Control of Political Space: Take Power

Part of the solution in community college district races is to find qualified candidates who won't sell out

By Rodolfo F. Acu??a
Published on LatinoLA: June 30, 2011

Control of Political Space: Take Power

A lesson the Mexican American community in Tucson learned is that political power is only as good as your representation. In the election for the Tucson Unified School Board, the community settled for having a strong advocate in the person of Adelita Grijalva, sadly trusting other candidates because they were Democrats.

The Tucson Mexican American community, according to the 2010 census comprises 41.6 percent of the city's population. Meanwhile, Arizona's under 18 years old population is 43.2 percent Latina/o and 41.6 percent white. As in the case of Latinas/os in other parts of the country, many Latnas/os have entered a comfort zone, believing their numbers will protect their interests.

Consequently, the urgency of the sixties and seventies in getting progressives elected to protect working class interests seems missing.

This failure to protect political space has cost the Tucson community. It has allowed Michael Hicks, a tea partyer, as well as University of Arizona professor Mark Stegeman and high school activist Miguel Cuevas to get elected. The case of Hicks was unpardonable; however, in the case of Stegeman and Cuevas, Mexican American leaders were just plain gullible.

During the vetting process, candidates came around whispering sweet nothings, promising to defend the Latinoa/o community. However, once in office, Stegeman immediately turned on the Latina/o community that comprises 70 percent of the Tucson Unified School District, saying that he was representing the good of all students.

This lack of vigilance allowed the worse kind of opportunist to ally himself with the Tea Party incumbent and jeopardized the community's political interests.

This failure to defend political space is not unique to Tucson. The community colleges are the pathway to professional degrees. Still we pay very little attention to them. While Latina/o students are flocking to them, the retention and transfer rate to four year colleges among Latinas/os is dismal. In a recent study I concluded that community colleges have a worse record than four year institutions in hiring Latina/o faculty. Very few community college districts have Chicana/o studies programs that address the problems of Latino students.

The Los Angeles Community College District consists of nine campuses where the Latina/o student population ranges from 22 -75 percent of the total. It is a mammoth system that spends billions of dollars in construction and in instructional services. However, only two of the seven trustees are Latina/o in a city of over fifty percent Latinos. Historically, Latino wannabe politicos have used the community college trustees as a stepping stone to better paying political jobs.

In June 2011, the Los Angeles Times carried an article on the LACCD titled "Billions to Spend. How a $5.7 billion program to rebuild L.A. community colleges went astray." Following the money, the trail shows that the three highest contributors to the electoral campaigns of board members were bond program contractors, followed by community college employees and labor unions.

These are vested interests whose interests often conflict with the Mexican American community. Starting with the contractors the costs have been horribly inflated. The interests of the LACCD employees and the unions are intertwined. The result is an inflated administration, poor affirmative action and a deficient curriculum.

Many of the employees feel threatened by the growing Latina/o population and have actively thwarted the hiring of Latino teachers and the implementation of special programs targeting this population. The losers are the students. Classrooms were overcrowded and buildings are in disrepair.

This is tragic since community colleges are the only alternative to the rising tuitions in higher education. By Los Angeles standards seats on the Board of Trustees can be had at bargain prices, with a LACCD race cases costing under $200,000.

Part of the solution in L.A. and in Arizona is to find qualified candidates who will not sell out to special interests.

At present, I am following the candidacy of Wenona Benally Baldenegro (pictured) who is a candidate for Arizona's First Congressional District that encompasses the area north of Tucson and includes the northern cities of Flagstaff and Prescott.

Wenona who is Navajo is married to Salom??n Baldenegro Jr., the son of Sal Sr. a moving force in the Mexican American Civil Rights movement of the late sixties and early seventies.

Wenona was raised in rural Arizona; her mother was an elementary school teacher on the Navajo reservation. She was the first American Indian to graduate summa cum laude from Arizona State University's prestigious Barrett Honor's College.

Wenona earned a juris doctorate degree at the Harvard Law School and a master degree in public policy there at the John F. Kennedy School of Government. Upon graduation she continued to work for the Native American and other working class people.

Over the past several years, Wenona has worked as an attorney and public interest advocate, dedicating her educational and professional career to assisting financially-struggling families and communities. Wenona has worked for law firms and nonprofit organizations located in Arizona and Washington D.C. dedicated to expanding educational opportunities, start-up businesses, economic development and diversification, banking and predatory lending practices, and affordable housing.

Wenona and Sal currently reside in Flagstaff, Arizona, which is one of the few progressive parts of the state; however, like in California either through inattention or lack of resources a person people of color is rarely elected.

If elected Wenona would be the first American Indian ever serve in the U.S. Congress.

Her opponent in the Primary is Ann Kirkpatrick, a one-term Congresswoman, 2008-2010. She lost to Tea Party candidate Paul Gosar. Kirkpatrick is a Blue-dog Democrat who voted YES to extend the Bush tax cuts and did not vote for the DREAM Act. She also supported SB1070, and she counts among her allies State Sen. Russell Pearce. If that is not enough Kirkpatrick has been implicated in corruption and improper spending of federal taxpayer dollars.

Kirkpatrick, however, has name recognition over Wenona as well the Democratic Party label and thus will be protected in the Primary.

If any of you would like to reach Wenona, get to know her and hold a fundraiser or a house party contact Sal Baldenegro Jr. at Less than a half of one percent of the U.S. population are Native Americans, which is in itself a tragedy.

As for the LACC, we must pay more attention and recruit candidates for the next election. Change only takes place by demanding it.

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