UpClose with Rebecca Rios

Luige del Puerto//March 12, 2010

UpClose with Rebecca Rios

Luige del Puerto//March 12, 2010

Rebecca Rios is her father’s daughter – obviously and figuratively.

He is a social worker by background. She, too, became a social worker.

He is a politician. She, too, became a politician.

Indeed, politics runs in her veins, just like it does in his. One of her earliest childhood memories was going to an anti-Nixon rally with her dad, the former lawmaker and now Pinal County Supervisor Pete Rios.

As a child, she spent her weekends campaigning, attending union meetings and handing out flyers. She was first elected to the House in 1994 when she was 27 years old, and she joined the Senate in 2005.

But Rios also has her own way of doing things. Although she concurs with her father on “99 percent” of the issues, there are a few points of disagreement, such as abortion. But she knows better than to try to change his mind.

Was there a time when your family wasn’t involved in politics?
Not that I recall, and that’s a pretty real statement because one of my earliest childhood memories was – we laugh now – I was probably about four or five, and my dad took me to an anti-Nixon rally over at the Veterans Coliseum.

We still laugh about this because you have to remember my parents – they were basically teenagers when they had me. My mother was 16 and my father was 17.

Is that right?
Oh yeah, they were very young. They came to Phoenix and went to college and worked. They were poor, so they couldn’t afford a baby sitter, and my dad wanted to go to the rally. So he took me when he was supposed to be babysitting, and he loves to tell the story. I showed up back at home and my mom asked, “Well, what did you do tonight mi hija?” ‘Mi hija‘ is like a term of endearment. And then I proceeded to recite the little lyric I had heard and it was something like, “Drop your drawers, Nixon is yours.” And my mother was horrified and said, “Where did you take her?”

What was it like growing up with a politician for a dad?
Weekends involved a lot of campaigning. We would be at political rallies. We would be at union events, union picnics. We spent a lot Saturdays in the hot sun passing out flyers everywhere from Eloy to Nogales.

But it was fun because it was always me and all my little friends and cousins as well as adults, obviously. At the end of every campaign season he would treat the kids and take us to Legend City – I’m dating myself. That’s how long ago it was.

So you became conscious about politics when you were very young?
I did. I don’t know that I knew it was politics. I think I understood that you spoke out on behalf of people who needed a voice or (against) injustices and things that were happening that weren’t right.

Again, I think growing up hearing those stories, it just kind of instilled in me that probably one of the more important purposes in life that we have is to ensure that others’ human rights aren’t being trampled.

Do you consider your family a political dynasty?
I have heard that term a lot in Pinal County. It was an honor to hear that.

You know, my father has represented Pinal County since the 1980s. Even to this day, when we visit the communities in our district, people know who he is. I think he has done an outstanding job representing those communities and those families, many of whom have been there for generations.

So I guess in that respect, (it’s) kind of yes. I was able to run and win a House seat clearly because the Rios name carried a lot of weight. I’d like to believe that since then I have come into my own and people vote for Rebecca Rios. But clearly I don’t underestimate the significance of having run on that Rios name.

Is it tough being a Rios? Because your dad has carved out such an outstanding political career, do you feel compelled to live up to that?
I think I felt that pressure early on in my own political career when I first started out in the House.

Clearly, I looked at my father and what he had accomplished and I thought, “Oh my goodness. I can’t live up to that. I can’t fill these shoes.”

But more importantly to me, I didn’t want to bring any negativity to the Rios name. And I think that was the bigger burden for me. I didn’t want to tarnish the name or all the work that he has done over the years.

Since I have been here, I think I have come into my own and I feel very comfortable that I’m doing a good job. And I know – he has told me that I’m doing a good job and so I feel very secure in that now.

At one point, you both served at the same time in the Legislature. What was that like?
It was actually fun. And looking back, I get more sentimental because I am like, wow, what an amazing opportunity to work with your parent.
Whoever gets to do that? And so I look back with a lot of fondness and a lot of pride.

I think interestingly enough though I can look back and say I didn’t feel like I came into my own until my father had left here. Because I still felt like I needed to defer to him and I was still maybe under his wing. Not that he put me there. I think I put myself there. And that’s just kind of the natural thing that a daughter does. But I think that when he moved on and was no longer here and was at the county level – all those years that he was gone from the Legislature – I think I probably felt freer to kind of come into my own.

When you and your father don’t agree on an issue, do you ever try to convince him to see it your way?
No, and interestingly, the one issue that we differed on was the choice issue. My father fell in the side of pro-life. I was pro-choice.

