UnidosUS, largest Latino advocacy group, zeroes in on Arizona

Janet Murguía, president and CEO of UnidosUS, poses with Sen. Tony Navarette, D-Phoenix, after a luncheon with Latino leaders to discuss get-out-the-vote efforts for the 2020 election. Photo courtesy UnidosUS

The head of UnidosUS, the largest Latino advocacy group in the nation, is spending the first week of early voting in Arizona to support and promote efforts by local groups to mobilize the 1.2 million eligible Latino voters in the state. 

Janet Murguía said she sees Latino voters, who make up one-fourth of eligible Arizona voters, making a difference in three electoral contests that could all flip power to Democrats on Nov. 3: the presidential, the U.S. Senate and state legislative races.

“Arizona is a swing state, it is a battleground state… It conceivably will make a difference in the outcome of this election nationally, it could change the balance of the Senate, and it could change who holds power at the state legislature,” she said. “It is a bellwether state, and the Latino community now represents 25% of the electorate that will make the difference in the outcomes of all those three milestones.” 

Murguía added that Proposition 208, known as the Invest in Education initiative to tax high-income earners to fund teacher salaries and other classroom support staff, is also a reason to motivate Latino voters to show up to the polls and make a difference. Latino children make up almost half of the state’s public school students.

Murguía’s visit included joint get-out-the-vote events held with Chicanos Por La Causa, Promise Arizona, a discussion on healthcare policy with Valle del Sol, and meetings with Latino community leaders.  

On Tuesday morning, Murguía held a luncheon with five Latino leaders: Monica Villalobos, president of the Arizona Hispanic Chamber of Commerce; Luis Heredia, executive director for the Arizona Education Association, the state’s largest teacher union; state Sen. Tony Navarrete, D-Phoenix; and Luis Avila, founder of Aquí Se Vota! (Here we vote!), a group launched in August to get Latino communities registered to vote and engaged in the election.

Navarrete said Murguía’s visit is a recognition of the work of community groups to organize Latino communities to advocate for themselves and reach positions of power in elected office. 

“For a long time, Latinos didn’t have a whole lot of power, the community groups have truly worked their butts off to make sure that families have an opportunity to be engaged in the political process. This election is go time,” he said. 

Historically high turnout of Latino voters in 2018 is largely viewed as a key factor in helping elect U.S. Sen. Kyrsten Sinema and solidified Arizona’s status as a purple state. Until Sinema’s election, it had been three decades since a Democrat was elected from Arizona to the U.S. Senate.

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Navarrete said the 2020 election will also be historic, thanks to Latino voter turnout.

“UnidosUS being here in Arizona is important because it is our time. It is our time to change the direction of the country, and in order for us to change the direction of the country, that direction has to come from the state of Arizona,” he said. “Arizona has to flip the president’s seat, and it is going to happen.”

UnidosUS, formerly known as National Council of La Raza, was founded in Phoenix in 1968. 

In an interview with Arizona Mirror, Murguía recognized the work of young leaders galvanized by the years of anti-immigrant state policies that culminated with the notorious Senate Bill 1070, which became law in 2010. 

“We have seen incredible talent right here in Arizona, and it should be harnessed and leveraged for the future economic strength of Arizona, for the future leadership that Arizona can provide,” she said. “We are not waiting for others to invite us anymore. We are creating the leaders of the state and we are going to lead, and lead with a vision that is very inclusive.” 

Murguía said she expects the 2020 election could be a “key turning point” to showcase to the rest of the nation how Latino communities can grow their power and influence.

“We not only see our past here. Arizona is where we see our future, it is emblematic of the Latino community, and the growth of our power,” she said.