Arizona's controversial immigration law has awakened a sleeping giant, with Hispanic groups staging massive protests throughout the state and across the country.
But when it comes to the state's own Democratic primary election for John McCain's Senate seat, it's Jewish candidate Rodney Glassman -- not Hispanic contender Randy Parraz -- who thus far has the support of Arizona's Hispanic political establishment.
(Click here to read a related HispanicBusiness.com story on the Democrats' chances of winning McCain's seat.)
The issue underscores how the state's Hispanics, despite a booming population -- in a decade it has surged from 25 percent to 30 percent of all people in Arizona -- have yet to mobilize a statewide candidate with establishment clout. They also haven't come to the polls in full force; despite their large presence, Hispanics make up just 12 percent of the state's electorate.
And while there are Hispanic politicians in Arizona, none has yet emerged as the kind of coalition builder necessary for attaining so high an office.
Michael Nowakowski, who, as the vice-mayor of Phoenix is one of the state's fastest rising Hispanic politicians, said 31-year-old Glassman is the first Democratic challenger in a long, long time who possesses not only the charisma but also the resources to take on a titan like McCain.
"In the past we've had individuals who were good-hearted people -- activist-protester kind of candidates -- but those individuals can't raise the revenue," he told HispanicBusiness.com.
Though just 31, Glassman has spent a decade cultivating important political ties. He was the vice-mayor of Tucson until early April, when the state's "Resign to Run" law compelled him to step down. He has worked for four years as a legislative aide to Democratic Congressman Raul Grijalva, who represents a Hispanic-majority district. Perhaps most importantly, his campaign has raised an impressive $500,000, though that amounts to just half the war chest of J.D. Hayworth, the far-right challenger to Sen. John McCain, whose $5 million bank dwarfs all.
Recent polls indicate the stars may be aligning for Glassman in surprising ways: Hayworth is hot on McCain's heels, and polls show Glassman three points ahead of Hayworth.
Meanwhile, Parraz, a 42-year-old political organizer, is an unapologetic firebrand.
In September of 2008, Parraz was arrested on charges of disorderly conduct and criminal trespassing after leading a group of protesters who interrupted a Maricopa County Board of Supervisors meeting. The group had been shouting and holding up signs blasting Joe Arpaio, the colorful sheriff of Maricopa County infamous for his brazen tactics in arresting illegal immigrants.
"They booked me, chain-shackled me and video-taped me," Parraz told HispanicBusiness.com. Parraz said he sat in jail for about 10 hours, and that the sheriff later dispatched the captain of the bomb and S.W.A.T. squad to gather intelligence on him.
About a year later, after a two-day trial, all charges against Parraz were dropped.
To get his name on the ballot, Parraz needs to collect a little more than 5,000 signatures by May 26. Since jumping into the fray a week ago, he said he has collected about 1,500.
A single father of two young daughters, Parraz earned a law degree from UC-Berkeley and a master's in public administration from Harvard. He is an Arizona native, but spent three years in California, where he ran a non-profit organization called the Voter Registration Education Project and co-founded the Transformative Action Institute, a civil-rights minded group that aims to train students to become "social entrepreneurs."
In 2007 he returned to Arizona, where he has worked as an organizer for Laborer's International Union of North America, which, oddly, has endorsed Glassman.
Parraz believes the time has come in Arizona for a senator who can speak aggressively against the sentiment from which the new immigration law was born.
"Republicans want big government at the border," he told HispanicBusiness.com. "Tell me, tell me Mr. John McCain, war veteran: how many terrorist attacks have come across our (Mexican) border? None. Yet that's his applause line."
Glassman, on the other hand, is a proud member of the establishment whose oratory style is decidedly cautious. A chiseled newlywed with a friendly demeanor, Glassman takes pains to stress that he serves as a reserve officer for the U.S. Air Force Judge Advocate General's Corps (JAG) division.
(Click here to watch Glassman interviewed on Arizona Public Media, and here to watch Randy Parraz speak.)
Interestingly, the home page of Glassman's Web site lays out his position on many issues, but seems to underplay the hotly contested immigration issue, listing it in the middle of his bullet-pointed topics. Speaking about immigration with HispanicBusiness.com this week, Glassman hewed closely to the script.
"It should be addressed at the federal level," he said. "We need to bring all parties to the table to come up with a federal immigration reform proposal that protects our borders, supports our economy and treats all individuals with dignity and respect."
Glassman did say that he is troubled by the issue of racial profiling. But instead of holding local politicians or Gov. Jan Brewer responsible for the law, he lays the blame at the feet of the federal government and Sen. McCain, saying they have "failed us."
Glassman's list of supporters is long, and includes many prominent Hispanics.
They include Congressman Grijalva and Nowakowski, who was a friend of civil-rights legend Cesar Chavez, and even baptized one of his grandchildren.
They also include Dolores Huerta, the famous farm-workers union organizer; F. Ann Rodriguez, the Pima County Recorder since the early 1990s and the county's first Hispanic elected official; Regina Romero and Richard Fimbres of the Tucson City Council; and Wellton City Cuncilman Alex Bejarano, the youngest elected official in the state.
Under Grijalva, Glassman worked as the legislative aide for business and agriculture.
"I have a track record, from working with Representative Grijalva, a real reputation of consensus building," Glassman told HispanicBusiness.com. "In 2010, more than ever, that is what people are looking for in their elected officials."
So far, most of the criticism leveled at Glassman has come from Parraz, as the two Republican contenders -- McCain and former Congressman J.D. Hayworth -- are too busy taking shots at each other. Parraz has said that Glassman is too young to be a senator. He added that "some have called (Glassman) a trust-fund baby."
"He has personal wealth, but people are not inspired by personal wealth," Parraz told HispanicBusiness.com. "They are inspired by someone who will lead -- who will take risks."
Glassman's supporters dismiss Parraz's criticisms.
Rodriguez, the Pima County Recorder, said Washington D.C.'s Capitol Hill needs more young blood, not less.
"I think they are so damn old they are still stuck in a time warp," she told HispanicBusiness.com, adding ruefully that she is 56. "The younger generation, they don't see race, they don't see color. They see people and what can you do to get things done."
On the trust-funder charge, Rodriguez said she doesn't judge people on the basis of their background.
"Nobody faults anyone for who your parents are or what they give you, it's what you do with it afterward that counts," she said, adding that Glassman has given back by starting a foundation.
Nowakowski was hesitant to comment much on Parraz because the two are friends. But he did say Parraz seems a little out of his league.
"We need to make sure we start grooming our future Latino leaders," he said. "We can't have people just coming out of community organizing and saying 'Hey, I want to be a U.S. Senator.' You need to work your way up there. I really believe there's an opportunity for a person like Randy to be a City Councilman."
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