Why Is Marco López the Only Latino Gubernatorial Candidate in Arizona Race? (OPINION)

Apr 13, 2022
11:42 AM

Former Nogales mayor and U.S. Customs and Border Protection chief of staff Marco López (center) is running to become only the second Latino governor in Arizona history. (Courtesy of Marco López for Governor)

NOGALES, Arizona — Stressed about the upcoming 2022 midterms? Of course you are! All 435 seats in the House of Representatives and 35 of the 100 seats in the Senate are up for grabs, not to mention whatever may be on the ballot for your state and local elections, which have become increasingly partisan and contentious in the post-Trump era.

There’s a lot to stress about, whether you vote red, blue, or somewhere in between. And you can add the Arizona gubernatorial race to your list of elections to stress over in the coming months, especially if you live there.

This particular race continues to heat up the closer we get to the August 8 primaries. Three Democrats, all with their own impressive resumes, have thrown their hats into the ring, while a total of seven Republicans are vying for the opportunity to represent their party on the ballot for the general election in November—along with one Independent and two Libertarians who will go directly to the general election.

There is plenty of speculation as to who may come out on top this August, but let’s focus on one aspect of this election for now: In a state with such a high Latino population, why are so few of these candidates Latino?

Democrat Marco A. López Jr., who spoke with Latino Rebels shortly after announcing his candidacy last May, is the only Latino running. According to the latest data from the U.S. Census Bureau, however, 31.7 percent of all Arizona residents are Latino—nearly a third of the state.

If you break it down by party, 33 percent of the Democrats running are Latino, a more accurate representation of the state’s diversity. Unfortunately, zero percent of both GOP and Independent/Libertarian candidates are of Latino descent—not to mention the complete absence of Black, Indigenous, and Asian candidates, even though those groups make up a combined 13.2 percent of the state’s population.

This is a sad representation of the state’s racial diversity and complex history, but it shouldn’t be all that surprising.

Most of what is now the state of Arizona was taken from Mexico by the United States following the Mexican-American War in 1848. In 1853, the U.S. acquired the southern portion of the region for $10 million through the Gadsden Purchase, making it an official territory of the U.S. government. Eventually, the territory was given statehood on February 14, 1912.

As a territory, Arizona saw 17 governors, all of whom were non-Latino white, despite a large number of Latino and Indigenous residents, as well as its proximity to Mexico. During its 110 years of statehood, there have been 23 governors and only one of them was Latino—this being the revered and controversial Raúl H. Castro, who was born in Mexico, became ambassador to El Salvador and then Bolivia during the ’60s, and then elected to the Arizona governorship in 1974 before resigning two years into his term to become ambassador to Argentina. In 2012, on the former Governor’s 96th birthday, Castro was detained by Border Patrol for half an hour while riding in a car from his home in Nogales to a birthday celebration in Tucson.

If López fails to make it through the primaries against the likes of Arizona Secretary of State Katie Hobbs and CEO-turned-state-Rep. Aaron Lieberman, it would eliminate the only non-white candidate on the ballot.

This isn’t to say that López would be the perfect candidate to represent Arizona’s racial and cultural diversity. His role as chief of staff of U.S Customs and Border Protection during the Obama Administration, which is noted for originally implementing the policy of child separation at the border —also known as “locking kids in cages“— could potentially jeopardize his chances. Yet López only held the position from 2009 to 2011, leaving three years before the policy began.

Another obstacle López has had to overcome is a recent scandal potentially linking his company, Intermestic Partners, to an $800 million bribery scheme that occurred a decade ago while the company was contracted to an advisor of Mexico’s then-President Enrique Peña Nieto. Records show that the company received up to $35,000 from the Peña Nieto camp via an alleged middleman, Emilio Lozoya, money that was part of a bribe paid to the Peña Nieto by Brazilian construction firm Odebrecht and was then funneled to López’s company through a Swiss bank account for two months of work on something called the “Colombia Project.”

In a written statement to the Arizona Republic, López denied that his company received any bribes, saying the $35,000 was for “advisory services” and that he strongly disputes “the notion that I or Intermestic did anything wrong with regard to the payment in question.”

“I am proud of the business that I, the son of working-class immigrants, built from the ground up,” he said.

Since there is no evidence to suggest that López or his company did, in fact, receive bribes as part of this scheme and no legal action has been taken against him or the company, any allegations suggesting his involvement seem to be baseless. Despite a mild political fallout and criticism from at least one other candidate —“Arizonans want their schools to be fully funded and for the state to implement sustainable solutions to climate change, not the embarrassment of being associated with scandal-plagued politicians,” Lieberman said in a statement, adding that he’s committed to “restoring decency to our politics here in Arizona”— the majority of López’s influential backers have stood by their endorsement, some going so far as to publicly reaffirm their support.

López held the title of America’s youngest mayor when he became mayor of his hometown, Nogales, at the age of 22. Whether or not he becomes only the second Latino and the first fronterizo to become governor of Arizona depends on the voters. But if he does make it through the primaries, be sure to keep your eyes on Arizona in November. You might just witness history in the making.


UPDATE*** After this op-ed was published, Mr. López sent the following message to the author via email:

“On Cesar Chavez Day, I became the fourth Latino in the history of this state to qualify for the ballot as a gubernatorial candidate. Like Cesar Chavez, before he became a plumber my father worked in harsh conditions as a seasonal farmworker. Now, his son has the opportunity to lead the highest office in the state. That is the immigrant story, and that’s why this fight is personal to me. Democrats need to support a candidate who can excite and empower Arizona’s diverse communities, because with attacks on voting rights the easiest thing they can do is stay home. I am that candidate, and it’s imperative that Arizona Democrats understand this when they vote in the primary on August 2.”


Joseph Paul Wright is a freelance journalist based in Nogales, Arizona. Twitter: @joewrightwrites