Serving his last term in Congress, Miami native reflects on life in politics.
After 23 years serving in office, congressman Ed Pastor (D-Ariz), member of the 113th Congress, is cleaning house. With his last day in office approaching at the end of the year, the representative of the Seventh Congressional District of the state is preparing to pursue another path.
The Miami native certainly left his mark. Not only is he Arizona’s first Mexican-American elected into Congress, he has now spent a good 20 years overseeing energy and water development, as well as transportation, housing and urban development, while serving on congress’ appropriations committee. He also served as a Chief Deputy Whip.
As Pastor has been packing up his offices, his seat has been sought after by the likes of former state representative Ruben Gallego, former County Supervisor Mary Rose Wilcox, and Scott Fistler, who was removed from this year’s ballot after he went so far as to change his name to Cesar Chavez and switch his party affiliation to Democrat with hopes of winning over voters. (In 2012, Fistler lost the election race for Arizona State Senate District 24 to Pastor, and in 2013, Fistler lost the race for a Phoenix city council seat to Pastor’s daughter Laura.)
Meanwhile, in a recent conversation with GMT over his mother’s kitchen table in Claypool, Pastor hesitates to reveal what his next move is. What he does know is that while he won’t be running for office, his political life is not coming to an end.
“I’ll always continue in politics,” he assures. “There are very few things that happen to us on a daily basis that are not influenced by politics, so I will continue in the political arena in terms of working for candidates or working for particular issues. I haven’t given up on that completely.”
Not only do politics run in his blood, he grew up around them.
Pastor was born in the house that sits on what is now Avenida de Ed Pastor. It is the same house that his 93-year-old mother Margarita still lives in to this day; it is the same house in which he sits at the kitchen table on this particular afternoon, next to his sister Eleanor and across from his mother. Occasionally, he stops and poses a question to her in Spanish. It is also the same house that Pastor’s father Enrique made, including the bricks, which he laid out into wooden forms.
When Pastor was a child, Enrique worked in the smelter and was involved in the steelworkers union. Pastor remembers going with his father to the strikes at the picket line around age 7 or 8. Enrique’s penchant for politics and his involvement in the union rubbed off on Pastor. Pastor quickly learned that whether or not you like a situation as it is, you go out and campaign for it or against it.
“If you were able to organize and be a unit, then you were able to bring about change,” Pastor remembers.
Neither of Pastor’s parents graduated from high school, so they always pushed Pastor and his siblings to excel in school while growing up.
Pastor had his first taste of politics while he was a student at Miami High. In fact, the only election he has ever lost in his life was for student body president.
“Damn Jim Bradbury beat me!” he laughs. “But ever since, I haven’t lost an election. So I think my DNA enjoyed that part of being involved.”
After Pastor graduated from Miami High in 1961, he studied at ASU, where he continued his involvement in politics. As the eldest of three children, he was the first in his family to attend college, and he graduated in 1966 with a BA in chemistry.
After college, Pastor became a chemistry teacher at North High School. His time spent working with students, families, and seniors as the deputy director of the Guadalupe Organization Inc. (a non-profit, community-based organization) inspired him to study law. He returned to ASU to attend its College of Law, and received his JD in 1974.
Two years later, he was elected to the Maricopa County Board of Supervisors. After three terms, in 1991, he resigned to run in the special election for the congressional seat vacated by the late Mo Udall. He won and was sworn in on Oct. 3 that year as the first Hispanic from Arizona elected to Congress, serving in what was then Arizona’s Second Congressional District.
In addition to the House Appropriations Committee, Pastor has also served on the Committee on Standards of Official Conduct, the Education and Labor Committee, and the Committee on Small Business, and the Democratic Steering and Policy Committee. He also was appointed to the Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence in the 113th Congress.
During his conversation with GMT, Pastor took some time to reflect on the state of Congress and his time spent in office. He also made it clear he has had his fill.
“Twenty three years is a good run,” Pastor says. “It’s time for somebody else to get in.”
Below are excerpts from that conversation at his mother’s home in Claypool.
Starting from the time you were first involved in politics until now, how would you say politics have changed?
I don’t think politics has changed that much, in terms of the fundamental politics. It’s trying to govern. Obviously when you have governance, when you’re governing as an elected official, you always have special interests that are trying to win your favor or trying to influence you in decision making. In those terms, I don’t think governance has changed that much. What has happened in Gila County, as I recall it, and in Arizona, is at one time, it was almost entirely all Democratic. In the ‘60s, you began to see an emergence of Republican elected officials, mainly in Maricopa County. And so today, you come to Gila County or Pinal County, or different counties in Arizona, and state legislature is now dominated by Republicans. So I’ve seen that change come about. In Congress, the politics have become more partisan, but you know, that comes and goes. But politics is a partisan game.
