Citizen Staff Writer
U.S. Rep. Raúl Grijalva’s potential move to run the Interior Department could set off a mad scramble to replace him in Congress.
Grijalva has been mentioned as a contender for the Cabinet post by newspapers and political Web sites since last week.
The governor does not get to fill a vacant seat in the U.S. House of Representatives. It’s the one post that requires an election to fill an empty spot.
So within 72 hours of Grijalva’s would-be resignation, the governor must call special primary and general elections.
The primary, by state law, must be held no more than 90 days later. The general election would follow no more than 60 days after the primary.
Candidates would have only 30 days to gather the necessary signatures, rather than the months candidates often take to pad their petitions.
Of course, the race would likely be settled during the primary because twice as many registered Democrats as Republicans live in the district.
Face it. This could be a jail break of any and all ambitious Democrats from Tucson to Yuma, ready to fight for a $169,300 annual salary, House voting card and membership pin.
The rub is that state lawmakers and county officials must quit their posts to run for Congress. That’s a gamble that may keep such a field small.
Three months is a super fast campaign and could render cash less important than it is in a typical political campaign.
Money usually equals viability and the organized players often wait to see who raises the most money before backing a particular candidate.
In a 90-day election, interest groups may not have time to wait, said Diana Rhoades, a Tucson political activist and campaign veteran.
Having a base of supporters would matter more, she said.
“The candidate with the grass-roots support is going to have a leg up,” Rhoades said. “People are going to give money to the candidate they have a comfort level with.”
Grijalva won with such an organization and still has a cavalcade, not so much a machine, of neighborhood groups, social justice liberals and Latino support.
The natural heir to that support seems like County Supervisor Richard Elías, Grijalva’s successor on the Board of Supervisors.
Supervisor Ramón Valadez, with his South Tucson base, may also be a player. His connection to his predecessor, Dan Eckstrom, could provide lift and drag to any of his aspirations.
Possible candidates also include state Sen. Paula Aboud, Tucson City Council member Nina Trasoff; and state Reps. Linda Lopez and Steve Farley.
Don’t be shocked if the business community runs a well-financed moderate Democrat, hoping liberals split the vote.
A glut of Pima County candidates could slice and dice voters enough to give an outlander such as Nogales Mayor Marco A. Lopez a shot.
It’s a working list but area Democratic leaders would not dispute any of those names, off-the-record, of course.
The small matter of Grijalva’s nomination and subsequent confirmation would have to come first and neither are a lock.
But there’s reason to believe it may happen.
Grijalva has been unavailable for comment since his name surfaced and spent last weekend in Washington after the legislative session ended, reportedly to spend time with his family.
Barack Obama’s appointments so far have been thin on liberals and Latinos, two groups crossing their arms, furrowing their brows and tapping their toes with anticipation.
Since his days on the Pima County Board of Supervisors, Grijalva has built the kind of green legacy environmentalists could fall in love with and industry types would likely find hostile. His work at the county level to protect endangered species would be useful because Interior enforces the Endangered Species Act.
His chief competition may be U.S. Rep. Mike Thompson, D-Calif., as Anglo as his name sounds, and a member of the proudly moderate Blue Dog coalition. Thompson got the endorsement of hunters and fishermen.
Obama told Field & Stream magazine that he would appoint a sportsman or sportswoman to head Interior.
To put it diplomatically, Grijalva champions the environment more than he enjoys it.
Still, Grijalva seems the darling of the environmental lobby eager for big change.
Business and conservative groups may take aim at Grijalva during confirmation.
On immigration issues, Grijalva has been an outspoken critic of the no-amnesty crowd, once calling their more strident members “cockroaches.”
That’s the kind of line that can come back to haunt.
The word extremist could get tossed around to describe Grijalva. He compromises when he must but prefers conquest to consensus.
The Clinton Administration’s early efforts to tighten mining laws, restrict timber harvests and raise grazing fees damaged the Democratic “brand” in the West for more than a decade.
Before the Nov. 4 election, Grijalva acknowledged the need for including a wider range of voices in future discussions. He also argued that a changing West reflected a new willingness for more rigorous environmental standards.
He may be about to personally find out his prediction’s veracity.
POSSIBLE CANDIDATES IF VACANCY OCCURS
A number of southern Arizonans might consider a run for Congress should U.S. Rep. Raúl Grijalva get the job of running the Interior Department. Candidates need not live in the 7th Congressional District.
Democrats hold a two to one edge in voter registration in the district.
• Supervisor Richard Elías
Pros: Solid backing from environmental, neighborhood and social justice groups. Close ties to Grijalva and allies.
Cons: Unproven as a campaigner because he’s never been opposed.
• Tucson City Councilwoman Nina Trasoff
Pros: Former TV news anchor with some name ID, access to money and campaign experience. Also has neighborhood ties.
Cons: Little recent exposure on the pivotal South Side.
• State Sen.-elect Linda Lopez
Pros: She’s been elected five times to the Legislature and could attract the support of women’s groups.
Cons: State lawmakers don’t have the name recognition as other local officials.
• Supervisor Ramón Valadez
Pros: Young but experienced heir to Dan Eckstrom’s South Tucson base.
Cons: Would have to demonstrate independence from Eckstrom, while tapping his network.
• State Sen. Paula Aboud
Pros: Tough and scrappy campaigner who knows grass roots politics.
Cons: Her legislative district – the 28th – includes only 14 of CD7′s 261 precincts.
• State Rep. Steve Farley
Pros: Savvy upstart with a lot of friends in environmental and neighborhood constituencies vital to local Democratic politics.
Cons: He’s served only one term in the Legislature and is also from the 28th district – with only 14 of CD7′s 261 precincts.
• Nogales Mayor Octavio Garcia Von Borstel
Pros: New mayor of Nogales, with a distinct power base and liberal credibility as an anti-border wall crusader.
Cons: It’s a pretty small power base and he would have little time to introduce himself to district voters. Has had union problems.
• Yuma Union High School Governing Board member Charlene Fernandez
Pros: A leader of the Arizona Democratic Party with her own Yuma base.
Cons: Would need a crowded Pima County field and a desire to run.
• Joe Sweeney
Pros: He’s proficient at getting his name on the ballot. He always runs.
Cons: His own party rejects his anti-Latino screed. He never wins.
• Jennifer Burns
Pros: In a good Republican year, the scary-smart Avra Valley moderate could knock off a weak Democrat.
Cons: This is not a good Republican year.
7th Congressional District
93,000 independent and unaffiliated
Signatures needed to get on primary ballot: