And, at times, he has proven to be a spot-on prognosticator.
When most Arizona Democrats were talking about taking control of the Legislature in 2008, Garcia wasn’t as optimistic. He believed the conservative base would turn out to vote for the marriage amendment, and Republican politicians would ride on its coattails — and he was right.
He is also known for his independent streak. Garcia was the only Democrat who voted for a Republican budget package last year.
Democrats will miss Garcia’s political acumen and his independent streak after he leaves the Legislature. Because of term limits, he is running for Corporation Commission.
Garcia led Senate Democrats through some of the state’s most difficult years. During the past two years, Garcia and Democrats were largely blacklisted from all meaningful negotiations, and they opposed most of the GOP-backed budget measures.
Ultimately, Republican leadership cooperated with Democrats only when they needed to, such as when they passed a sales tax referral supported by Gov. Jan Brewer.
In this May 12 interview, Garcia talked about his Hispanic heritage, Arizona’s immigration law and his next foray into politics.
You first came here in 1993, left for a while and then came back in 2003. What were your goals when you joined the Legislature?
Back in 1993, seriously I think the issue for me was trying to make an impact in state policy, being involved in the forming of it. Did I achieve that? I think I did.
I can’t tell you that there’s any legislation that came out of it, OK, because that doesn’t lend itself to that in the way it happens here. But I mean there were some pieces of legislation that we got through that were good.
When you said it doesn’t lend itself to the process, you mean to say because you’re a minority member?
And my interests are certainly not within the agenda of the majority.
Is it frustrating to be a member of the minority?
Not for me. (We) just got to accept what limits we have and how we can work around those limits. And people have to commit themselves to work around those limits.
I think, you know, we represent our districts extremely well.
What conditions do you think must exist before Democrats can take over the Arizona Legislature?
I think the fact is that our candidates need to reach out to the independents during the general election and to convince them that, you know, our values are not incongruent with theirs.
Let’s talk about S1070. Are you personally fearful of this legislation?
Not for myself. I’m fearful for my grandchildren because they’re the ones who are going to bear the brunt.
What do you mean, sir?
Well, you know, at my age I can ignore the cops. I can flip them off. I’d be willing to accept the consequences. But my grandchildren, as they grow up, if they do that type of behavior they will suffer the consequences.
And unfortunately, you know, police officers have a lot of power.
What you’re saying is that you feel like you’re an old man and you can somehow maybe get away with sticking it to them?
Yeah, and my grandchildren, because they are going to be growing up, they’re going to learn the hard way.
Do you feel this bill targets you because you’re a Hispanic?
Yesterday when I went up to Payson I mentioned that for me S1070 is basically a progression of anti-immigrant bills that Arizona is known for. I mean that’s the most recent one.
So are you saying that you were not surprised by this law?
Yeah. And in this decade, it has been tremendous. We have seen, you know, the unleashing of Mr. Pearce’s hate.
Unleashing of Mr. Pearce’s what?
Do you think he is a hateful man?
Do you think he hates Hispanics in particular?
What kinds of documents do you carry with you to prove you’re a citizen? Or do you carry any?
(Raises his middle finger). That’s what I would tell a cop. He’s going to ask me for my license and my license is going to show that I’m a citizen. But if he asked me for my papers then I’d flip him off.
Is there any lesson to be learned from the passage of this bill?
Not in my mind.
Your grandfather was one of the original guest workers in Arizona, if I’m not mistaken.
Was he here under the Bracero Program?
I don’t think it was the Bracero. It was a predecessor because the Braceros were in the 1960s. My grandfather was here, I would say, in the 1910s and 1920s.
Can you tell me his story?
The way I understand it, he was a miner from Sonora who somehow married my grandmother who was from California. It was, you know, wide-open borders back then.
My mom was born in Miami, Arizona. So he must have come here to work in the mines in Miami. And I can tell you that my mom is the youngest of the siblings. She was born in 1925. I mean they were here when Arizona was a territory — my grandparents. And shortly after, I guess it was in the 1930s, that something happened and they shipped everybody back.
So the whole family went back to Mexico even though his wife and children were citizens?
Is that where you were born?
In Nogales, Mexico.
How old where you when came to Arizona?
When we moved to Arizona, I think I was eight years old.
Do you believe Arizona is less welcoming of Hispanics now than before?
It puts up a lot more hoops, OK, with all this legislation that has come forth.
You are running for the Corporation Commission. What makes you believe it’s ripe again for someone from outside of Maricopa County to win a statewide race?
I’m going to change my name.
Jerry Garcia. (Laughs).