SB 1070 Fuels a Movement of New Voters | News | Phoenix | Phoenix New Times | The Leading Independent News Source in Phoenix, Arizona


SB 1070 Fuels a Movement of New Voters

On a hot evening in June, a petite young woman with long, black hair briskly walks a decade-old Avondale neighborhood lined with stucco homes, cradling a clipboard. It's after dinnertime, but a stubborn summer sun stretches out the day, providing plenty of light as she approaches the doors. Some families...
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On a hot evening in June, a petite young woman with long, black hair briskly walks a decade-old Avondale neighborhood lined with stucco homes, cradling a clipboard.

It's after dinnertime, but a stubborn summer sun stretches out the day, providing plenty of light as she approaches the doors. Some families are settling in for the night; the faint sounds of televisions emit from living rooms. Others are washing cars or doing yard work.

Adriana consults a map that pinpoints homes of targeted registered voters, then rings bell after bell, explaining she is a student volunteer sharing information about Democratic candidates running for election — Richard Carmona, who wants a seat in the U.S. Senate; Congressman Raul Grijalva, who is up for re-election; and Paul Penzone, who hopes to unseat Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio.

Most people are receptive to the Latina, who can deliver her message in fluent Spanish or English. One man asks how he can volunteer. One woman says she's busy but asks for Adriana's phone number so she can get more information the next day.

Others grumble disinterestedly and quickly shut their doors.

Adriana walks on through the streets of this working-class neighborhood, where political and racial demographics cross both party and color lines.

She is not alone. Adriana is a member of Team Awesome, a group with dozens of community organizers. She and other students, campaign volunteers, and political organizers working Arizona — street by street and door by door — have a goal beyond educating would-be voters about candidates. Or getting people to register to vote.

They desperately want to change Arizona's anti-Latino landscape — one radical politician at a time.

And they're doing it. Last year, they made history by bumping voter turnout nearly 400 percent in West and Central Phoenix and being part of the team that forced out Russell Pearce, the state Senate president behind Arizona's anti-immigrant laws.

Engaged Latinos are taking the movement state- and nationwide. Their numbers are growing, but it won't be easy.

"Immigration can get sticky," Adriana says, peering down the street for the next house number. "And it's such a complicated issue, you can't talk about it for just a couple minutes at the door. But everyone cares about their tax money."

She focuses on a candidate's leadership qualities, fiscal policies, and accountability. She plans to spend many hours in the summer heat and on the phone cultivating support for Carmona, Penzone, and Grijalva. The Obama campaign is capitalizing on the political energy among Latinos, and hoping to make typically Republican-leaning Arizona more competitive come November.

But on Election Day, Adriana will not be casting a vote for any of these candidates, Obama included. Or anyone else, for that matter.

Adriana, 20, is an undocumented immigrant. She isn't eligible to vote.

Or drive.

Or work.

Or get an affordable education.

None of that stops her from hustling to get others politically active. In fact, it motivates her even more.

Adriana (she asked that we use only her first name) and her parents came to Arizona from Mexico when she was 8. She graduated from high school with dreams of going to Arizona State University, majoring in international business and eventually earning an MBA from Thunderbird School of Global Management.

Adriana saw herself working for a Fortune 500 company.

"That was the plan," she says.

She couldn't afford classes at ASU, so she settled for Glendale Community College. Even there, a single math class set her family back nearly $1,300. Since she is undocumented, Arizona law forces her to pay out-of-state tuition even though she's lived in the state for 12 years.

Like many undocumented students, she now is attending a more affordable private university. However, the smaller college doesn't offer an international business degree, so she settled for a degree in marketing.

Students like Adriana — along with a huge cadre of other volunteers, other organizations — are fighting so that they never have to settle again, fighting to change a political atmosphere in Arizona created by more than a decade of anti-immigrant laws culminating two years ago with Arizona Senate Bill 1070, a law that essentially turns state and local police into immigration-enforcement agents.

Though many are undocumented — and afraid to drive or work or talk about their immigration status — there is collective courage building among them. During rallies or gatherings, some publicly share their stories, stirring others also to step out of the shadows.

