Catherine Barrett marched to the State Capitol on the first day of the Arizona teachers' strike. As the walkout wound down, she stood with other organizers as they vowed to keep fighting for increased pay and school funding.
Now, her solidarity with the #RedForEd movement is over.
Barrett resigned from the #RedForEd leadership group this summer, only to emerge as a committed Republican political activist and a supporter of Arizona Governor Doug Ducey's re-election bid. Recently, she has sparred online with her onetime comrades, leaving some of them feeling frustrated and blindsided.
"It’s one thing to withdraw from the group, but it’s also another thing to join the opposition," #RedForEd leader Rebecca Garelli said in an interview.
Barrett has shared reams of tweets amplifying Ducey's campaign messages and bashing his Democratic opponent, David Garcia. Other photos show Barrett knocking on doors and making phone calls on behalf of Republicans like State Senator Kate Brophy McGee and House candidate Kathy Petsas.
On Tuesday, after the two had been feuding online, Barrett took direct aim at Garelli: "Free advice, don’t attack people. Attack ideas," Barrett wrote on Twitter.
"Take good care and enjoy your next state," Barrett added, echoing a common attack on the #RedForEd teachers that portrayed them as labor agitators from out-of-state.
Barrett is not the only conservative who supported #RedForEd. But as a Ducey supporter, Barrett certainly is an outlier among the teacher-activists. For other #RedForEd organizers, Ducey is a contemptible figure whose so-called 20x2020 proposal to boost teacher pay was too little, too late.
An instructor in the Phoenix Union High School District, Barrett declined to be interviewed for this article. She asked Phoenix New Times to send questions via email, then didn't respond to them.
Noah Karvelis, a leader of the strike and a music teacher in Tolleson, said that #RedForEd leaders received an email from Barrett this summer in which she informed them she was stepping down to focus her energy elsewhere.
"She was a great advocate for public education so the change of heart has definitely surprised all of us," Karvelis wrote in a text message.
Even more puzzling than her abrupt step away from the #RedForEd leadership is Barrett's 180-degree reversal on the Invest in Education initiative.
As recently as May, Barrett was proudly collecting signatures in the heat to secure Invest in Ed a spot on the November ballot.
The measure, designed to raise income taxes to fund education spending, achieved the required signatures but was knocked off the ballot by the Arizona Supreme Court in late August.
Ducey opposed the Invest in Ed measure – he argued that higher taxes would hamstring economic growth in Arizona – making it hard to understand why Barrett would endorse him.
Two months ago, Barrett criticized Invest in Ed in an August 28 tweet: "If #InvestinEd passes in November, AZ would become 5th highest tax state in US!" Barrett wrote.
Karvelis acknowledged that disagreements can happen when organizing in a large group. Even so, "there wasn't anything that I am aware of that would have caused her to completely flip on the issue," he wrote.
In addition to her conservative activism, Barrett is a volunteer with Arizonans for Affordable Electricity, a political committee that opposes Proposition 127, a clean energy mandate.
Photos of the bright-yellow "NO on 127" campaign signs plaster her Twitter feed.
Matthew Benson, a spokesperson for Arizonans for Affordable Electricity who works for the conservative political consulting firm Veridus, said that Barrett is an unpaid volunteer for the campaign. For approximately two months, Barrett has served as the face of their "Teachers Against 127" effort, he said.
He downplayed the significance of Barrett's vocal Republican activism since the teachers' strike. "This is one individual among many who is involved in politics on all sides of these issues, and I'm not sure why she's coming in for so much scrutiny," Benson said. "It just doesn't seem particularly fair."
However, Benson was unable to say why Barrett shifted her position on Invest in Ed so dramatically, deferring the question to her.
From his point of view, Arizona has been through an "exercise over the last six months" that celebrated teachers making their voices heard through the political process. Those same voices now want to silence Barrett because of her political views, he argued.
"It's pathetic," Benson said.
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