Luis Heredia is a second-generation American who has risen through the ranks of the Arizona Democratic Party to become the organization’s executive director.
In previous years, Heredia pulled door-to-door duty to whip up Democratic support in Yuma. Now, he’s charged with delivering a winning election strategy for 2010 after a Democrats managed to lose legislative seats in 2008.
Heredia recently visited the Arizona Capitol Times to talk about trying to turn a red state blue, his Republican opponents and the difficulty of steering a state through an unprecedented budget crisis.
Yuma is an unlikely source for political party leadership and strategy. How did you first become a candidate for executive director of the Arizona Democratic Party?
I don’t come from a political family. My parents were first-generation Americans, but they always instilled hard work. When I came back from college, I worked at the local level and saw the strength of the political process at the local level. I was a county PC. I was a county officer. I was a vice-chair of the state party. But the local level is where I gained some credibility for being a hard worker. I was not afraid to walk in the middle of August for campaigns in Yuma.
We have a district with a history of producing a good temperament in politicians. We have a history with people like Harold Giss (served in the House from 1949 until 1950, Senate from 1951 until 1973) and Jones Osborne (served in the House from 1971 until 1973, Senate from 1973 until 1990). These folks have a lot of history of providing very solid leadership on state issues.
So, I got engaged at the county level, the state level and I also worked on the congressional level by working for Congressman Raúl Grijalva. It was a lot of different combinations of how I rose to the level of credibility to be considered for executive director.
What is it about Yuma that you feel creates this good temperament?
Well, if you look at the demographics you have a slight registration edge for Democrats. It’s very minor. But, the county has not gone for a Democrat since 1964 (on the county level). We have a strong military installation, we have a lot of retirees, we have an emerging Latino base. If you look at the demographics, we have a microcosm that provides a good reflection (of Arizona).
So, you look at Arizona as having a slight Republican advantage and you are trying work around that?
In just the registration alone, Republicans hold the advantage. Even in performance, Democrats, especially in rural Arizona, have more of a loyalty issue with voting a straight-ballot ticket. It’s more of an issue with Democrats than it is with Republicans.
Republicans have a much larger loyalty base. When you couple that with the emerging independent population and registration that has an advantage in certain areas – even though people might be registered as independents they still can be very conservative or very Republican, depending on the area – the state is very much a competitive area, tilting to the right.
Last election, Democrats in Arizona lost several legislative seats in a year that many people predicted would result in huge Republican losses. Looking back, what do you think went wrong for Democrats?
I think part of the reason was we did not assess the reality of having John McCain at the top of the ticket. Then there was Prop. 102 (a constitutional amendment against gay marriage) and some other wedge issues that were used to polarize voters.
I think the message at the end was that the Republicans played heavier at the end of the campaign. McCain started pulling ads in Arizona during the last 10 days of the election, and as you see the trends that occurred, that was when it started going to a more Republican ticket.
(Note: In 2008, Democrats lost seats in districts 10, 23 and 24, but gained one in District 20).
… So it was a net loss of two. But, the reality was that we actually had a very strong performance. In LD 21, in the middle of a deep red sea, we had a candidate come within 1,500 votes. That has to tell you a lot about the changing, especially in areas that were traditionally very difficult. And they still are very difficult, but they just require a very strong campaign.
Given the turmoil over the budget situation, which could continue for years, do you think there is a silver lining to the reality that Democrats are not in charge right now?
Responsibility is something Arizona voters look for in leadership, and I think our Democrats have held strong against the policies advanced by the Republican leadership and governor.
She (Gov. Jan Brewer) didn’t have the political weight in the Legislature. Her plan was never something that really rooted in the Legislature. It was tossed and trounced around with no political ownership of whatever her plan was. I think the Democrats proved to be key players in the process, and I think that’s what Arizona voters are looking for – some leadership. The governor seemed to have pushed a plan without having the political will at the Legislature. That says a lot and should be a test of what we are trying to say as Democrats; that there is another way.
Many Republicans seemed more than ready to cut spending during this deficit, but they ran into some difficulties. Do you think Democrats would have had some of the same problems?
The state budget process is complex, especially with the education funding, and health care, the other funding that is mandatory or requires you not just have an immediate, but a long-term impact.
