Only one candidate in the 2014 governor’s race has resigned to run, and he isn’t a senator, secretary of state or treasurer. He’s a doctor in Guadalupe.
By all conventional political wisdom, John Molina has no chance of contending for the Republican nomination for governor. He’s virtually unknown in political circles, has no money and is running against big names like Secretary of State Ken Bennett, state Treasurer Doug Ducey and former GoDaddy executive Christine Jones.
Like many longshot candidates, Molina insists he can win. But unlike most, he made a sacrifice that demonstrates how seriously he takes his campaign. In late June, more than two months before he filed his exploratory committee for the governor’s race, he quit his $162,000-a-year job as CEO of Phoenix Indian Medical Center, a federally operated hospital run by a subdivision of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
“I’m one of the unemployed right now,” Molina joked to the crowd during an Oct. 3 forum for Republican gubernatorial candidates.
Molina said he isn’t wealthy by any means, and going without a paycheck for a year or so will be a major strain on his personal finances, especially since he’s already using some of his own money for expenses. But federal employees can’t run for elected office, he said, and the gubernatorial campaign was important enough for him to step aside from his job.
“What have I really got to lose? Because the greatest thing that any human being can lose is to let go of a dream,” Molina told the Arizona Capitol Times. “I gave up a lot. I’m taking a risk to do something I truly believe.”
Aside from the lack of political pedigree and connections, Molina, a 60-year old of Pascua Yaqui and San Carlos Apache descent, has a resume that many first-time candidates would kill for. After growing up in poverty and serving in the Navy, Molina, the son of farm laborers in Guadalupe and a graduate of McClintock High School, planned to go into the seminary, and spent two years as a minister at a Southern Baptist church in Glendale. Instead, he decided to go to school at Arizona State University, and later attended medical school at the University of Arizona. He has practiced medicine as an OB-GYN for 17 years, ran the Phoenix Indian Medical Center and worked as an assistant director at the Arizona Health Care Cost Containment System.
For more than a decade, Molina, the father of four adult children, has been an aspiring candidate. In anticipation of a possible run for office, he went to law school at ASU, graduating in 2005, but he never took the Bar exam. He briefly contemplated a run in 2006 against Democratic Gov. Janet Napolitano. Last year, he attended the Flinn-Brown Civic Leadership Academy, whose stated goal is to train future leaders for the state.
Molina lacks the background in party activism that most candidates have. He’s never served as a precinct committeeman.
But Molina started getting active in politics around 2004, when the debate over illegal immigration heated up. He began speaking out as a supporter of Proposition 200, a ballot measure requiring people to show proof of citizenship in order to register to vote.
Molina said he’s an advocate for the enforcement of immigration laws. But illegal immigrants should still be treated with compassion, he said. When Molina ran a clinic in Guadalupe, a lot of his patients were undocumented, he said.
“I, of course, don’t support illegal immigration,” Molina said. “But having said that, I really felt that it should be immigration enforcement with compassion.”
At the Oct. 3 candidate forum for GOP gubernatorial hopefuls, Molina told the crowd that he became a Republican 13 years ago. He espoused core party principles like self-determination and low taxes, and touted small businesses as the key to Arizona’s economy.
“I have been a Republican for 13 years, and only because I believe in its principle core values — lesser government, lower taxes, self-determination, self-reliance,” Molina told the Capitol Times.
But Molina said the Republican Party has drifted away from its roots. And in most cases, he sounds very different from the average Republican.
He emphasized his background as a doctor and the way it has shaped his view of the world.
“I have witnessed the last dying breath of people, and wondered to myself, did our society treat them fairly,” Molina said in his opening statement at the candidate forum.
In principle, Molina said he supports the Affordable Care Act and Brewer’s Medicaid expansion plan. He describes himself as a 20-year community activist who has worked with organizations more commonly associated with Democrats, such as Chicanos por la Causa and Friendly House.
And Molina said he is kind of a “social liberal” who doesn’t believe government should get involved in issues such as abortion and gay marriage. He said he doesn’t believe in abortion as a method of family planning and wouldn’t perform one himself, but would refer a patient to another doctor if she felt she needed an abortion.
Molina doesn’t sound much like a conventional Republican when he talks about his campaign. Interspersed between comments about the importance of conservative values such as self-determination are comments about the need to improve Arizona’s “social hygiene” and “diversity of culture.”
“With the economy starting to come back up, some important issues are dealing with our economy and that way we can make ourselves fiscally strong, that we have a really good opportunity to not only improve the functioning of the state, but really the environment, what I call the social hygiene of our state — how we relate to each other in government, stakeholders across the state, tribal governments, diversity issues,” he said.
Molina’s campaign team consists of himself and about five other people. He said he will soon rent space for a campaign office in Guadalupe.
He is hoping to capitalize on his professional connections, and has spent the past couple months speaking to medical organizations and other community groups.
Despite his apparent confidence that he can compete in the race, Molina acknowledged that the odds are low.
“At this point there’s not too many people I expect to pay attention to me,” he said.
One of Molina’s few contacts with the GOP establishment is former Arizona Republican Party Chairman Randy Pullen, who met the doctor in 2004 during his advocacy for Prop. 200. He praised Molina as a sincere, principled person who is willing to stand up for what he believes in.
“It was pretty clear that he supports the concept of expanding Medicaid, though he maybe didn’t like the way it was done,” Pullen said of Molina’s comments at the candidate forum. “He wasn’t afraid to back away from it, even though he knew the crowd there would absolutely be for the repeal of Medicaid expansion.”
If Molina could somehow raise a couple million dollars, Pullen said, he would be a formidable candidate. But the former chairman wasn’t optimistic about Molina’s chances.
“I’m very cynical about all this stuff. Having been treasurer of the RNC (Republican National Committee) and chairman of the state party, I understand what it comes down to at the end of the day. It’s going to be tough for him to get much traction,” he said.
Dr. Sue Sisley, a longtime friend and colleague of Molina’s, said she didn’t know that Molina quit his job to run for governor. But she said she wasn’t surprised.
“He’s been so committed to serving his community at every turn. If you look at his entire life and his entire resume, it’s all about the betterment of his community,” Sisley said. “I think that’s just emblematic of who he is that he doesn’t do anything half-hearted. This guy, when he takes a stand and makes a commitment to a job, he’s going to do it full bore.”
As a physician, Molina has a lot of insight that other candidates don’t have, Sisley said. And as the former CEO of Phoenix Indian Medical Center, he has executive experience that would serve him well as governor, she said.
But Sisley said it’s unfortunate that Molina is unlikely to gain much attention in the race.
“The sad thing is a dream candidate like him probably isn’t going to go far. All the odds are against him. So if a dark horse like him suddenly surges, it will be a true political miracle in Arizona,” she said.
Molina is hopeful about making headway in the race. But despite the sacrifice he made to run, he said it will still all be worth it if he doesn’t win.
“It’s about passion,” Molina said.
Name: John Molina
Education: B.A., Arizona State University, 1984; doctor of medicine, University of Arizona, 1990; juris doctorate, ASU, 2005