Recent immigration laws passed by Arizona lawmakers have sparked the Latino community and its supporters to join the political discourse to fight for their futures.
Team Awesome Arizona, a student group, started campaigning last year to specifically address Latino issues in the Valley.
The group, which consists of students, parents and neighbors who canvas door-to-door, formed when members realized many community issues were going unnoticed or unresolved.
Group co-founder Antonio Valdovinos, 22, became passionate about his state’s issues when he was unable to apply for financial aid this year and couldn’t continue his studies at Gateway Community College.
The group’s goal isn’t to get people elected but rather to get voters involved, he said.
This year the group’s focus is on the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office race.
“We would like to put dignity back in that office,” Valdovinos said.
The 80-year-old Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio has many people on the fence with his nontraditional tactics of pink clothing and chain gangs.
Recently, another civil rights group representing Latinos who feel they were victims of racial profiling during traffic stops sued the self-proclaimed “America’s toughest sheriff.” Arpaio has denied any acts of racial profiling.
“I’m sick of driving down the neighborhood and worrying about getting pulled over and arrested,” Valdovinos said. “I have blue eyes (and) curly hair, but once I show them my passport, they ask me if I speak English.”
The group has had a huge success in increasing Maricopa County’s Latino vote, Valdovinos said.
He said they have increased the vote by 468 percent since last year, but this is not enough to get Arpaio out of office.
“People are more worried about their kids and putting food on the table, not who’s in office,” Valdovinos said.
The group was excited when Paul Penzone, its choice candidate, defeated John Rowan by more than 35 percent in the Aug. 28 primary.
Many people, including Penzone, feel Arpaio has lost focus on public safety.
“His whole focus is public image and that never works to benefit the community,” Penzone said. “I decided I wasn’t going to sit back and watch anymore.”
Penzone, a 21-year Phoenix Police Department veteran, has found support throughout the community.
Political science junior Mercedes Newman recently saw Penzone speak at an event.
“I found that his running platform was more grounded in reality,” Newman said.
Penzone understands the strained relationship between the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office and its citizens and seems eager to foster a sense of community between the two, she said.
Penzone said if he’s elected he plans to make Maricopa County one of the safest counties in the country.
“(I hope) residents are proud of the service they receive from (the) Maricopa County Sheriff Office, and the relationship between the community and law enforcement is one of respect and trust,” Penzone said.
If Arpaio wins, this will be his sixth term as Maricopa’s sheriff.
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