For years, Arizona Latino power has been dominated by the same family names — Pastor, Wilcox, Gutierrez, Ortega, Nowakowski.
Some of them are members of family clans who fought along the late farm-worker leader Cesar Chavez. They are the ones who have been decrying Arizona’s anti-immigrant laws; the same ones who have fought hand-in-hand against the policies of Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio.
But Congressman Ed Pastor’s retirement seemed to have been the straw that broke the camel’s back. And the seemingly unbreakable political bonds that held these families together appear to be weakening.
The same families are now fighting each other or are split over whom to support in the race to replace Pastor, who recently announced he would not seek re-election. Pastor, the first Hispanic from Arizona elected to Congress, is leaving the House of Representatives after 23 years.
Latinos quickly put aside their allegiances, breaking ranks with one another to fight over Pastor’s Congressional District 7, which encompasses much of south and central Phoenix. It stretches into Glendale, Guadalupe and Tolleson. The district is 65.9 percent Hispanic.
Alfredo Gutierrez, a former state lawmaker, told The Arizona Republic that there is a strong likelihood that a Latino could represent that district.
Perhaps a Latino will keep that district if they don’t tear each other to pieces before the race ends.
It’s now turning into a race between the old political Latino families and the much younger, ambitious politicians who have no other allegiance than to themselves.
Maricopa County Supervisor Mary Rose Wilcox undoubtedly considers herself the heir to this seat.
After all, she has patiently waited for Pastor to retire to have her chance. In her long career, she has been a godmother to young promising Latinos, who now will be competing against her.
But consider this: Wilcox, Gutierrez and other leaders threw their support behind African-American Warren Stewart during the Phoenix City Council District 8 race, only to lose spectacularly against Kate Gallego. She is married to Ruben Gallego, a former state representative who recently resigned to run for the District 7 seat. The Gallegos are a young, dynamic couple.
Gallego and other congressional candidates such as state Sen. Steve Gallardo also will be dividing loyalties among the political families.
Wilcox told me that the split isn’t that strange and that it actually shows political strength and maturity among Latinos.
“It doesn’t bother me that everyone wants the seat,” she said. “I have prepared myself for it. The seat doesn’t belong to anyone.”
Behind Gallego’s campaign is Phoenix Councilman Michael Nowakowski, who is also manager of the popular Radio Campesina, a radio station created by Chavez. A key player in this family tree is prominent Valley attorney Daniel Ortega, who happens to be Nowakowski’s brother-in-law, and who has also been in the trenches with Wilcox.
Ortega told me that Gallardo, Wilcox or Gallego would represent the district, but he hasn’t made up his mind whom to support.
“As Latinos, we are not entitled to this seat,” Ortega said. “We only have the right to fight for it.”
Elvia Díaz is the editor of La Voz.