Cesar Chavez died more than 20 years ago, and yet the name of the National Farm Workers Association co-founder is still making headlines. In fact, Cesar Chavez is gearing up for a run for the U.S. Congress from Arizona's Seventh District and angering his opponents and leaders of the state's Democratic Party.
No, the beloved labor leader is not back from the dead. All the fuss is about a 34-year-old born as Scott Fistler who used to be a registered Republican and is now running for Congress as a Democrat.
He said he hopes the new name helps him attract more votes in his heavily Hispanic area.
Fistler changed his name to Cesar Chavez in 2013. He filed his papers to run as a Democratic candidate in February for the seat that will be vacated when Arizona Representative Ed Pastor retires next year.
Pastor, a Democrat, was Arizona's first Latino congressman and has held his post for nearly 40 years.
Chavez has run for office under the name Fistler twice – once as a write-in candidate for Pastor’s seat and again in 2013 for a seat on the Phoenix City Council – with both campaigns ending unsuccessfully.
When asked by the Arizona Republic why he changed his name to Chavez, the politician cited the need to make voters in the Latino-heavy district feel secure with him.
“People want a name that they can feel comfortable with,” Chavez said in an interview with the paper. “If you went out there running for office and your name was Bernie Madoff, you’d probably be screwed.”
Chavez’s two opponents – Mary Rose Wilcox, a 30-year politician and the first Latina elected to the Phoenix City Council, and Iraq War veteran Ruben Gallego – say that the name change is in poor taste given the original Cesar Chavez’s high-standing among Latinos in the U.S.
“My husband and I grew up under the leadership of Cesar Chavez [the labor leader] and he means so much to our community,” Wilcox told The Capitol Times. “Voters aren’t going to be fooled. If he thinks he can fool them, it’s a real affront to the community. He should be ashamed.”
On Chavez’s website – a hastily-made blog – the candidate also repurposes a number of photos from Venezuela of people celebrating the late leader Hugo Chávez.
“My name is on a lot of popular things,” he said.
Some Democratic Party leaders are calling it a dirty political trick. Bill Roe, Arizona Democratic Party Chair, is calling him an "impostor."
"Our understanding is that he is a very conservative person and so this is clearly an attempt to either confuse the electorate or sneak by on a fluke," he told Fox 10 News.
"It is so brazen, an attempt to subvert the process, taking the advantage of a name like that, that I would think we're going to have a backlash," Roe added.
Reporters with Fox 10 went to the candidate's home Monday but he said he didn't want to answer questions.
"Do we really want this almost impostor representing a Congressional District in Arizona? Do we want them in Washington? I don't think we do," said Roe.