Are Democrats ready for change in their leadership? The recent Texas primary suggest the answer is a resounding: Yes. And this has incumbents resorting to tougher tactics as they fear loss of their own seats.
Texas 16th district Congressperson Silvestre Reyes has represented the people of the border city of El Paso since the the Clinton era in the 1990s. He was chairman of the House Intelligence Committee and in 2008 Reyes won his election with a whopping 82% of the vote. Combine this with the shibboleth known as the “incumbent’s advantage” that sometimes nears 100% in the House of Representatives and you have the makings for an unbeatable incumbent.
The election year 2008 also brought the Presidency of the nation’s first black man, and change did indeed come to the nation as Democrats now demand change at even the local level against the banality of the incumbents that have gotten a bit too comfortable in their elected offices.
Nowhere is this more evident than in Arizona, where the Democratic Party has taken a major beating since not evolving to deal with the change that is coming to the nation, and instead is filled with platitudinarians unwilling to listen to the groups that will make up the new majority in America.
The 2010 elections led to a complete loss of all statewide offices by Democrats. GOP candidates such as Tom Horne --who ran on the platform of stopping Ethnic Studies and who ran ads that literally said John Huppenthal will “stop La Raza”-- rose to the ranks of Arizona’s Attorney General and State Superintendent of Public Schools.
Meanwhile the state Democratic Party had a policy that immigration (SB1070) was to be avoided by all candidates.
New Latino leaders rose from the grassroots level, but the Democratic Party refused to get behind them. Even Raul Grijalva, a powerful Latino, Progressive, and trade union supporter chose rich corporate candidates such as Rodney Glassman, who made his fortunes exploiting migrant laborers and making pesticides in Fresno, California to endorse over the former director of Arizona’s AFL-CIO, union activist and Latino Democrat Randy Parraz.
Parraz would go on to lead the successful recall of Arizona’s most powerful man, Senate President Russell Pearce, the next year in 2011.
One might think that after the embarrassing 100% loss by the Democrats in 2010, combined with the new grassroots movement that is reviving the party and Latino voters with the recall of Russell Pearce, would force the Arizona Democratic Party to head in a new direction. But nothing could be further from the truth.
Statewide the Arizona Democratic Party is actively working against minority candidates that are challenging the status quo. For example, in AZ-1, the district with the largest Native American population in the nation that contains 11 tribes across northern and eastern Arizona, including the Navajo, Hopi, and Apache reservations and that contains the third-most minorities in the state (over 42%), has a Harvard-educated Navajo who is running to become the first Native American women ever elected to Congress.
Wenona Benally Baldenegro was raised by a single mother and went on to graduate from Harvard Law school and has worked as a community organizer --similar to Barack Obama and Randy Parraz-- and yet the Party is going with an incumbent who already lost her seat in 2010 in a district that favors Democrats by 4-3 over Republicans.
Other Latina candidates for US Congress are facing similar hurdles.
Consider Latina Democrat Amanda Aguirre from the border town of Yuma, where Arizona meets California and Mexico. Aguirre served first as state representative and then was elected to the state senate. She is the only candidate running in her congressional race that actually voted against SB1070 and HB2281, the two anti-Mexican bills that have made Arizona famous.
The response to Amanda Aguirre’s current campaign as been for the state party to not open up their voter lists to the Democratic candidate, which may have something to do with the Executive Director, Luis Herédia, who used to be on the staff of Aguirre’s Democratic opponent.
Herédia’s excuse is that the incumbent, Raul Grijalva, is endorsed by President Obama and he gives other lame excuses for the Party actively working against Latinas in the primary.
Perhaps the Arizona Democratic Party should take a lesson from Texas’s district 16. The Democratic incumbent, Silvestre Reyes, was also endorsed by President Obama. Yet Beto O’Rourke still won over 50% of the vote against the incumbent. even though there were 5 primary candidates to split the opposition.
Change is indeed coming, and it has the status quo scared.
David Morales is a progressive blogger and activist in Southern Arizona. He has worked for the TucsonCitizen.com, and you can find his current blog at ThreeSonorans.com.
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