We had the good fortune of connecting with Braden Biggs and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Braden, what is the most important factor behind your success?
For me, it is a different world than most. In politics on any level, our success is gauged differently and often is subjective depending on who you’re speaking to. I grew up in this world and knew that I always wanted to be a public servant. That being said, both in my professional career and my political career, I have adopted what is called a “Servant Leadership” management style. As an elected official, my first and foremost thought must be the people I represent. IE: My Constituents. I approach this thought from a few angles, the first is I am open, honest, and transparent with them and seek to educate them on what it is their City Council is doing, and in return, I hope that through discussions with them I can see how they feel about a particular subject matter that I may have to vote on. I engage constituents in as many ways as possible, through social media, email, phone calls, and in-person events and I always try to ensure that I am as approachable as possible. I never shy away from answering questions, or even just simply saying “I don’t know but let me follow up.” The second approach is knowing that I grew up in Apache Junction and that I am the youngest
Councilmember ever elected here. I am also the only “homegrown” one thus far, meaning that while I did transplant here it was at such a young age that I do not know anything different. I usually make a joke and say that “I speak AJ because I am AJ.” That isn’t to say that I understand the issues differently or that my fellow elected leaders don’t know what they are talking about. I just have a different approach to how I want to see my hometown grow in the future.
For me, if I accomplish nothing else while in office other than educating our constituents on what is happening with their government then I have done my job. I feel that I do this every day and I am constantly getting praise from folks about the information I put out and how they feel they know exactly what their city is up to.
Can you open up a bit about your work and career? We’re big fans and we’d love for our community to learn more about your work.
Public Service has always been my passion, I’ve never really cared how I do it, I just want to do it. I have never sought titles or glory as I feel the work is the true focus and where the story should be. As I mentioned I’ve adopted a Servant Leadership management style and through that, I let the public take me where they need me or see me best fit regarding a problem. It is through them and working with them I have found the most success. The thing that I am by far the proudest of happened in mid-2020 after several years of pushing the boulder up the hill. In 2012, I lost a sibling to suicide, he was 21 or 22 and it was completely unexpected. Suicide is the 3rd leading cause of death for ages 15-24. Starting in 2016 as I started to get more involved in my community I quickly learned how lackluster the resources were for public schools in terms of suicide prevention. I mean sure there were a few posters hung on the walls but no one talked about it. No one knew the National Suicide Hotline Number or even that it was ok to talk about it. Luckily around this time the State of Arizona was getting a grip on Mental Health First Aid and having some real and honest discussions about it. But what could one person really do? Well, I started talking to school Superintendents and found a very simple solution. Adding the National Suicide Hotline to the back of student identification cards. At first, I approached the AJUSD School Superintendent and found out what it would take. If money was the problem, I’d raise it, if public policy was the problem I’d change it. I didn’t care because saving even one life was worth it all. Low and behold we found out that no one had ever asked and in turn, they had never looked into it. So we went to the company that prints the ID cards and they told us they would do it for free. We were rolling now! AJUSD got it on their student ID Cards the following school year. From there I started approaching every school district in Pinal County asking them to place this life-saving information on their student ID Cards. It was in an off-handed conversation with the Pinal County Superintendent of Public Instruction Jill Broussard that we took off. Jill mentioned to me that this is a bigger challenge than I realized and that she and her fellow 15 Superintendents from counties across the state were seeking solutions. At the time, Jill was the President of the Country School Superintendents Association and a member of the State Board of Education and she was 100% on board with taking this higher. From there, we decided that this was far too big of an issue, and law needed to be created. Thus Senate Bill 1446 was born. Jill and I went around to every elected body that would listen to us in Pinal County and got them all to sign on to helping us make this happen. I am proud to say that every school district, city/town and our Board of Supervisors for Pinal County signed proclamations in hopes that something could be done. Jill got the approval from her 14 counterparts across the state to make this one of their legislative priorities and then we took it to the State Board of Education. Our State Superintendent of Public Instruction Kathy Hoffman quickly became a huge advocate and in turn signed a proclamation as well declaring how important this was to the heath of our up and coming generation. Next thing was to take it to the State of Arizona Legislature. This happened in the 2019-2020 Legislative Session thanks to State Senator Sean Bowie. A fierce supporter of Mental Health and Wellness and Suicide. That legislative session seemed to be buzzing with mental health laws as my friends Denise and Ben Denslow and their non-profit the JEM Foundation had been working on their own legislation. Jakes’s law resulted in them losing their son, jake to suicide in 2016. It was around the same time that both pieces of legislation hit the Senate and House floor, and this was right before COVID-19 effectively shut the legislature down. Luckily, Jake’s law made it through and was signed by Governor Ducey on March 3rd of 2020. I am beyond proud to say that I had a small piece of that legislation but the true heroes of that story are Ben and Denise. For SB1446, we weren’t as lucky. We made it unanimously through the House of Representatives and were scheduled to go to the Senate but the week the legislature shut down threw all that hard work out the window. Or so it seemed. We had already planned to bring the bill back up in the 2020/2021 legislative session but thanks to State Senator Kelly Townsend she pushed hard to make that one of the bills that was discussed during the special session the summer of 2020, while the state government fought over how to fund Arizona before a shutdown. In May of 2020, SB1446 was heard on the Senate floor and unanimously passed. This meant that the bill passed unanimously out of both chambers and was on its way up to the 9th floor for Governor Ducey to sign. On June 5th, 2020, SB1446 was signed into law to take effect on July 1st, 2021. As of July 1st, if a school district governing board or charter school governing body issues identification cards to students in grades nine through twelve, the school district governing board or charter school governing body shall include at least one of the following on each new identification card issued to a student in grade nine through twelve:
