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David Garcia: from ASU student to gubernatorial candidate

Garcia is running for governor in the hopes of implementing academic research into real-life policy


ASU professor and gubernatorial candidate David Garcia poses for a photo on the ASU's Tempe campus in Tempe, Arizona, on Tuesday, Jan. 30, 2018.

As a Latino, Arizona native, first-generation student, veteran and ASU professor, David Garcia is not an average candidate for governor. If elected, he would be the first Latino governor of Arizona in more than 40 years.

However, there was a long road ahead of Garcia before he became an Arizona gubernatorial candidate. 

Before being the first in his family to attend college, he did a stint of military service with the Army at Fort Benning in Georgia at the age of 17.

"Just like a lot of students at ASU, I relied on public university to help myself and help me get the education necessary to do something different for my family,” he said.

When he first started at ASU, Garcia wanted to be a fiction writer and ended up graduating with a communications degree, but his interests quickly shifted to education. 

“I became very fascinated with the role of education, with how education plays in people's lives and made a difference in their lives ... but also the social impact that education had," Garcia said. "That was the point that I knew I had to continue with this love and interest in studying, understanding and contributing to education."

After graduating from ASU , he earned a masters degree in education research, institution and policy studies at the University of Chicago.

“I was writing my dissertation and what always struck me is that the academics and ideas and articles that I'd be reading at night to finish my dissertation were not in the policy discussion that policy makers were having during the day," he said. "There was a disjoint there."

Garcia then worked in academic policy research. He was an analyst with the Arizona Senate Education Committee, an associate superintendent of public instruction of Arizona and worked on an Arizona policy think-tank called ThinkAZ.

“I came in with some significant real world policy experience before becoming a professor at ASU, and that experience has always shaped not just how and what I study from an academic point of view but how I go about doing it,” he said.

Garcia's path to politics was also paved by years of working as a professor at ASU. After realizing that his work and the work of his peers wasn't being implemented in real-life policy, he made it his mission to infuse the highest levels of academic research and theory into policy. 

Garcia joined the Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College as an associate professor in the division of educational leadership and innovation where he now teaches research methods, studies education policy and serves on dissertation committees.

David Berliner, a regents professor emeritus of education in the Teachers College, met Garcia when Garcia first interviewed to become a faculty member at ASU. 

"He was working in the State Department as I recall, overseeing data analysis and he would have preferred to get out of politics and into an academic position at the time," Berliner said. "We were very excited to have Garcia with his experience join our faculty."

After many years of academic research at ASU, Garcia said it was time to engage in politics, hoping to turn research into policy. 

He first ventured into politics in a 2014 race for the Arizona Superintendent of Public Instruction but lost to Republican Diane Douglas. 

Dave Wells, political science professor at ASU, said the voucher expansion that passed in the legislature in 2017 pushed Garcia to run for governor.

Read more: Proposition 305 earns the ire of teachers and confuses voters

“He could have run for Superintendent of Public Instruction again and probably won the race, but he decided instead that he had to step up a notch to run for governor,” he said.

One of the main issues Garcia has emphasized during his campaign is Arizona’s state of education, an area he considers his expertise. 

Wells said this area is where Garcia differs the most from incumbent Republican Gov. Doug Ducey

“Garcia has been advocating for raising taxes for education, something that Ducey is opposed to,” Wells said.

An Arizona Capitol Times and OH Predictive Insights poll of 600 likely voters released on Oct. 3 suggested that Ducey held a 17-point lead over Garcia. 

Wells highlighted the vast difference in money being spent by both campaigns and said it's a key problem for Garcia. Wells also said that Garcia's idea of focusing on border issues backfired, as the issue can only be dealt on a federal level.

"It was a mistake getting into border issues because border issues is not the state’s responsibility and too much of his campaign focused on it," Wells said. "The more they talked about border issues, the more they’re not talking about things Garcia is strong in."

Garcia, Ducey and Green Party candidate Angel Torres debated on Sept. 24 on issues of education, economy and immigration.

During the debate, Garcia said he stood by the #RedforEd movement and that teachers should be paid a higher salary. 

His stance on immigration is that he would rebuild ICE and oppose Trump's proposed border wall. In regards to the economy, Garcia believes that job growth will increase as a result of funding better education.

Faith Boninger, a research associate at University of Colorado and former colleague of Garcia's, said that he has a knack for working with policy and people.

"A lot of faculty, they're focused on their research and they don't have leadership skills and interpersonal skills and how to deal with politics," she said. 

Garcia said he hoped his story can inspire students to one day follow his path and earn a leadership position themselves.

"The truthful advice I'd give is first and foremost, get involved, do something," Garcia said. "It may seem small, it may seem like you're starting off in a position that might not have the influence you'd like to get to, but you've got to get started somewhere."

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