The Power of Grassroots: From Activist to Legislator

Jul 10, 2024 by AFP

“If you think you’re too small to make a difference, you haven’t spent the night with a mosquito.” This African proverb resonates with anyone who’s been involved in the world of grassroots. Time and again, citizens have shown the immense power of organizing and stepping up to the plate when needed, and Heidi Balderree’s journey is a shining example.

Heidi, a resident of Saratoga Springs, Utah couldn’t imagine how much her life would change. In 2014, she found herself drawn into a local policy battle that threatened the safety and security of her small town. Heidi began organizing with other concerned citizens and what started as a one-off effort, blossomed into a first-of-its-kind grassroots presence in the state.

Heidi remembers those early days well, “There were lots of concerned citizens, but there just wasn’t one particular location where people could band together and have all the types of resources. It was very, very authentically, organically, grassroots. I thought that’s about where it would end. And boy, was I wrong.”

Heidi had no idea of the profound impact she would eventually make. Her journey into activism began with a desire to protect her community, unaware that she would become a pivotal figure in grassroots organizing at a time when Utah lacked the resources for change makers. This gap dramatically stunted the impact of activists and left them feeling powerless.

Americans for Prosperity Comes to Utah

The turning point came in 2015 when Americans for Prosperity launched their Utah chapter. AFP brought world-class experts in grassroots organizing, sophisticated data intelligence, cutting-edge technology, formal trainings, and tide-shifting relationships with lawmakers and key stakeholders.

Heather Andrews, the Director of Field Operations for Utah at the time, recognized Heidi’s passion and suggested she join the AFP Foundation’s Grassroots Leadership Academy training in Utah.

“They just provide so many resources that were beyond what I could do as an individual,” Heidi said. She felt that she had found a place to call home; a place that aligned with her values and prioritized elevating citizen voices. Over 10 years, Heidi went from AFP volunteer to employee, honing her craft and calcifying her passion for issue advocacy and policy. She played a fundamental role in several tax reform bills and helped squash an effort to provide Medicaid to able-bodied adults—which would further stain resources and drive-up costs.

Heidi’s Run for Political Office

Jump to 2023, Utah State Senator Jake Anderegg announces he’s resigning from his post, shocking constituents and leaving the district 22 Senate seat vacant for the taking. It wasn’t long before text messages flooded Heidi’s phone. They all said the same thing: You should run for office.

“There was no shortage of people raising their hands and eager to help her get involved and advocate for her on whatever level she needed. And I truly believe that that’s because she built an authentic grassroots community,” Heather noted.

With less than a month to campaign, Heidi wasted no time. She leveraged her grassroots experience, organizing and canvassing tirelessly. Despite facing well-connected, wealthy opponents with extensive political networks, Heidi won the election. She was sworn into the state senate in October 2023, crediting her victory to AFP’s training and the genuine relationships she built through her activism.

Once in office, Heidi quickly began making her mark. She spearheaded many successful bills during her first year, including SB 0047 Local Government Business License Amendments and SB 0100 LocalReferenda Amendments. These initiatives stemmed directly from the relationships she had forged through her grassroots efforts.

Heidi remains a steadfast ally of AFP in the statehouse, empowering individuals and challenging big government in Utah.

Heidi Balderree’s story shows the power of grassroots organizing. From kitchen meetings to the state senate, her journey shows that even the smallest voices can make a monumental difference.