Arizona gubernatorial candidate Marco Lopez hopes to become the state's first Latino governor in over 40 years by conducting intensive outreach in the community and focusing heavily on jobs and education to woo voters.
Lopez, 43, is currently seeking the Democratic nomination in the November election to replace Republican Governor Doug Ducey. Two other Democrats are seeking the same: Secretary of State Katie Hobbs and state Rep. Aaron Lieberman.
Arizona's last Latino governor Raul Castro, took office in 1975 before leaving two years later to become US ambassador to Argentina.
"I think that what's significant about now is that the gains that were made in turning Arizona purple [in 2020] were from Latinos and Native Americans," Lopez said in an exclusive interview with LPO.
"In order to replicate that win, in order to bring out and incentivize, engage and excite Latinos, what better opportunity than having someone who speaks their language, knows their culture and is part of the community on the ballot," he added.
The child of immigrants, came to national prominence in 2001 when - at 22-years of age - he was elected mayor of the border city of Nogales, becoming one of the youngest people to ever become mayor in the US.
He also served then-Governor Janet Napolitano as Executive Director of the Arizona-Mexico Commission, and later as a policy advisor on Latin America and foreign trade. Napolitano went on to appoint him Director of the Arizona Department of Commerce.
When Napolitano was appointed as Homeland Security Secretary under the Obama administration, she appointed Lopez as Chief of Staff of US Customs and Border Protection (CBP).
In 2011, Lopez founded Intermestic Partners, an international business advisory firm, and is also the CEO of another firm, International Business Solutions. He has also previously been a senior advisor to Mexican billionaire and Telmex CEO Carlos Slim.
Looking towards the election, Lopez said that he believes that jobs and education should be the primary focus of state voters.
"The workforce that we need to attract in Arizona depends on the graduates that we are graduating from school. We're on a collision course to be one of the lowest developed states in the Southwest, and that's just not acceptable to me," he said.
"When my parents came to Arizona, there was a promise that if you work hard and have quality education, you can get ahead. For many families today, that's not the case. They're not getting ahead because we're not investing in education," Lopez added. "Instead of being frustrated, it's time to jump in and be engaged."
During the interview, Lopez noted that he believes that there is a "misconception" across the US that Latinos primarily care about immigration as a primary electoral issue.
"I think what they care about. Is strong families that are healthy, are educated and have a good opportunity to succeed, and have a job and a level playing field," he said. "Latinos care about all the things that American families care about."
Lopez noted that many of his Latino constituents, for example, are more likely to discuss affordable quality healthcare than immigration.
Arizona's unique position at the border, Lopez noted, can play a key part in job creation and the economic progress of the state.
There are currently $16 billion flows in both directions between Mexico and Arizona. Before the pandemic, approximately 180,000 jobs depended on trade between the two.
"This is an area in which can actually compete against Texas. We've just got to have the infrastructure in place," Lopez said. "We have three ports of entry, and we have to compete against Texas with about 16 of them."
(There are 28 international bridges and border crossings on the 1,254 mile border between Texas and Mexico).
"We do have an opportunity to increase trade ties with Mexico, but we've got to have the infrastructure and the workforce," he said.
Lopez added that he believes an economic argument will help sway many Republican voters to his side if he were to receive the nomination.
"I think that Arizona voters are good people," he said. "I think that the message of jobs, and my experience actually working on the economy and making Arizona a more attractive place for families to thrive is one that also resonates with Independents and Republicans."
"That's what is unique about my candidacy," Lopez added. "I've worked to create opportunities for Arizona since I was 21."
Earlier this year, US Representative Raul Grijalva, a fellow Arizonan, told LPO that he believes Latino voters have largely been treated as "an afterthought" in US politics.
Lopez, for his part, said he agrees, but that political campaigns have begun to wake up to the enormous political powers of the Latino community.
"Historically we've seen that people show up the election year, six month before the election. Those have all been missed opportunities," he said.
"This is why I've made a commitment that we are going to visit and be visible in every county and in everyone one of the 22 tribes," Lopez added. "I'm more convinced every single day that our path to victory is in our ability to inspire and raise awareness of the importance of the Latino electorate here in Arizona."
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