After backing Garcia in 2014, AZ Latino business group staying on sidelines in gov’s race




Arizona Hispanic Chamber of Commerce sign

The Arizona Hispanic Chamber of Commerce enthusiastically made David Garcia its first ever endorsement in his 2014 bid for state schools superintendent, but it likely won’t be backing him this year as he challenges Gov. Doug Ducey.

Chamber spokesman James Garcia and members of the organization’s executive committee contacted by the Arizona Mirror referred questions about endorsements to AZHCC President and CEO Gonzalo de la Melena.

De la Melena did not respond to requests for comment.

In 2014, AZHCC entered the world of electoral politics with its endorsement of Garcia, a Democrat who was running against Republican Diane Douglas for superintendent of public instruction. The next year the AZHCC created its PAC, and, in 2016, it endorsed Paul Penzone and several legislative candidates.

AZHCC executive committee member Lisa Urias, who supports Garcia’s gubernatorial bid, said it’s unlikely the chamber will make an endorsement for the governor race.

“It seems like there’s a bit of the split with our (board) members around that,” Urias said.

She said neither Garcia nor Ducey can muster the supermajority support of AZHCC’s board of directors to win an endorsement.

A recent AARP and Univision poll also shows that, although Garcia has strong support among Latinos in Arizona, nearly one in four Latino voters say they support Ducey.

The poll of 500 likely Latino voters over the age of 50 in Arizona found that 67 percent of them  would vote for Garcia, 23 percent would vote for Ducey and the remaining 10 percent were undecided. The poll was conducted between Aug. 29 and Sept. 9 and has a +/- 4 percentage point margin of error.

Campaign contributions point to a split chamber

An Arizona Mirror review of campaign contributions shows that Arizona Hispanic Chamber of Commerce board members have donated a combined $3,600 to Ducey and $7,338 to Garcia.

Attorney Danny Ortega, secretary of the chamber’s executive committee, made the largest contribution, $5,000 to Garcia.

Five other members of the chamber’s 10-person executive committee contributed to Garcia’s campaign.

AZHCC president de la Melena, board Chairman Bill Barquin and Urias each contributed $500 to Garcia. Leonardo Loo and Lorenzo Sierra, other members of the executive committee, gave $200 and $113 to Garcia’s campaign, respectively.

Two other board members have also given to Garcia. Lorena Valencia has contributed $500 and Marisa Benincasa chipped in $25.

Hensley Beverage Company executive Douglas Yonko, the immediate past chair of AZHCC’s board of directors, contributed $2,500 to Ducey.

AZHCC board members Bettina Nava, Luis Ramirez and Stephen Macias also contributed to Ducey’s campaign. Macias and Nava each gave $500 in 2017, and Ramirez gave $100 in July.

Urias said while there was “no doubt” among AZHCC board members that Garcia was the right person for the superintendent of public instruction post in 2014, some board members have voiced uncertainty about his plans for economic development, water, transportation and health care.

Garcia’s wife, Lori Higuera, is also a chamber board member.

Laura Gómez
Reporter Laura Gómez Rodriguez covers state politics and immigration for the Arizona Mirror. She worked for The Arizona Republic and La Voz Arizona for four years, covering city government, economic development, immigration, politics and trade. In 2017, Laura traveled the length of the U.S.-Mexico border for “The Wall,” the Pulitzer Prize-winning project produced by The Arizona Republic and USA Today Network. She was named Best Investigative Reporter by Phoenix Magazine in its 2018 newspaper category and has been honored by the Arizona Press Club for Spanish-language news and feature reporting. She is a native of Bogotá, Colombia and lived in Puerto Rico and Boston before moving to Phoenix in 2014. Catch her researching travel deals, feasting on mariscos or playing soccer.

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