On that note, how has it been for you working across party lines?
Very easy, because politics is developing personal relationships. [laughs] It’s not an abstract science. Politics about people getting to know each other and being able to work with each other. My political philosophy is to work with the people who I deal with and who are my peers. That’s been my working attitude. You have to learn how to work with people, and you do the best you can.
As the first Hispanic individual elected into Congress, how do you think things have changed for Hispanics and minorities in Arizona since you first took office?
Well, I think there’s been increased efforts to ensure that there are more economic opportunities and more educational opportunities. So, if you use traditional gauges, the number of Hispanic students going into college and graduating from college has increased. If you look at the economic standards, more people have gone into a higher standard of living. But the reality is, even though you’ve had those advances, you still have a large number of people, a large part of the population, who have not been able to move forward as we would like for them to move forward… You still have a great number of people who are still struggling with lesser income or lesser education. Drop out rates have improved, but they are still very high.
Spending your last months in Congress, what do you view as maybe the greatest challenges faced in Congress today?
Just being able to govern. If we’re able to do the appropriation bills, and at the end of this fall, do what we call an omnibus bill, that will fund the government, I think it will be a great accomplishment… Right now, it’s just the ability to govern. The partisanship is getting too much in the way.
What do you identify as perhaps some of the most salient issues that Congress is addressing currently?
Well, I hope this year we do immigration reform. We talk about veterans’ health care and the problems we’re having today just with the backlog of cases, but this is the tip of the iceberg. You’re going to have more veterans that are going to have greater difficulty in terms of their health needs. If we don’t solve the problem of meeting their health needs, that’s going to be a big challenge… Also, the cost of education. Right now you have college students graduating with $18,000 worth of debt: professional students, doctors, dentists, etc., probably hundreds of thousands. Obviously, that’s not a good way to maintain these professions. So the cost of education, we’re going to have to address it, and make sure our young people can get educated and go into a professions, because they’re the ones who are going to be taking care of the older people like me and providing services. And, basically, how do we continue to do the research that allows this country to have an advantage over other countries in terms of being innovative, whether it be sciences or technology, or stuff like that?
What are your plans after your term?
When I announced, I said I was going to look for a job as a crossing guard so that I could continue to protect children. [laughs] I really have no plans right now. Some universities have offered some positions if I want to teach. They would like for me to teach in public policy. Other people have approached me about joining an organization and helping out with the organization. But at this point I really don’t have any definite plans.
There are several individuals vying for your seat, including former state representative Ruben Gallego, former County Supervisor Mary Rose Wilcox, and then there is Scott Fistler…
Aka Cesar Chavez?
Yes. I couldn’t not ask what your thoughts are on that.
Well, he ran against me. He’s a very colorful young man. What he’s done is he followed the law and changed his name, thinking that would help him. But I don’t think he thought it out, or considered the fact that once people found him out, he was going to be criticized and find it was demeaning to Cesar Chavez, or that if he had any expectation of getting elected, all that would be greatly erased. Probably when he signed the name change papers, it sounded like a good idea, but I would think that today he’s probably regretting that he did it, because obviously politically it’s not going help him. He shouldn’t have done it, but he’s not going to go anywhere unless he wants to be in the paper all the time.
Do you have any pieces of advice for youth, and maybe particularly to youth in this area or in this region, if they want to enter politics?
Well, I recently gave a convocation address to a group of students, and I told them that when I was their age – when I graduated 50-some-odd years ago – and even while I was going to school, if you surveyed the Mexican Americans here, the expectation was either you were going to be in the Marines or be a miner, because people saw the service as a way of getting out or doing something with their lives. People went into the mines because the job was there and their family worked there, so they would follow their dad’s footsteps. I was very lucky that I had parents who believed in education. They expected a better life for me. It was always ‘we want you to go to school, we want you to go to school.’ So I was lucky in that sense. The expectation was probably that I’m not going much further than this town, but with support from the family and friends, I was able to get educated and go forward. So I advise young people to dream, and dream big. If you have great expectations for yourself, continue your education and get experience, so when the day comes that you’re able to do something that you want to do, you can do it, because you have the self-confidence that you can do it, and you have the foundation.