In an attempt to make sure that Arizona remains solidly red, Republican Party leaders in the southwestern state are heavily courting young, conservative Latinos to bolster their ranks in the coming years.
Looking at the success of Hispanic Republican politicians like New Mexico’s Gov. Susana Martinez and Nevada's Gov. Brian Sandoval, GOP leaders in the Grand Canyon state are looking for new leaders who can appeal to a growing demographic concerned about issues like immigration and the border.
Immigration has been a particularly contentious issue in Arizona as businesses and the state’s image in general still deal with the backlash to SB 1070, the state bill passed in 2010 that was described at the time as the broadest and strictest anti-illegal immigration measure in recent U.S. history.
The U.S. Supreme Court has upheld the 2010 Arizona law's most contentious section — a requirement that police, while enforcing other laws, question the immigration status of those suspected of being in the country illegally. But the courts have either struck down or blocked enforcement of other sections of the law, such as a requirement that immigrants carry registration.
Along with the backlash to SB 1070 – which included boycotts and protests – Republican leaders have to worry about the state’s influx of young, Latino voters who tend to vote Democratic on many issues. A study conducted by Arizona State University predicted that the state could lean Democratic as soon as 2025 because of Hispanic voters.
“That’s something that worries me,” T.J. Shope, a first-term Republican state senator in Arizona told The Hill. ““I’m 29, I’m a Republican. My mom was born in Mexico, my dad is from Iowa originally. I kinda look at myself and say we’ve got to do a better job.”
Republican strategists say that given the changing demographics of the state there is no way the GOP in Arizona can survive without distancing itself from the more hardline figures – like Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio, Gov. Jan Brewer and former state Senate President Russell Pearce - who have dominated the immigration debate in the state.
Pearce was recalled from his post in part for authoring SB 1070, and earlier this year was forced to resign from a top job at the Arizona GOP for saying on his radio show that poor women on Medicaid should be forcefully sterilized.
Nathan Sproul, a former executive director of the Arizona Republican Party, said that the GOP in Arizona needs to look at someone like Susana Martinez to bridge the gap with the state’s Latino community.
“We need to recruit that type of leadership to run, to convey the message that the Hispanic community is a strong believer in faith, family, entrepreneurship, small business ownership, a strong work ethic,” said Sproul, who worked on Martinez’s gubernatorial campaign. “The future of Arizona politics is the Hispanic community — there is no doubt about that. If we just walk away and don’t address it, we’ve got a problem.”
Latino Democrats in Arizona, however, claim that their Republican counterparts refuse to bring bills to the floor of the state capital that would benefit young Latinos, such as ones that would let undocumented immigrants obtain drivers licenses or in-state tuition at colleges.
"They’re changing their language but still at the core are anti-Hispanic,” former Democratic state representative and current congressional candidate Ruben Gallego said. “They all use Sheriff Joe in their primary to attract the anti-Hispanic vote, then hide him in the general election.”