His name is Randy Parraz, founder of Citizens for a Better Arizona and the man who led the effort to topple the sponsor of SB 1070, State Senator Russell Pearce. He has been called everything from “the man who is out to destroy Russell Pearce and America” to “a true progressive hero.”
An energetic and dedicated organizer, he sat still just long enough for an interview on Democratic Perspective.
Parraz learned about organizing as a boy in Sacramento, California where his father was a deputy sheriff and founder of the Latino Peace Officers Association. Randy has a law degree from the University of California, Berkley and a Master’s degree from the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University. He spent many years as an organizer, and in 2010 he ran for the US Senate seat currently held by Sen. John McCain.
Parraz’s approach to politics may be best described by a story he told recently at a meeting of the Democrats of the Red Rocks in Sedona. He asked why a full-grown elephant could be tethered to a stake. “Certainly the elephant has the strength to pull up the stake,” he stated. “But it doesn’t even try. That’s because, when the elephant is small, it’s tethered to a large tree. No matter how long it tugs and pulls, it can’t move the tree. Eventually, it learns not to challenge any resistance. “Parraz drew a parallel with politics. “We’re conditioned to accept things the way they are. So we don’t fight back. That is the real lesson of the Pearce recall. In order to change things we have to fight. If we do, we can win.”
Randy said he first realized the recall effort was necessary when Russell Pearce was elected president of the AZ State Senate. “His election was rewarding the extremes – the politics of fear and division,” he said. “I was shocked by how far the extremism had gone. Pearce was ignoring Arizona’s problems to carry out his own agenda – attacks on education and teacher’s pensions, guns on college campuses, a birther bill, etc. He was only concerned about the Tea Party. That worked in the primary, but it doesn’t work in a general election.”
After starting the recall effort, Parraz said “People with money and influence wouldn’t touch us at first. You have to organize within people’s experiences. This was outside their experiences.”
“We began by targeting households of Democrats and Independents. But we found that 1,500 Republicans came to (our tables at) the library to sign our petitions. When I asked one Republican why he signed, he said, ‘Russell Pearce is too extreme for me.’ As a result, that became the slogan for our campaign.”
“I didn’t care who ran against Pearce,” Parraz asserted. “We simply created the conditions for a candidate to emerge. I knew it would take a Republican and probably a Mormon. Jerry Lewis stepped forward and won. He’s a decent human being. You can have a conversation with him.”
“Pearce was upset that everyone was allowed to vote. Not just the extreme primary voters,” said Parraz. “That’s because it’s easy to control the primaries. You don’t need many Tea Party people to win. The beauty of the recall was that the only way to win was to bring everyone together.”
“Pearce lost the recall election by 12 points because Democrats, Republicans and Independents came together,” Parraz declared.
When asked about reports that Pearce is trying to get back into office, Parraz said, “Russell Pearce has announced that he is running for office in a new district. Another moderate Mormon is running against him – part of the same group of leaders that helped elect Lewis.”
Meanwhile, Parraz and Citizens for a Better Arizona are focused on defeating Sheriff Joe Arpaio in this fall’s election.
“This is personal,” said Parraz. “The sheriff had me arrested in 2008 when I tried to speak at a Maricopa County Board of Supervisors meeting. I was forced to leave the meeting and as I waited outside, a group of deputies warned me for ‘being too close to the building.’ When I told them I was within my rights to be there, they arrested me, handcuffed me, put me in leg shackles and in solitary. They held me on one charge as long as they could. Then they filed a second charge so they could hold me longer. It was harassment.”
“While that was going on,” Parraz continued, “Someone mistook Chad Snow for me. So they arrested him while he was walking out of the meeting. Chad is an attorney so when they let him go, Chad came to my cell and said he wanted to represent me. It took us a long time to fight the charges. If it wasn’t for Chad, it would have cost me $20,000 in attorney fees even though I was innocent. As a result of the harrassment, Chad became president of my group.”
“There has been a triangle of corruption in the county – several members of the Board of Supervisors, former County Attorney Andrew Thomas and Sheriff Arpaio. They were focused on arresting busboys instead of criminals. But if no one says anything, you’re not going to stop. You think you’re untouchable.”
“I want to create an army of canvassers to defeat Arpaio,” said Parraz. “At noon on May 10, we’re going to meet at the County office on Jefferson Street in Phoenix as a Citizen’s Grand Jury.”
We asked about the impact of a possible indictment of the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office for racial profiling. Parraz responded, “That could make it worse for us because Arpaio loves to play the victim.”