Attorney General.
Edman says he wanted to return to Arizona after law school to be closer to family and friends, as well as the networks he made in high school and as a Flinn Scholar at ASU. He also decided he didn’t want to be a litigator, but rather use his skills in policy-oriented work.
The Flinn Scholarship
As a high-school student, Edman applied to two universities—Arizona State University and Georgetown University. He wanted to be involved in politics, so he thought he should go to Washington D.C. and loved the Georgetown campus and the city.
But the opportunity to travel as part of the Flinn Scholarship—including a three-week summer seminar after freshman year and another study-abroad experience—was a strong motivator for Edman to attend Barrett, the Honors College at ASU on the Flinn Scholarship.
“When I got the offer from Flinn, I made up my mind right there,” Edman says.
And he is very glad he did. He looks back at the opportunities he had at ASU, the friends he made, and the contacts in policy and politics that he still works with today.
“I know there’s a stereotype that you are probably sacrificing something if you are not going to Georgetown and instead going to a large state university. And while there are clearly differences in the settings, it really isn’t an academic sacrifice to go to a state school,” Edman says. “There were incredible faculty and smart and interesting people all over the university.”
Edman recently finished service on a team of Flinn Scholar alumni and community leaders who reviewed applications and interviewed Semifinalists for the Class of 2019 Flinn Scholarship—the third time as a Scholar alum he has assisted with the review process.
“It really is inspiring and reassuring that so many incredible young people, whether they end up being Flinns or not, are contributing to our state,” Edman says.
There were nearly 900 applications for the Class of 2019 Flinn Scholarship. Forty-two Finalists are scheduled to be interviewed in early March, and the class will be announced in April. The 20 new Scholars who will attend an Arizona public university in the fall will receive the full cost of tuition, fees, housing and meals, a summer seminar in China, plus faculty mentorship and a community of about 80 current and more than 550 alumni.
The Flinn Scholarship is not Edman’s only connection with the Flinn Foundation in Phoenix. He is also a Flinn-Brown Fellow, selected in 2016 by the Arizona Center for Civic Leadership for the Flinn-Brown Civic Leadership Academy, where he participated in presentations from state experts and leaders on a wide range of policy issues. He has remained an active member of the Flinn-Brown Network, comprised of Fellows who are state-level civic leaders throughout Arizona.
And he doesn’t have to look far from home to find another civic leader.
Edman and his fiancée, Marilyn Rodriguez, were named the 2018 “Best Power Couple” by the Phoenix New Times. Rodriguez, founder of the lobbying firm Creosote Partners, and Edman are getting married in March and the two organizations share office space.
“We didn’t hear anything about it until it was published,” Edman says.
The couple live in downtown Phoenix and enjoy walking to Talking Stick Resort Arena to watch Edman’s favorite team, the Phoenix Suns.
“It’s been a tough decade since they were last in the playoffs in 2010, but we still go to games all the time,” Edman says.