They support Richard Carmona, a Democrat who is running for a U.S. Senate seat being vacated by retiring Republican Senator Jon Kyl, because he is a staunch supporter of the DREAM Act, a proposal that would create a path to citizenship for certain undocumented students brought into the country as children.

Carmona is considered a centerpiece of the Arizona ticket and has a résumé that impresses both Democrats and Republicans. The son of immigrants is a high school dropout who served in Vietnam, received numerous combat decorations (including two Purple Hearts), earned a medical degree in vascular surgery, was appointed U.S. Surgeon General by President George W. Bush, and served as a deputy in the Pima County Sheriff's Office.

Not bad. Carmona insists, however, that what's more impressive are the backstories of Team Awesome, the kids getting out the vote.

"Their stories are heartbreaking," Carmona says. "I tell them that I realize it's difficult for you now, but I will always stand up for you, work hard to figure out how . . . eventually you can become citizens."

The kids align themselves with the Democratic Party, which isn't a difficult choice because of its sharp opposition to the anti-immigrant rhetoric that tops the talking points for most Republicans on the far right of the political spectrum.

But they don't view their efforts as partisan.

"I don't walk for the party," Adriana says. "I am walking for my community, for my family, for myself. I'm walking for my future."

They're walking to change laws like SB 1070.

Students and political organizers know that registering people to vote, and insisting that they participate on Election Day, is one way they can directly influence those changes in Arizona laws.

While the U.S. Supreme Court declared on June 25 that Arizona overstepped its bounds with three of the law's four provisions under review, it allowed the most controversial of them to stand.

The decision gives a local cop the authority to detain someone and investigate his or her immigration status during a lawful stop if the cop has "reasonable suspicion" that the individual is an illegal immigrant.

After the ruling, community leaders and organizers gathered at the State Capitol, renewing their call for people to keep fighting, to register to vote, and to cast a ballot for lawmakers who will not adopt divisive laws that will spur racial profiling.

"We all agree that SB 1070 never should have happened," said Petra Falcon, director of Promise Arizona, a nonprofit that creates new leaders and engages new voters. "We need to take responsibility for that. And, now, we see more people coming together with a shared purpose, so we don't have any more bad laws."

She says the community has learned how to push back.

The Supreme Court's verdict has further fueled a fight that already was simmering against the anti-immigrant sentiment fostered by the state's Republican-controlled legislature and rubber-stamped by Governor Jan Brewer.

Jaime Regalado, emeritus professor of political science at California State University-Los Angeles, believes that if Arizona hadn't passed SB 1070 and set the stage for the adoption of similar measures in other states, the country's political landscape would be much different.

"I'm not sure that Alabama would have taken that step, I'm not sure that Utah would have . . . or Indiana or Georgia," he tells New Times. "Folks were waiting, on that side of the equation, for somebody to take the lead in a very tough — some would say draconian — immigration law. Arizona was that catalyst."

SB 1070 remains embroiled in other legal battles, including a class-action lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union and a coalition of civil rights groups charging, in part, that the law invites racial profiling.

Its impact is being felt in significant ways all over the country. But as the promise of the Latino vote becomes pivotal, and SB 1070 stirs in the community anger and a desire for change, proponents of Latino and immigrants' rights are trying to transform those emotions into action.

About 9.5 million Latinos in the United States reported voting in the 2008 presidential election, up 2 million from 2004. In 2010, Latinos set a record for turnout in a midterm election with 6.6 million casting ballots, up from 5.6 million in 2006, according to the Pew Hispanic Center.

But they still represent a small portion of the voting public.

In 2008, Latinos accounted for about 7.5 percent of all voters. In 2010, a non-presidential election year, they represented only 6.9 percent of voters.

The fields of voters are ripe for harvest.

In Arizona, there are more than 450,000 Latinos on the voting rolls, but another 400,000 Latinos in the state are eligible, but unregistered to vote.

