Idealism in a Pragmatic World: Interview with Cathi Herrod

We are excited to have had the opportunity to talk with Cathi Herrod, President of Center for Arizona Policy. Sometimes as conservatives we find ourselves in the middle of a balancing act between purism and the pragmatism that politics so often calls for.  Cathi Herrod has been fighting the good fight for many years and we were eager to get some insight from her about what she has learned and how she would encourage young conservatives moving forward. With the political culture heating up and growing more polarized, we wanted to gather some of Cathi’s thoughts about her experience working to advance socially conservative issues and see what she thought about how to be pragmatic when necessary without compromising values.


Micah: You’re an attorney and you've spent much of your career operating in public policy - arguably in a very pragmatic context.  What were the roadblocks you had to navigate to pass good social policy in your early days?

Cathi: Legislators were often hesitant, and remain hesitant, to tackle controversial social issues. Some will accept the media narrative they hear repeatedly. Educating legislators on the merits of a given issue when they often look at the politics, not the merit, can be a substantial roadblock.  

We lose a good bill on election day when those who support good social policy don’t vote their values and social conservatives don’t win their elections.

Additionally, lack of engagement by social conservatives in electoral politics has presented unique roadblocks. The lack of political engagement has led to not having the votes to pass good social policy. As a longtime legislator once told me, we don’t lose a vote on the day the legislature votes; we lose a good bill on election day when those who support good social policy don’t vote their values and social conservatives don’t win their elections. These roadblocks still exist.

Micah: Would you say you started your career as an idealist or more of a pragmatist? Has that changed over the years?

Cathi: I’ve always been a “glass half-full” not a “glass half-empty” type of person. I’ve likely moved from idealist to more pragmatic over the years.

Micah: What is an example of something where you have had to draw the line between pragmatism and compromise of principle?

Cathi: In advocating for pro-life laws, at times we have had to accept an amendment that changed the bill to being less than what was needed to get the votes necessary for passage. In the current legislative session, “Simon’s Law” started with the requirement that parental consent was required for a “do-not-resuscitate” order (DNR) being placed on a minor’s medical record. When a hospital objected, the consent requirement was changed to notification.


On principle, I always have advocated for parental consent on anything, not notification. However, the Arizona Senate would not have considered the bill without the change from consent to notification. Ensuring a DNR doesn’t get placed on a child’s medical record without parental knowledge was better than not having any protection at all.

Micah: How have activist judges and the 9th circuit changed how you have to operate in Arizona? 

Cathi: We have drafted pro-life legislation to reflect laws from other states already upheld in court. At times we do not promote legislation that likely would not survive the Ninth Circuit as a strategy decision based on national strategic goals.

Micah: The battle to advance life, marriage, family and religious freedom is long and hard. You’ve been in the trenches for a long time, seeing both victories and defeats. How do you keep getting up and fighting another day?  What keeps you centered? 

Cathi: It’s fairly simple: every day there will be a woman facing a decision on whether or not to have an abortion. Planned Parenthood and the abortion industry will tell her the baby is a glob of tissue and not a human life. She will be told there are few, if any, risks to having an abortion. Yet I know many women with the evidence to back up the facts: abortion not only stops a beating heart, it breaks a woman’s heart. Abortion does carry health risks for women. Those women deserve our love, care, and most importantly, the truth. That’s why I get up every day to fight for women and their preborn babies.

Proverbs 21:31 states, “The horse is made ready for the day of battle, but victory belongs to the Lord.” I believe I am called to this work. I fight another day out of obedience and calling. I am to do my part, but completely leave the results to the Lord. While I certainly want to see victories, I don’t focus on the victories. I keep centered by knowing this is my calling and my mission, but I’m not the one who can control and make the results happen. That’s up to a holy God.

I keep centered by knowing this is my calling and my mission, but I’m not the one who can control and make the results happen. That’s up to a holy God.

I also keep centered by taking breaks and getting away from it all. One has to know that the battle or the need to engage on an issue always will be there. That is constant. To avoid burnout, it’s necessary to keep my eyes on the Lord, then to take breaks. Or as I sometimes say, “when the going gets tough, the tough go shopping.” I go wander around antique or consignment stores or walk a mall. I also am an avid reader of mystery and spy novels. These hobbies help we get away from it all when I need it.

Micah: How would you advise young, up and coming conservatives to learn how to build bridges while staying true to their values?

Cathi: Pray for wisdom always. Know your role. Avoid the temptation to get in the mud pit and slug it out with others.

Watch your rhetoric. Pick your battles. When you believe you are called to address a certain number of issues, don’t voice opinions publicly on issues not in your area of expertise. Avoid attacking elected officials in any way personally. Stick to the merits of issues and why you take the position you do on issues. Don’t take the bait to defend yourself when attacked. Stick to your message. Don’t let others dictate how you address issues or what issues you address.

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Cathi Herrod is the President of Center for Arizona Policy.


Micah Vandenboom is Research Assistant for The Resolute Group.  She is a recent political science graduate from Arizona Christian University.

The Resolute Group