A Trans Woman and Indian-American Vie to Replace Disgraced Republican in Congress

December 18, 2017
print1218arizona

By Michael Sainato
December 18, 2017

A special election will be held in Arizona’s 8th Congressional District on April 24, 2018 to replace Rep. Trent Franks (R-AZ) who resigned in the wake of a sexual harassment scandal. The special election provides another opportunity for Democrats to gain a seat in Congress that has historically trended in favor of Republicans, following Doug Jones’ victory in the Alabama Senate special election..

Two Democratic Party candidates had already filed to run against Franks in the 2018 midterm elections: Dr. Hiral Tipirneni, and Brianna Westbrook, who will face off in the special election primary on February 27, 2018. Their campaigns are a stark contrast to 2016, when the Democratic Party allowed Franks to run unopposed. Trump carried the district by 21 points in the 2016 election, likely boosted by the lack of a Democrat in the congressional race.

“It was the correct thing for the Congressman to resign from Congress. The proper response to wrongdoing is to acknowledge it and make amends to the victims, voters, and constituents,” said Westbrook in an interview with the Real News Network. Backed by Justice Democrats and Run For Pride, Westbrook would be the first trans person to ever serve in the United States Congress if elected.

“Over the years I’ve watched politicians become more and more corrupt and flat out ignore the voice of the people. So I decided to step up and run to be an honest voice for the people in Washington D.C,” Westbrook said. She’s running on the People’s platform, a handful of progressive policy stances that include Medicare-for-All, free college tuition for all, and a $15 minimum wage.

Dr. Hiral Tipirneni is running a campaign more in line with the rank and file Democratic Party establishment. She came to the United States from India at the age of three, worked as an emergency room physician and more recently as a cancer research advocate. “For the last six months I have been out meeting people and hearing how Washington is letting them down,” Dr. Tipirneni told the Real News Network. She’s running on a platform of affordable healthcare, protecting Social Security and Medicare, and simplifying the federal tax code. “The news of Franks’ resignation doesn’t change the fact that the communities of the West Valley deserve to be represented by someone who will fight for better jobs amid wage stagnation, and fight for affordable, quality healthcare.”

During the last FEC filing, Dr. Tipirneni managed to out-fundraise Franks with $165,266 in campaign donations, though Franks was one of the wealthiest members of Congress with an estimated net worth of over $33 million, mostly from shares in his family’s oil company.

Though the Cook Partisan Index places Arizona’s 8th Congressional District with a 13 point percentage lean in favor of Republicans, Frank’s resignation provides an opportunity for Democrats to capitalize on the fallout.

Now that Franks has resigned, it’s unclear which Republican candidates will seek to replace him. So far only Christopher Sylvester, a retired naval officer, had formally filed to run as a Republican against him in the 2018 Primaries. Politico reported local Republican operatives have cited former Gov. Jan Brewer, Maricopa County Supervisor Clint Hickman, Peoria Mayor Cathy Carlat, state Sen. Debbie Lesko and state Sen. Kimberly Yee as possible Republican contenders for the seat. Former Republican state Rep. Bob Stump and state Sen. Steve Montenegro formally announced their candidacies on social media shortly after Franks formally resigned.

The deadline to submit nominating petitions is January 10, 2018 and an Arizona state law puts several potential candidates in a precarious position, as they would likely have to resign from their current elected offices in order to enter the race.