The man leading an Arizona teacher protest that labels itself as "bipartisan" has in the past year worked with partisan election groups launched by Democratic operatives after the 2016 election and was hired last year to manage a Democrat's campaign.
Questions were raised last week regarding the background of Noah Karvelis, a teacher who has been the face of the highly visible #RedforEd push for increased teacher salaries, after Arizona governor Doug Ducey (R.) labeled him a political operative and chose to keep him out of talks on education spending.
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"What I don't want to do is get into these political operatives' political circus," Ducey said, calling into question the political motives of Karvelis's group, which says it is nonpartisan. He said he would work with "decision makers" and separate out "political activists."
The Democratic Governors Association criticized Ducey for mislabeling the "organic, bipartisan movement" as a "political movement," but it failed to mention the ties Karvelis has established to Democratic groups in the last two years alone.
Ducey's comment was a reference to Karvelis's second job working as campaign manager for local Democrat Kathy Hoffman, a position he was paid $3,000 for last cycle, according to state campaign finance records.
His involvement in Democratic political operations, however, runs deeper than the one local race.
Karvelis was connected with Hoffman through work he was doing for a group called Run for Something, which was founded by Amanda Litman, a Democratic campaign veteran who was most recently email director for Hillary Clinton's 2016 presidential run.
Karvelis worked as a "candidate concierge" for the group, which aims to "build a Democratic bench for the future" by supplying down-ballot progressives with resources most small campaigns lack. Hoffman came to him when she heard that he was working for Run for Something.
"She reached out because I had a Facebook post out about Run For Something," Karvelis explained in an email. "She is a first time candidate and wanted to learn about that program. We talked for a while about running for office, then she later asked for help collecting signatures and small things like that."
Karvelis worked as Hoffman's communications director on a volunteer basis before he was promoted to his current paid role as campaign manager.
A public résumé for Karvelis says he also began working last year as an organizer for Knock Every Door, a group formed in January 2017 by Bernie Sanders campaign alums led by the woman who built his national field operation. The group planned to do "deep canvassing" across the country and share the data it collects to local candidates across the country, according to Mother Jones.
Karvelis volunteered for the Sanders campaign in 2016, according to his résumé, but he insists his work for Knock Every Door was "not for a candidate or an agenda."
"I worked with Knock Every Door to help schedule canvasses in the area to talk with voters about their general political beliefs, not for a candidate or an agenda, but to get a sense of the political landscape in the region following the 2016 election," he said.
The group's stated aim is to "start conversations about the progressive change our country needs" and "pave the way to defeating Trumpism."
Karvelis downplayed his role in the protest even though he is the one getting all the attention.
"There is a lot of focus on me right now, but the group is over 42,000 members (many of which are conservative) who play a major role in our decisions," he said, adding that he is just one member of a nine-person leadership team each with equal voting power.
He also said his group has "deliberately avoided any sort of meetings that do not have bipartisan representation."
Karvelis, however, has allied himself with Ducey's political opponents. He has openly admitted that the idea of the #RedforEd protest—for all teachers to wear red on Wednesdays to show solidarity—was Arizona union boss Joe Thomas's idea. He said in a recent interview that his group has a "powerful relationship" with Thomas's Arizona Education Association and that he has worked with them to "discuss further steps" and a possible strike.
Thomas announced last month that the Arizona Education Association was endorsing Ducey's Democrat opponent.