Feathered Bastard

David Lujan, George Diaz, and the Stop-Lujan Movement

Is the fix in for former state House Minority Leader David Lujan's becoming the replacement for ex-state Senator Kyrsten Sinema, who recently announced her bid for U.S. Congress?

Or will his infamous no-show for the Senate Bill 1070 vote in 2010 deny him a return to the state Legislature, and can contender George Diaz, a well-known legislative rainmaker, help upset Lujan's applecart?

Sinema's departure leaves an immediate vacancy for the Democrats in Legislative District 15, one they will be eager to fill with the next legislative session soon upon them. The choice will be up to the Maricopa County Board of Supervisors, who must pick from three candidates nominated by the 23 precinct committeemen of LD 15

One of those PCs is Sinema, BTW. Sinema has endorsed Lujan for the nod, and Lujan is seen as being close to Supervisor Mary Rose Wilcox, the lone Dem on the board.

Wilcox will be key in making the decision, as LD 15 is partly in her district and because the board must choose a Dem to replace a Dem.

But Lujan, who ran unsuccessfully to be his party's nominee for Arizona Attorney General in 2010, has a big problem with some Democrats, Latino and non-Latino alike. That is, he skipped out on the state House's vote on SB 1070, despite the fact that he was the leader of House Dems at the time.

In 2010, when I confronted Lujan later that same day, catching him at a small Democratic Party kaffeklatch where he was campaigning for AG, he gave me a lame excuse about the vote being at the same time as a family function for his 'rents.

"Well, I wanted to [be there for the vote], but my parents were celebrating their 60th wedding anniversary," he explained at the time. "We had a little family get together this afternoon. The bill's been moving. It was scheduled to be heard two weeks ago, and then last week. And so it just happened to come up on a day when I had a previously scheduled thing."

Later, during his campaign for the Dems' AG nod, he told Horizon's Ted Simons that he was out of town when the vote went down.

After watching this, I called Lujan, who said that he had misspoken, admitting, far from the gaze of Television cameras, that he had, actually, been in town when the vote went down.

Lujan was slammed for the gaffe in Democratic circles. This misstep and his shifting excuses for being AWOL on 1070 killed any chance he had of becoming the Dem's nominee for AG. That's ironic, because many suspect the real reason Lujan dodged the vote was so an anti-1070 vote could not be held against him in a general election.

For many Democrats, and particularly for many Latino Democrats, it remains an unpardonable sin. Currently, there is a "stop-Lujan" movement afoot, with various bloggers and activists demanding that Lujan not be allowed to slip into Sinema's empty seat.

Behind the scenes, many Latino activists are galvanized against Lujan. And state Senator Steve Gallardo understands why.

"Here's a guy who was a minority leader, a Latino, who took a walk on one of the biggest pieces of legislation to affect the Latino community," Gallardo told me. "So big that it's going to go up in front of the Supreme Court. That's how big [1070] was.

"So I can see their hesitation. When it comes down to big, controversial issues, is he going to take another walk?"

Gallardo didn't think much of Lujan's initial excuse for missing the vote.

"My parents have an anniversary every year," he said. "Doesn't mean I'm going to walk on tough decisions. It's not a good enough reason."

For his part, Lujan definitely wants the gig, though he says he would only serve out the remainder of Sinema's term, essentially the 2012 session. He says he wants to return full time to being chief administrator for a local charter school after that.

He admits that failing to be front and center on the 1070 vote is unforgivable for many Dems and Latinos, and he knows there is a campaign against him.

"One of the biggest regrets of my elective career is that vote," he confessed when I spoke with him. "And I understand that there are people that are still upset, that will probably never forgive me."

But he wants his shot at redeeming himself in the eyes of Latinos and Democrats, he says. 

"I hope I would have the opportunity to show that I am [an] advocate for the Latino community," he said. "I think one of the reasons people were so disappointed when I missed that vote is that I had I had done a lot of things for the Latino community." 

But cynics note that Lujan has expressed an interest in running for higher office again, perhaps even in 2014 for state Schools' Superintendent, and this is merely a way for him to keep his name circulating in the political realm.

One of those who'd like to deny Lujan that name-exposure is George Diaz, a former lobbyist for APS, well-known for being active both as a Democrat and as an advocate/fundraiser for charitable causes, such as the March of Dimes and Chicanos Por La Causa. 

He also boasts an impressive career as a rep for the Arizona Attorney General's Office, the Arizona Supreme Court, and the Maricopa Community College District. 

"I have a combination of experience and talent that will help me be successful in the role," he explained. "If you look at it, I have eight years of public sector experience and eight years of private sector experience. I don't think a lot of people can say that."

Indeed, folks on both side of the aisle will tell you that Diaz knows the legislature inside and out, better than most of those already in it.

"I have knowledge of the process, and the protocols in the process," he told me. "I know the people at the Legislature, from the legislators to the staff, and finally, I have a passion for it. For me it's a way of serving my community, and having some impact. I truly believe I can work with the Republicans to get some Democratic initiatives passed."

That said, Diaz, like most Dems, did not view SB 1070 in a positive light, nor did he appreciate Lujan's absence from combat on the day in question.

"You're not paid to take a walk, you're paid to take a position," he said. "And if I were his constituent, I would have great concern...For him not to take a position on the final vote of that bill shows what kind of character he has and what is likely to come up in the future."

Diaz would represent some new blood, and a departure from the sort of politician we all know too well.

Two years out, Lujan's shirking of the 1070 fray, when Dems most needed him to stick and fight, still smarts. 

Whether that prevents him from slipping into Sinema's warm seat for a session, remains to be seen.

UPDATE 1/7/12: Diaz has withdrawn his name since I wrote this post. Please see my subsequent post on this subject, here.

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Stephen is a former staff writer and columnist at Phoenix New Times.
Contact: Stephen Lemons