1. The telephone number for a national suicide prevention lifeline.
2. The telephone number for a national network of local crisis centers.
3. A statement describing how to access a text-based emotional support service.
4. The telephone number for a local suicide prevention hotline.
SB1446 was also taken one step further to include higher education facilities meaning community colleges or universities that fall under the purview of the Arizona Board of Regents. Essentially all student identification cards from 9th grade through all levels of college will now have some form of life-saving information on them. As students are generally required to carry their ID around with them it means that they will always have this resource in their pocket or purse.
So was any of this easy? Heck no! It was incredibly hard and frustrating and there were times that I was ready to give up but thanks to the plethora of people I had around me supporting me they kept me going. Anything worth fighting for will be hard right? One of my favorite quotes from one of my favorite movies “The American President” (Shocker that this is one of my favorite movies, right?) is “We have serious problems to solve, and we need serious people to solve them.” I am a firm believer that decisions are made by those who show up and because of that, I will continue to show up and fight for a better world for everyone. We may not always agree, but that is ok. We have to be willing to compromise and find the best solution for all. Together, we are stronger than we are if we are divided.
Any places to eat or things to do that you can share with our readers? If they have a friend visiting town, what are some spots they could take them to?
Oh gosh, Apache Junction has some amazing restaurants. One thing that I love about us is that we are almost completely mom-and-pop locations. We only have one franchised or corporate-owned sit-down restaurant. I’m not talking about fast food places but legitimate restaurants. You will frequently catch me at FreshPress Burger, Handlebar Pub and Grill, and the Hitching Post. As for fantastic local attractions, we have Goldfield Ghost Town the Superstition Mountain Museum, and of course the great outdoors. Apache Junction is home to the Superstition Mountains and the gateway to Canyon Lake. Our neck of the woods is the best place to be if like me you love to be outside. Our hiking and biking trails are some of the best in the world. Don’t even get me started on our parks! I’d highly encourage anyone who hasn’t been to Apache Junction before to come on out and see what the Home of the Superstitions has to offer. I guarantee you it will be legendary. After all, our motto is “Surrounded by legends.”
Who else deserves some credit and recognition?
As I mentioned a bit ago, I grew up in this world. Being an active member of my community and walking the walk instead of just talking the talk was expected of us. My grandparents who have both since passed away were absolute rockstars in their lifetime. My Grandmother was a school teacher and community advocate who helped raise countless dollars for local charities, schools, and other causes. My Grandfather was a highly decorated retired Lt. Colonel (Army) who served in Korea and Vietnam. He was the base commander, as well as the Commandant of the Northern Warfare Training Center (NWTC) in Ft. Greely, Alaska. My uncle Joe, retired as a Lt. Colonel out of the Inspector Generals’ office in Alaska. My Aunt (who passed away in December of 2019) was an elected Circuit Court Judge for Hillsborough County in Florida. A fierce advocate of children and children’s rights, she and a small group of other notable individuals went on to found and fund “A Kids Place of Tampa Bay” which provides residential services to children from birth to age 18, who have been removed from their homes due to abuse, neglect or abandonment. This is her lasting legacy that has and will benefit countless young lives. My mother was a staunch public school supporter and was Chairwoman for a local Political Action Committee called Children First. Children First was responsible for passing three bonds/overrides in the Apache Junction/Gold Canyon communities between 1990 and the early 2000’s. This brought in millions of dollars of funding to our local educational system. I can remember being in 2nd or 3rd grade out there rallying the vote in my Children’s first shirt attempting to talk to adults about why I thought funding my classroom is important. As you can see, when I say I grew up in a world where doing was more important than saying I mean it. As I have become an adult, I have been blessed to be surrounded by so many fantastic leaders who have helped show me the ropes. From one of the greatest bosses and friends, I’ve ever had Manuela Bowler, who introduced me to the non-profit world. Which is now my career and passion. To Bryant Powell our Apache Junction City Manager who saw more in me than I did and helped mentor me into the leader I am today. Being able to work with him now as a City Councilmember and his “boss” is fantastic. Currently, I am a student at Grand Canyon University working on my Bachelors in Government with an Emphasis on State and Local Public Policy. My goal is to obtain my Masters’s Degree in Public Administration and eventually move to the operations side of government and work my way up to being a City Manager. Bryant’s leadership and ability to teach me the operations side while I also learn the policy side as an elected leader has made me a better representative for my constituents and as I grow that will only get stronger. Which in turn will hopefully make all of us more successful. After all, a rising tide raises all ships!