Phoenix voters in the south, central and west sides of the city picked two outsiders to represent them on city council this week: union leader Betty Guardado for District 5, and immigrant rights activist Carlos Garcia for District 8.
Both got their starts in community organizing, motivated by politicians who were seeking to negatively impact immigrant communities. Guardado, 42, was born and raised in California, and is the daughter of immigrants. Garcia, 35, was born in the Mexican state of Sonora and grew up in Tucson. They’ve spent most of their adult lives mobilizing others — Guardado inside the union hall of Unite Here and at people’s door in voter engagement efforts, and Garcia at Puente Human Rights Movement’s meetings where immigration intersects with the criminal justice system.
Now, they will step into roles with the power to make policy.
In interviews with Arizona Mirror, Garcia and Guardado said their campaigns represented something larger.
Garcia called his a “training ground.” Guardado said hers was a “working class campaign.”
Garcia said he wanted his campaign to serve as a space for young people and newcomers to get hands-on experience on the electoral process. His campaign was led by 22-year-old Jacqueline Garcia. (The two are not related.)
“Someone told me that I didn’t have the experience necessary to have Carlos win,” Jacqueline Garcia said Tuesday afternoon, near a voting center in South Phoenix. A gold necklace hung around her neck with the word ‘Resist’ in cursive letters. “But Carlos believes in me. Carlos believes in having a space to be able to learn.”
The campaign’s motto was “People First.”
In the west side of Phoenix, outside the Maryvale Community Center on Tuesday’s breezy afternoon, Guardado said her campaign resonated with the people of District 5 because they saw themselves in her.
“I’m a working class mom, just like all of them,” she said. “I also have to figure out savings, how I’m going to pay my bills.”
Before her job at Unite Here, Guardado worked as a hotel housekeeper. Hard work and passion, she said, is what got her to this point — where she will be the councilwoman for 205,304 people in the country’s fifth largest city.
“I’ve worked hard for every single thing I’ve had in my life,” Guardado said.
Brendan Walsh advised Guardado on her campaign and works with her at Unite Here.
“What she brings to the table is a desire to challenge people to represent themselves, to create a structure so they can participate,” he said.
From voting out elected officials to elected office
Guardado’s first experience in politics was knocking on doors for Gray Davis, a Democratic candidate for governor in California in the late 1990s. Davis unseated Pete Wilson, who Guardado called “a racist governor who did not represent the state anymore.”
“Pete Wilson had similar thoughts as (former state senator) Rusell Pearce here in Arizona,” Guardado said. Wilson advocated for Proposition 187, a ballot initiative that made California residents without an immigrations status ineligible to receive public education and social and health services. That proposal is often compared to Arizona’s Senate Bill 1070, a largely unconstitutional law that sought to give police the authority to identify, detain and prosecute people without immigration status.
Guardado moved to Arizona in 2007. In 2010, she began to register Latinos and young people to vote in West Phoenix. Ever since, she has worked to get low-turnout voters to participate in local, state and federal races.
“I’ve been a part of changing the dynamics here in District 5: registering people to vote, organizing people in District 5, mobilizing them to vote in all these different elections,” she said.
Guardado has two boys, ages 8 and 2. After guiding people for years, she said she wanted to help build a better Phoenix for her children, and that’s what inspired her to run for office.
“I’ve mentored a lot of young leaders, mentored many housekeepers. It’s time for me to do it for my children. I need to be that voice,” Guardado said.
Garcia founded Puente in 2007, initially to advocate for immigrant day laborers who were being harassed by anti-immigrant vigilante groups. That same year, former Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio, in coordination with federal immigration authorities, began training some of his deputies to enforce immigration law. Garcia organized rallies to decry Arpaio, protests to stop deportations and efforts to get immigrants released from detention.
In 2016, he was part of a coalition of groups that mounted a successful campaign against Arpaio in his reelection campaign.
After Arpaio was defeated, Garcia and other community thought about “what does positive change look like, not just fighting against the bad things,” he said.
Encouraged by those close to him, he decided to run for city council.
“I never saw myself doing this… pero me tocó (but I had to),” he said.
Marisa Franco – who leads the community advocacy group Mijente, which often partners with Puente – said Garcia’s campaign was “emblematic” for Phoenix. It’s an example, she said, of a new brand of leadership.
“Having a platform matters, having values matters, having a track record matters,” Franco said. “Having leadership that is representative of the community. Leadership that has a particular vision. It’s about servicing the community, not servicing your career.”
Garcia looks at DiCiccio as an example on Council
Although they are both outsiders who beat more politically experienced opponents to win seats on the council, Garcia and Guardado are likely to fill different roles on the nine-member body. Guardado said she expects to be a conciliator, while Garcia figures he’ll be more of a disruptor.
“The fact that I’m an organizer, my job has been to work with everyone, bring together and find common ground,” Guardado said.
Walsh described Guardado as “wise.”
“She knows when to pick a battle or not,” he said. “Betty has strong values, but she’s not an ideologue.”
Garcia, meanwhile, looks at conservative councilman Sal DiCiccio as an example – someone who sticks to his ideas, fights for them and challenges others, he said.
“Even though we disagree on the issues, I look at him and how he is able to get things done, even though he is in the minority as a Republican, he is still able to get attention and fight for his district,” Garcia said. “I hope to bring the same passion he brings for his district, or his issues, to my issues and District 8. I think that’s what’s needed right now.”
Garcia said he has never met DiCiccio. They are on opposite ends of the political spectrum. DiCicio is a Republican and favored by police unions and law enforcement groups. Garcia stands to the left of establishment Democrats in the state, and is often critical of the Phoenix Police Department.
He’s been told to pick his battles when it comes to advocating for immigrant rights, specifically when Puente called for an end to all deportations. In a 2016 column in The Arizona Republic, Garcia wrote “there is no room for neutral observers” when it comes to policies that harm immigrant communities, especially those around increased enforcement.
“To represent a community under attack… is to be held to a higher standard. […] It is to stand with those whose lives are most affected against even the slightest attack and to act on the basis that there is not one member of our community whose family is indefensible or whose human dignity is invalid,” Garcia wrote. “How we defend our families can be a subject of dialogue. But the fact that they deserve defending is not up for debate.”
The councilman-elect for District 8 said it’s important to him that the people directly impacted by local policy are heard before a decision is made.
“I do want to do things differently, so, hopefully, we get to run the office in a different way,” he said.
How Garcia will do that remains to be seen. One thing will be the same, he said: He’ll keep his long ponytail, and won’t trade his t-shirts for a suit.
“No suits, maybe some guayabera, but no suits.”