The anti-Latino political environment that has characterized Arizona’s state politics for the past several years is beginning to have it unintended consequence: empowering Latinos in that state to run for public office. What it comes down to is that organizations and groups of people who’ve been fighting on a grassroots level to combat the policies of Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio and SB 1070 are now turning their attention to voter registration, get out the vote, and throwing their support behind political candidates, on every level, from city council to U.S. Congress.
NewsTaco spoke to a couple beneficiaries of this political environment, as well as the state Democratic Party. As Arpaio is a Republican, and SB 1070 was proposed and signed by Republican politicians, the Democratic Party in Arizona has emerged as the party of choice for Latinos looking to shake up the state of affairs there. And, we’ve been told that the Barack Obama campaign, as well as the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, are investing in these young Latino leaders and organizers in hopes of boosting registration and voter turnout.
Currently there are about 500,000 registered Latino voters in Arizona; 47% are registered as Democrats, 15% as Republicans and 37% as independents.
“SB 1070 certainly served as a rallying point, and we’ve seen consistent evidence of that with an exciting level of enthusiasm across the party heading into 2012,” Arizona Democratic Party Communications Director Andy Barr told NewsTaco. “All the new leaders and organizers who we’ve had step up in the party has already led to electoral success – helping boost turnout for our recent victories in Phoenix and Tucson, as well as in the recall of the bill’s author, Russell Pearce.”
Some of the names that we can include in this movement are: Randy Parraz (U.S. Senate in 2010), Wenona Benally Baldenegro (U.S. Congress District 1) and her husband Sal Baldenegro Jr. (state house district LD2), Martin Quezada (2010 house), Daniel Valenzuela (Phoenix city council), Lorenzo Sierra (state house district 19), among others.
The beginning of the story is Arpaio’s anti-immigrant policies, according to Rubén Gallego, Arizona State Rep. District 16. He told NewsTaco that organization began around the sheriff’s bad policies, and galvanized with SB 1070, spurring widespread grassroots organization that culminated in not only protests, but political and voter registration campaigns. In the face of inactive Latino politicians, Gallego and others like him “cut their teeth” in elections, Democratic ones, since he noted that SB 1070 was the breaking point where Latinos realize that Republicans were not squarely on their side.
“That law is what people will remember for years. For the first time in a long time within a have our voting numbers to be able to match our ability to fund raises the community, as well as to be able to run campaigns, in order to win coalitions to win races,” Gallego told NewsTaco. “The genie is out of the bottle now, the question is how is everyone else going to react to the new reality of the Latino community that wants to be politically involved?”
Baldenegro described his journey to political candidacy as one that was gradual. At first, he said the SB 1070-inspired protest movement was very intense, but that level of intensity is not sustainable forever, he said. Combined with frustration with “wishy-washy” Latino politicians, he realized that something had to change. That’s when people began to run for city council and school board and the state legislature and Congress, he said; the idea was to take the ethos of the grassroots movement to the establishment.
“We’ve been partly disenfranchised, partly disorganized, we’ve had some complacent Latino leaders, but we’re breaking all that down,” he said. “There’s an infrastructure that’s been built and it will last a long time.”
[Image By Huebi]