Change AZ Needs

07/12/2010 06:52 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Arizona has been in national headlines lately for all the wrong reasons: Sheriff Arapaio's flouting the rule of law and misusing his authority; the passage of a law that promotes racial profiling and another that bans ethnic studies; a State policy requiring the removal of English teachers who speak with heavy accents, and now, a proposal to deny citizenship to the U.S. born children of undocumented immigrants -- a direct violation of the 14th Amendment of the Constitution.

I learned early on that those in authority should value community service, duty, and sacrifice. My father was a Deputy Sheriff whose lessons and example propelled me to build my professional career organizing individuals and communities to develop solutions to seemingly intractable problems and to hold their leaders accountable. Memories of how my father served with integrity is a big part of why I became a founding member of Maricopa Citizens for Safety and accountability to expose the misplaced priorities, abusive practices, and ineffective policies of the Sheriff's Office which was not meeting its obligations to the community.

Unfortunately, Senator John McCain has become another example of an elected leader who has abandoned his principles and is not serving his community. He has chosen to not stand against this surging intolerance and has willingly undermined the civil rights and liberties of Arizona Latinos and others who "appear" to be Latino in a cynical ploy to cling to an office he has held for nearly a quarter of a century. His choices have prompted me to stand up and offer a set of goals and policies in Arizona that build toward our highest aspirations and that represent a new direction that we in Arizona so desperately need.

McCain is moving us backwards. Instead of holding firm to his commitment to fix our broken immigration laws and to pass federal comprehensive immigration reform legislation, he has lurched toward the extreme right in his effort to secure his party's nomination. But, what McCain and others fail to appreciate is that history is on course to repeat itself. We only need to look to our neighbor to the West to see that this year is going to be a reprise of the post-Proposition 187 California of nearly a decade and half ago.

In 1994, California was in the midst of an economic crisis, with Governor Pete Wilson, who was running for re-election blaming the state's woes on illegal immigration. Championing the now infamous Proposition 187, which denied social services to undocumented immigrants, he reduced complex issues needing real solutions into scare tactics and half-truth sound bites. Sound familiar?

The debate over Proposition 187 quickly morphed into an attack on all Latinos. Five months before its passage, the majority of Latinos supported the Proposition. By the time it passed, the vast majority of Latinos opposed it.

The law was ruled unconstitutional, and, much to many Republicans' chagrin, one of the lasting legacies of the Proposition 187 battle is the substantial and durable Democratic majority in the nation's most populous state that came as a result of Latinos feeling demonized and suddenly registering to vote and voting.

A confluence of factors -- including the growth in the number of registered Latino voters, the influence of the Tea Party, and anti-incumbent fervor -- open the door for a particular kind of Democrat to win a U.S. Senate seat in Arizona. The Republican primary will produce either a candidate who has no hope of General Election victory (JD Hayworth) or one who will emerge with shattered credibility and very little time to repair his self-inflicted injuries -- less than 60 days -- to regain the support of moderates.

Immigration is but one issue that McCain will need to answer for to the citizens of Arizona, but it is clear, our State needs new leadership. More than marching or boycotts those of us who are proposing a new direction need your help. I have worked with the people of Arizona to demand accountability of its elected leaders. And as one, I will join with those who will provide leadership instead of inflaming the anger and hopelessness felt in our State that has experienced more job losses than any other except one and whose housing market disappeared into a large sinkhole and continues to crumble.

The people of Arizona deserve so much more than a tarnished image. They deserve leadership and a new direction not an incumbent with money, but little else, who has let them and us down.

Randy Parraz is a co-founder of Maricopa Citizens for Safety and Accountability, a lawyer by training, and has spent the past sixteen years of his professional life working with communities to promote civic engagement. He is using his extensive experience organizing individuals and groups to bring the message of change to the citizens of Arizona as he campaigns for U.S. Senate.