But, if you start cutting education, you start seeing some other problems, some having heavier impacts to people who didn’t complete high school. And that will affect future societal issues. It’s all about the short-term and the long-term. What we remain strong on is that education is at the core level, and we have to at least protect that.
That is the stark difference: We had Republicans wanting to play fuzzy math, and Democrats consistently held that education needed to be dealt with appropriately.
Do you think there are any areas that could have been safely cut?
Like I said, the budget is complex. Policies have different ramifications, and that is best left to the legislative process.
Unfortunately, I think we found that with the Governor’s Office we didn’t have leadership. And we had a Legislature completely outside the mainstream of Arizona.
Do you feel there are any Republican-led policies passed this year that could come back to haunt them in 2010?
Yes. The Republican governor and Republican Legislature, especially now that they have signed all of these bills, still have not planned an economic plan for the future of Arizona. There are a lot of wedge issues, there are a lot of social issues, but there is no issue for the state. That’s clearly missing.
Maybe she’s talking to the extreme element of her party, but there is no investment for higher-paying jobs in Arizona or strategic initiatives.
If the shoe was on the other foot and the Democrats were in control, what are some concrete items you would like to see passed?
Like I said, the budget is complex. Arizona needs investments like Science Arizona and T-Gen and other things that are creating the future of the economy. They need to invest in programs, and not cut them.
But the Legislature has shown they took a hatchet to all these programs. Health care, education, maintaining community college enrollment; all those types of things are strategic for the future, and those are the types of things that were missing this session at the Legislature.
Arizona’s publicly funded campaign system is likely to lose its ability to distribute matching funds to participating candidates in 2010. How, in your opinion, will this affect Arizona politics?
Public financing has allowed us to give resources to candidates who are more vested in the public interest. We have had, on our ticket, great teachers run with public finances, and it’s allowed us to attract high-caliber candidates who made races competitive.
It’s also allowed, especially on the Republican side, some people lacking the traditional credentials that a politician would have.
I don’t have a complete analysis of a world without matching funds, but I think we need to resolve Clean Election and provide some certainty for 2010. There is an open-ended question, and it is problematic. Matching funds, I can tell you, have also hampered election strategy because you don’t know how the resources are going to be allocated from the commission.
Do you think either party stands to benefit (politically) from the loss of matching funds?
Elections are about people, money and time. Time, time and treasure.
Those are the building blocks of an election, but sometimes the treasure element is weighted too heavily. I think it’s people and how well you use your time that makes a successful election.
I have to say that matching funds has created a curveball at some times in certain areas, but it cuts both ways. We have benefited from advancing our message with matching funds to refute issues that have been presented, but in some areas it just hampered the strategy of better using people and time.
Do you feel President Obama’s larger agenda items like health care reform and the cap-and-trade programs could harm Arizona’s moderate Democrat congressional delegation in 2010?
The president’s agenda that has been set forth is very aggressive because he knows the political reality of trying to complete an agenda that is in the long-term interest of the country. He’s knows that this is the only year (to advance his agenda) because next year is an election year, and after that the presidential election will start.
The essence of time becomes a question.
But, there are some issues where our delegation is reflecting the values of their independent districts, and there are some areas with an emerging tide of support for the president’s agenda. In some districts, there will be some differences of opinion, not on the item of interest, because they need some solutions, but of the approach.
There are 435 districts in 50 different states, and those experiences will shape the end product.
Everybody is on board that these issues need to be resolved. Health care is a pressing issue. Renewable energy and reducing the dependence on foreign oil; that will create some differences of opinion. But I think the delegation will reflect the will of the voters when they represent that district.
Do you think some voters will be turned off by the timing of trying to quickly get health care reform through, getting a cap-and-trade program through, and the possibility of calling for even more stimulus funding?
I think when you look at the overall agenda, you’ll see the voters will understand that these are issues that are finally being done. We just have to work that much harder to get the public to understand that these were issues that were abandoned for the last eight years and never dealt with.
The Arizona with the independent streak that has been shown over and over again will actually come back to realize that the representatives they currently have represent them. We have five very experienced and entrenched representatives who work very hard in their districts. They represent what Arizona is all about. It’s very diverse, and they represent the districts that voted for them. These are people that know where they are from.