That can be a very heated, passionate issue. I think recognizing that, we never even attempted to persuade each other. And for me being the daughter, I mean I was very grateful that he never tried to influence me on that decision.

Do you think it was a generational gap more than anything else?
I think part of it is generational. I think part of it is that my father is a very devout Catholic. So his Catholic upbringing, I think, plays a lot into his belief on the issue.

I think for me, I was also raised Catholic, but I think in a different generation where a lot of people my age and younger are pro-choice Catholics.

I’m curious to know how you reconcile Catholic teachings with, you know, some of the positions that you have taken as a lawmaker. The Catholic Church is pro-life, but you have opposed the abortion measures that the Catholic Church and other faith-based organizations have been pushing through here.

For me, it goes back to what I had witnessed as a social worker, and I have worked exclusively with children since I graduated in 1989. It was the recognition that if we forced women to have children (when) they are clearly saying they are not willing, able or ready to have, what is the result? What is going to happen to those kids?

I think for me that is the bigger issue. I’m concerned about these kids. Maybe, hopefully, they end up in loving families, and I’m sure many of those parents may have said, “Thank goodness we didn’t do this. And I’m glad we have a child.” But what about the other half that don’t? Do they end up being abused or neglected? Do they end up being abandoned? I don’t know. So for me, I think a concern about the potential for unwanted children was paramount.

Secondly, we are talking about the right of adults to make adult decisions – not just the female, but the male, too. And so when it comes to personal rights, I think that was an issue.

In 1995, you went to Mongolia as part of a delegation from the American Council of Young Political Leaders. First, tell me what that council is all about and, secondly, tell me about the visit.
The American Council of Young Political Leaders is an organization that sends young politicians – in fact, I think the cutoff is 35, which is really young now (laughs) – and has political exchanges across the world. They bring people here and send politicians, elected officials from various levels of government to other places in the world to find out how their government operates.

It was 1995 and I was a freshman and a colleague of mine, former representative Ruben Ortega, called me to his office – actually, it was Ruben Ortega and Barry Wong – to say, “Congratulations! You have been selected, and you’re going to Mongolia.” I didn’t even know where Mongolia was. I had to pull out a map and figure it out.

But it was one of the most amazing experiences of my life. There were about five of us. They had never sent a group to Mongolia. I don’t think they ever have since. So they shipped us off to Mongolia. We’ve got one translator. It was amazing. We slept in the Gobi Desert. I ate lots of mutton. I rode a camel, and all of this while I was six months pregnant.

You rode a camel?
I rode a camel, yeah. That was my first pregnancy. When the organization found out I was pregnant, they called and pleaded for me please not to go. They said they would send me anywhere else I wanted to go after I had the baby. And I explained going with the baby in my stomach was going to be a lot easier than down the road.

So I went, and it wasn’t until years after that trip when I was sitting at a dinner with a board member I think from ACYPL (American Council of Young Political Leaders), and he proceeded to let me know that they actually had a military plane on standby in the event that something went wrong. I mean I had no idea, and I was fine.

Are you going to run for Congress in 2012 when the new districts are carved out?
You know, it is a very tempting idea. Clearly when the new lines are drawn, I will look at it.

Running for Congress or running for a statewide office is something that I’m interested in pursuing. The timing is going to have to be right and for me. One of my primary considerations is my family, obviously. I have two young children. So, you know, whether it’s 2012 or later, it is going to depend largely on my kiddos. I don’t want to be away from them while they are still young.


Who is your favorite historical figure?
I’m going to go modern and say Barack Obama.

To have been alive when our first African-American president was elected is truly a blessing, and God-willing to be alive for the next 40 or 50 years to see what comes of it and to see the rest of history kind of unfold now that he has accomplished that milestone.

What will that mean for other African-Americans? What will that mean for other minorities? Will I see in my lifetime our first Latino president, our first female president? I mean, it is just an exciting thought.

What is your favorite movie genre?
I like dramas. I like documentaries. I don’t like scary, gory (movies).

How about zombie films?
No, I wouldn’t normally go see a zombie movie. (Laughs).

What comes to mind when I mention the following:
I love the rain and I love the smell of the desert after it rains.

As a mother of a five year old, I picture a big, yellow dog with big, long ears.

Ron Gould?
I respect Ron Gould because he stands up for what he believes in. He is not willing to compromise his values, and I think that that is a trait to be admired.