Best Power Couple 2017 | Juan Mendez and Athena Salman | Megalopolitan Life | Phoenix

Over the past two years, this openly atheist duo have taken turns pissing off their conservative colleagues in the Arizona Legislature by giving invocations that don't reference God or Jesus. In 2013, Mendez, then a state representative from Tempe, gave a shoutout to Carl Sagan rather than offer up a prayer to any particular deity. Afterward, Republicans barred him from giving any more invocations — unless, of course, he was willing to mention a higher power. This year, Salman, who also happens to be his partner, took up the fight when Mendez moved to the state Senate and she took his place in the Arizona House of Representatives. In April, she delivered an invocation that referenced "the humanity that resides within each and every person here" — not exactly a controversial sentiment, but one that earned her a rebuke from Republican leaders. If, one day, lawmakers finally get the memo that we're no longer living in medieval times, we'll probably have these two to thank.

"Lobbyist" is often a dirty word, but not when it comes to Samuel Richard. The former Protecting Arizona's Family Coalition executive director, who left the organization in July to start his own progressive lobbying firm, routinely puts in long nights at the State Capitol (sometimes bringing along a flask when floor sessions drag on past 11 p.m.). His goal? Ensuring that wealthy Arizonans aren't the only ones with a voice in the democratic process. Whether advocating to overturn the state's overly stringent restrictions on temporary cash assistance for low-income families or campaigning against predatory payday loans, he's dedicated to fighting the good fight in a Legislature that often would rather focus on petty shenanigans like banning a ban on plastic bags.

You're no one in the world of hardline anti-immigration advocates unless you've made an appearance on the National Border Patrol Council's podcast. Previous guests include "policy experts" from the xenophobic Center for Immigration Studies, disgraced former sheriffs Joe Arpaio and Paul Babeu, and, of course, Donald Trump. The president — then a candidate for the Republican presidential nomination — appeared on the show last May and complained that refugees entering the country "have cellphones with ISIS flags on them, and we're supposed to say that it's wonderful that we're taking them in." But along with the tirades against sanctuary policies and excoriations of former President Obama, the hourlong podcast often includes digressions into less thorny topics like the best places to get gas-station tacos and how many of the podcast's listeners are named Ron. It's a rare look into an agency that's typically closed off to outsiders, which makes it a must-listen every week.

Whether podcaster Jared Duran is talking to indie icon Robyn Hitchcock, Arizona roots musician Jon Rauhouse, or storyteller Jessie Balli, he’s got an ear for hearing. Quietly pushing his guests to explain their processes and artistic drive, Duran takes the long-game approach, allowing conversation to unfold organically and welcoming insightful detours. Associated closely with literary journal Four Chambers, he tends toward lit guests — like Paul Mosier, Clotee Hammons, and poet Jia Oak Baker — but Duran’s just as engaging speaking with filmmakers and musicians. And like all great podcasters, he understands that he’s part of the draw, opening each episode with a thoughtful rundown of his recent thoughts on current events and cultural touchstones.

Alt-AZ's morning lineup got a jolt of frenetic energy recently by adding radio vet Mo Ro to handle the a.m. airwaves. After establishing herself with the midmorning slot, Mo Ro quickly assumed the mic for what amounts to FM prime time last year. Quick with quips and nerdy trivia, Mo Ro's been a breath of fresh air on the mostly dude-dominated morning show scene. Whether spinning local music with her Homegrown With Mo segment or talking comic book, sci-fi, and pop culture trivia with her Nerdgasm News bit, Mo's enthusiasm and love for Phoenix is infectious. Her hilarious personality helps give Alt-AZ the boost a proper morning show needs.

Ted Simons, the host of KAET's Arizona Horizon, knows the Valley. He's been here three decades, hosting radio shows on KTAR and KZON, always demonstrating a blend of warm humor and deep knowledge. It's no surprise Horizon recently won an Emmy — Simons has that kind of vibe. The host got his start at KAET, and his dedication to the station is clear. Discussing the Diamondbacks, local politics, the arts scene, or anything else on his plate, Simons aims for balanced voices and digs deep with his interview subjects, displaying a calm demeanor even while fostering healthy debate.

Whether she's describing the scene at a heartbreaking funeral for an entire family that perished in a flash flood, or recalling her hilarious journey (spoiler alert) across the finish line at her first marathon, Stina Sieg can tell the hell out of a story in all the best ways. She's a reporter for KJZZ, our local National Public Radio affiliate, where she works tirelessly to find, report, and recount other people's stories. We've also been lucky enough to hear her onstage at various storytelling events around town (including New Times' own Bar Flies), telling her own tales. We're never disappointed. Sieg's got the gift and the heart, and we know her story's just begun. We can't wait to hear where it takes her.

In case you haven't noticed, there's no shortage of storytelling events in Phoenix. From true stories to fiction, open mics to rehearsed readings, weekly roundups to monthly showcases, the desert narrative is now being told onstage and in front of a live audience. And yet, with so many outlets for pouring out tales of heartbreak and humor, there was still something missing up until this year — specifically, a space for black voices. Cue Phoenix native Rachel Egboro. The Storyline co-founder launched her own quarterly storytelling series, The Whole Story, to showcase a more comprehensive narrative of the black experience. In her first two shows, Egboro proved that she could bring not just the diversity of the black community to the stage, featuring everyone from stand-up comedian Anwar Newton to BlackPoet Ventures' Leah Marche, but also a packed audience of listeners from all backgrounds to the theater. Needless to say, The Whole Story has opened up a whole new chapter for Phoenix storytelling.

Ever since turning a bad psychedelic mushroom trip into online comedy gold at San Diego Comic-Con in 2014, Anwar Newton has proved time and again that he's not just good for a laugh, he's good for the Phoenix stand-up scene as a whole. On top of building a following for his own observational anecdotes, the 30-something humorist has helped shape a community of other local comics who hone their craft at Newton's signature shows: the monthly Literally the Worst Show Ever with co-host Dan Thompson at Valley Bar and the weekly This Week Sucks Tonight at Crescent Ballroom. For upcoming shows, jokes, and posts about Ja Rule Day (a December 9 holiday invented by Newton and recently recognized by Ja himself) follow him on Twitter @thenawarnewton.

Eisner-nominated Arizona artist Tony Parker has drawn big-name characters like Batman and Wolverine for DC and Marvel, but it's his indie projects that showcase his style best. With writer Paul Cornell, he launched This Damned Band, a '70s rock 'n' roll epic laced with occult overtones. More recently, he teamed with writer Alex de Campi for Mayday, a similarly psychedelic Cold War story loaded with druggy escapes and all-too-topical Russian conspiratorial ruses. Parker's style is expressive and detailed, with psychedelic flourishes that evoke the late '60s and '70s. One of the nicest dudes in comics, you can find Parker at events like Phoenix Comicon and on Twitter, where he discusses politics as much as comics news.

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