Meet the Dems vying for Gallego’s seat in the U.S. House of Representatives
Photo by Natasha Khan | Cronkite News
South and West Phoenix voters have a crowded field to pick from to fill outgoing U.S. Representative Ruben Gallego’s seat.
No less than four candidates have launched campaigns to represent the interests of Arizona’s 3rd Congressional District, which includes Laveen, Maryvale and part of Glendale. The district is considered a Democratic stronghold, with left-leaning voters outnumbering Republicans three to one, and the winner of the Democratic primary is virtually guaranteed to capture the general election.
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The most recent addition to the race is the daughter of Gallego’s predecessor, Ed Pastor, who held the CD3 seat from 1991 until his retirement in 2015. The younger Pastor has a long career in elected office herself, with three terms on the Phoenix city council representing the West Valley and areas slightly north of downtown. Those areas lie firmly within the boundaries of the state’s 3rd Congressional district after she oversaw redistricting changes in 2021 that shifted district lines to include them.
Prior to her position on the council, she was a classroom teacher who worked with at-risk students and now also serves on the governing board for Phoenix Union High School.
In a launch video on Wednesday, Pastor invoked her family’s political legacy and promised to continue it.
“For five generations my family has worked for a better Arizona. From my grandfathers who organized workers in the copper mines to my mother who lived with strength and integrity in a time of discrimination, to my dad,” she said. “My dad taught me that lots of politicians can talk, but what matters is what you deliver, so I spend my time delivering.”
Pastor noted that her priorities, if elected to federal office, will include veteran care, health care and relieving the financial strains on Arizonans.
“I am running to put my experience to work on behalf of Arizonans – to take care of our veterans, to have someone looking out for family budgets, and to protect all of our access to health care, including reproductive care,” she said.
If elected, Aguilar would be Arizona’s first formerly undocumented congresswoman. Her family moved to the U.S. when she was just a toddler, and suffered repeated housing and food insecurity. Aguilar attended as many as 20 different schools. She discovered her undocumented status in high school, while considering a career in the U.S. Air Force that she was forced to abandon. The single mother of two credits her early adversity with inspiring a personal imperative to voice the struggles of others.
“I know the issues firsthand because I’ve lived them and I want to bring that unique experience to Congress and share the voice of people that have similar experiences as me,” she told the Mirror on May 25, shortly after announcing her run.
Aguilar spent more than a decade as a translator before becoming the first Latina elected to the Osborn School District Board, where she’s still a member. During the Trump presidency, Aguilar helped author a resolution prohibiting ICE and law enforcement officials from entering schools. She also serves on the state’s Central Arizona Water Project Board and as the business development manager for SOURCE Global, a Scottsdale-based renewable energy company that helps tribal and rural communities access clean drinking water via hydropanel technology.
Water conservation is among her policy priorities, as well as immigration reform and access to education and reproductive health care. At the top of her list is representing Arizona’s diverse communities where past politicians have failed.
“My story is your story,” she said, at her campaign kickoff. “I know what you go through. I know how hard you work, how much you love your children, how difficult it can be to get ahead and how often politicians leave our community behind, or worse — how politicians attack our communities trying to take away our rights. In Congress, I will be your voice, because your voice matters.”
Phoenix’s Vice-Mayor was one of the first to throw her hat in the ring after Gallego announced his challenge to U.S. Senator Kyrsten Sinema. Ansari’s election as the city’s youngest council member in 2021 followed a career in climate change advocacy that included a stint as a policy advisor for the United Nations. Her work on the council includes helping to draft and pass a citywide resolution that deprioritized abortion-related arrests and spearheading efforts to electrify Phoenix’s public transportation.
Those concerns would follow her to the federal level, with more ambitious climate change legislation a key part of her priorities. The country’s as-yet unfulfilled pledge to reach net zero emissions by 2050 is of particular importance to Ansari, who vowed to lead an effort to remedy that. Also high up on her roster is gun violence prevention, housing affordability and a living wage.
A daughter of Iranian immigrants, Ansari’s election would be a first for the district, whose population is 51% Hispanic and has supported Hispanic candidates since 1991. But Ansari’s council district, which spans from southwest to downtown Phoenix and has a similar population makeup as CD3, resoundingly backed her in 2021.
“As a daughter of immigrants, I very much understand the challenges that our community faces,” she told the Mirror. “My constituents know that I don’t just represent one community, I represent all communities and whether you’re Latino, White, Black or any other background, representation is about listening to the community and making sure that you’re surrounding yourself with people in the community so that their experiences and challenges are represented in the legislation you respond with.”
Ansari told the Mirror that she’s ready to tackle the many issues facing the country.
“It’s time to have leadership that is young and hungry and ready to take on some of these bigger crises,” she said.
Jaramillo traces his activism back to two pivotal incidents that happened at very different times in his life. When he was 4, his father was deported, which he said “opened (his) eyes to the injustices of our current system,” and in his early twenties, while protesting the killing of George Floyd in 2020, a gun was pointed at his head. Jaramillo was disappointed to find not much had changed after the nationwide movement against racial injustice, and realized that things would only improve if more people were allowed at the decision-making table.
The 26-year-old Phoenix native, who currently serves on the governing board of the Glendale Elementary School District, would be among the youngest in Congress if elected. He noted that what he lacks in experience he makes up for in community engagement and personal, real-life knowledge.
“Legislative experience is important, but so is lived experience – being somebody who’s experienced the injustices of our system,” he told the Mirror.
His goals include improving education funding, affordable health care for all and a complete overhaul of the current immigration system. Along with implementing a pathway to citizenship, opening up government assistance programs for undocumented Americans and shielding victims of crimes from having their undocumented status used against them, Jaramillo also wants to abolish ICE and Customs and Border Protection. Their duties, Jaramillo said, can be effectively carried out by their predecessor, the country’s Immigration and Naturalization Service, as was the case before post-9/11 policies created the Department of Homeland Security.
Jaramillo, who called himself an anti-establishment candidate, is hoping voters who are tired of the status quo will support his bid.
“If you’re happy with the way things are, keep electing the same people. But if you want real, progressive change, try someone new,” he said.
With a 17-year-long career in Arizona politics, tenures in both the state Senate and House of Representatives and the title of Democratic Party Chair under her belt, Terán is perhaps one of the most experienced candidates in the race to capture Gallego’s seat. Born and raised on the Arizona border in Douglas, she attributes her catapulting into politics to the anti-immigrant rhetoric she grew up around.
That motivation resulted in helping to orchestrate a recall campaign against former state Sen. Russell Pierce, who authored SB1070, and a defeated reelection bid from Sheriff Joe Arpaio. And while her opponents point to her dearth of successful legislation at the state level as a warning of her potential performance at the federal level, Terán touted her ability to go head-to-head with far-right lawmakers. (None of Terán’s bills have made it past the GOP majority legislature.)
“I have been a fighter at the state legislature,” she told the Mirror. “I’m ready to take on extremists in Congress.”
At the top of Terán’s to-do-list is immigration reform, affordable housing, reproductive rights and accountability in both the economic and environmental sectors. Holding polluters accountable and requiring that corporations pay their fair share are key goals for her.
“We have a lot of work to do and I intend to bring my ‘si se puede’ attitude into Congress,” Terán said.
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