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Latino political power permeates district races

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Michael Johnson

Michael Johnson

Growing Latino voting power and political influence may determine the outcomes of elections in Phoenix City Council Districts 8 and 4.

A black council member has represented Phoenix District 8 for decades. However, last year’s council redistricting, plus Kate Gallego’s early entry into the election race, may end the black lock on the seat.

Kate is the wife of state Rep. Ruben Gallego, the House’s Democratic assistant minority leader, and not a Latina. 

In another council contest, David Lujan, a former state legislator and candidate for state attorney general, was an early candidate for District 4.    

Councilman Michael Johnson now represents District 8, and the job will be open when his term ends this year. Councilman Tom Simplot also will vacate his seat in District 4.  

In July 2012, the Phoenix City Council voted to adopt a redrawn District 8 map.

The new lines slightly reduced the number of District 8 black voters, and also removed cultural points of pride, such as the George Washington Carver Cultural Center and the Phoenix OIC workforce complex, and plopped them in Councilman Michael Nowakowski’s District 7.  

In addition, economic engines such as Chase Field, US Airways Center, ASU’s downtown campus, major hotels and restaurants, and arts amenities such as the downtown arts district were shifted out of District 8 into District 7. 

Now, Democratic candidates are jockeying for position in the heavily Democratic District 8. Former state Rep. Cloves Campbell Jr., publisher of the Arizona Informant (with a wide circulation in the black community) has announced he will run; Lawrence Robinson, recently elected to the Roosevelt Elementary School District, filed his candidacy; and the Rev. Warren Stewart, Sr., pastor of the First Institutional Baptist Church, has also officially announced his candidacy. 

But, it won’t be an easy cruise to the Council for any of these candidates, and some are tapping into Latino leadership for campaign support. All are receiving endorsements from Democratic elected officials. Nowakowski has endorsed Kate Gallego. Her husband, Ruben, managed Nowakowski’s successful 2007 campaign against Laura Pastor, daughter of Arizona Congressman Ed Pastor. 

Kate, a business liaison for SRP, says she has brought on Lisa Fernandez as her campaign manager. Fernandez was a former staff assistant with Congressman Raúl Grijalva, and one-time finance director for the Arizona Democratic Party.

Lawrence Robinson has the high-profile endorsements of Councilman Tom Simplot and Congresswoman Kyrsten Sinema. He says he has tapped Joseph “Joe” Larios as his campaign manager. Larios was the campaign manager for sitting Phoenix Councilman Daniel Valenzuela in District 5. Robinson says he and Larios will enlist young Latinos and DREAMer youth to conduct community outreach for his campaign, as Larios did so successfully for Valenzuela. 

Meanwhile, David Lujan wants to represent residents in Phoenix District 4. Like District 8, District 4 leans Democratic and has a growing number of Latino voters. 

Lujan says the increase in registered Latino voters and their involvement in campaigns are changing the political landscape in Arizona. 

“I think part of getting the Latino vote out is having strong Latino candidates who are going to appeal to them,” he says.

Lujan adds, “One of the most exciting things in Arizona politics is young Latinos getting involved with politics with a lot of passion and heart, because they know it’s one way they can change their future. I think we’ll start to see a number of these young Latino leaders start to run for office, and that is really going to strengthen the power of the Latino community overall.”

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