POLITICS

Mexican-American Pedro Celis vies to unseat Democratic Congresswoman in Washington state

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Pedro Celis, a retired Microsoft engineer and Republican challenger to incumbent Suzan DelBene (D) in Washington State, is pitching himself as a candidate living the American dream.

The 54-year-old Mexican-American, who eventually became one of the most influential Hispanics and techies in the country, said he strongly believes that immigration, as well as politics, should be dealt with a business-like approach. At least in Washington, he noted.

An immigrant himself, he said if he gets into office he would make it very difficult for (future) undocumented people to stay in the country and, on the other hand, would facilitate entry and permanence to those who come to the U.S. legally.

“(Immigration) is not about taking care of foreigners, or giving help to the needy, instead we need to understand we're dealing with people who want work here; and there is a demand, a human and economic demand that is beneficial to the U.S. and we must facilitate it,” said Celis to Fox News Latino in an interview held in Spanish.

The Pew Hispanic Center estimates Washington is among 12 states in the nation with the largest number of unauthorized residents. Latinos in the 1st District account for 8 percent of the population, compared to 5 percent in the entire state.

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Celis is running against DelBene, 52, also a former Microsoft marketing executive, who was elected in 2012 to represent the state's 1st Congressional District.

Considered a swing district, it is also the state's most evenly divided between Republican and Democratic voters. Sabato's Crystal Ball, an analyst group run by the University of Virginia's Center for Political Studies, lists the 1st District as a “safe” Democrat one, but others think it may be the GOP's best shot at flipping a congressional seat in this election.

“I like the GOP because I believe in the growth and opportunity party,” he explained.

Born in Monterrey, Celis left his country to get a master’s degree in computer science from the University of Waterloo, in Canada, and eventually crossed the border again and settled in Redmond, Washington as a Microsoft engineer. He has been married to Laura Eugenia Celis for 33 years and has four adult children.

He travels frequently to Mexico, he said, to visit family and friends. He also keeps close ties with the Monterrey Institute of Technology and Higher Education, where he got his undergraduate diploma back in 1979 and later served in the board.

“I can't say I'm poor but I think other Latino immigrants can connect with me. There are lots of people who work in Microsoft, and many have gotten a master’s degree like me and lived comfortably in their countries of origin. I personally didn't enjoy those exact same privileges, but I can connect with them”, said Celis, who also received a Ph.D. from the University of Waterloo in Ontaro, Canada.

Celis’ involvement with the Republican Party started years ago and intensified in 2008, when he served as Washington co-chair on Mitt Romney's primary campaign.

He is the founder of the Washington state chapter of the Republican National Hispanic Assembly, whose efforts are directly linked to enact a national immigration reform.

In Washington State, meanwhile, Celis supported the “Real Hope Act,” a legislation that authorizes college financial aid to students brought illegally as children.

A Pew report estimates that this year a record 25.2 million Latinos are eligible to vote, rounding up 11 percent of all eligible voters. Celis said part of his campaign focused on emphasizing how he has more commonalities than differences with immigrants – legal or not.

With a heavy Spanish accent, which he feels has not been an obstacle to rise through the GOP ranks, Celis also uses his Microsoft background as a hook with voters, especially immigrant businessmen who are burdened by excessive taxes and regulations.

A priority in his agenda is to build a port to ship coal to China, something his Democrat rival has openly opposed to. This, he said, has given an edge to Canada over the coal business negotiations. “The port will be built because there are companies that want to build it, and it's not fair that the people pay [for it] with taxes,” he said.  

“We need someone to oversee the president and Congress,” he said. “In my District we have a lot of issues connected to agriculture, and the Federal government has taken control [over them] affecting the effectiveness of business,” he said.

“President Obama has spent too much money and it has not had the impact he wanted it to have. Like in a business, you have to balance human resources and money,” he insisted.  

Easily disclosing the names of people who have contributed to his campaign – Dominican baseball player Edgard Martinez, former Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer, businessman Gene Juares – Celis said he has spent roughly $60,000 in his campaign. 

“This is public record and I don't mind sharing it,” he said. “My opponent, who has a net worth of $100 million, has invested $5 million out of pocket to win … I'm not going to win this election with more money, nor is my campaign centered around money, but I'm getting involved with a lot of people who do support my campaign whether it is with funds or with work,” he said.

Ninoska Marcano is a freelance reporter living in Washington D.C.

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