For many years, political and labor-based nonprofit organizations like CASE (Central Arizonans for a Sustainable Economy), Promise Arizona, Mi Familia Vota, Unite Here, and the César Chávez Foundation have targeted those individuals by sponsoring voter-registration drives and get-out-the-vote initiatives.

These days, they are finding would-be voters more attuned to anti-immigrant laws and sentiment and, thus, more responsive.

Hispanics have been fighting for equality and civil rights for more than a century — from efforts in Arizona and across the country to end school segregation for Mexican-American students to the César Chávez-inspired fight for fair wages for migrant farmworkers and a broad Chicano Movement pushing for political change.

But the fiery fight had waned, and the community settled into a period of complacency driven by a lack of strong community leadership and splintered factions of political power.

A new wave of young people — many who, like Adriana, aren't even qualified to vote — is hoping to reignite the civic engagement of a once-spirited community. They are the ones poised to make a difference.

They already have proved their prowess in Phoenix, where they gained national attention for helping triple the citywide Latino voter turnout and increasing it nearly 500 percent in West Phoenix during the 2011 Phoenix City Council election.

President Barack Obama's major policy shift on June 15, announcing temporary immunity from deportations and access to renewable work permits for certain undocumented youths, illustrates their mounting political power.

"It's huge. There is an overwhelming joy," Viri Hernandez, one of the leaders of Team Awesome, told New Times the day Obama announced his new directive. "It's been a long time coming. It's the first time that we really feel safe."

But, she says, their fight is not over — as his measure stops short of granting a path to full citizenship.

"News like this is very energizing," she says. "For years, we've been talking about the power of the Latino voice and, now, we're actually getting results. But we still need to make sure our families are safe. We're going to continue fighting."

When Governor Jan Brewer signed SB 1070 into law on April 23, 2010, she punctuated more than a century of discriminatory policies in Arizona, as well as the state's decades-long assault on the minority community.

In the 1950s, Mexican-Americans, just like black families, were fighting to end segregation in schools in Arizona and cities across the nation.

Jeanne Powers, an associate professor at ASU's Division of Educational Leadership and Policy Studies, described the racial discrimination that included separate "Mexican Schools" for Latinos in a 2008 article.

Arizona school districts approved separating brown students under the guise that they lacked proficiency in English. But the community also was segregated "in other public facilities, such as swimming pools, churches, and movie houses, and institutional discrimination in housing policy," Powers writes in Forgotten History: Mexican American School Segregation in Arizona from 1900-1951.

Community leaders stood up and challenged their treatment in courts, and in 1950, the U.S. District Court of Arizona declared the practice of segregation unconstitutional — three years before the U.S. Supreme Court rendered a similar opinion in Brown v. Board of Education, ending the sham of "separate but equal."

During the same time period, César Chávez and others fought for migrant farm workers' rights, pushing to end poor working conditions, low wages, and discrimination on farms across the country. By 1956, the activists had created what later would be known as the United Farm Workers.

The Chicano Movement, or El Movimiento, was well under way in the 1960s, with Mexican-American activists rallying for their civil rights, engaging in protests across the country. Organizations such as Chicanos por la Causa and MALDEF (Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund) were formed to address economic disparities, defend civil rights, and promote the training of new leaders.

But organized movements fizzled and a new wave of thinly veiled discrimination resurfaced.

In the mid-'90s, when Russell Pearce (who would go on to serve in the Arizona Legislature, including as president of the State Senate until his recall last year) was director of the Motor Vehicle Division, he set into motion a law that required proof of citizenship or legal status before obtaining a driver's license.

In 2000, California millionaire Ron Unz bankrolled Proposition 203, a successful ban on bilingual education in Arizona's public schools. In 2004, Proposition 200 required more "papers, please" — this time proof of citizenship before casting a ballot at a polling place.

About 2005, Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio created a task force of deputies to hunt illegal immigrants, conducting raids in mostly Latino neighborhoods. Two years later, he launched a hotline on which residents could report suspected illegal immigrants.

He and former County Attorney Andrew Thomas (since disbarred over ethical violations and abusing his power) twisted a law aimed at human smugglers and charged immigrants themselves as co-conspirators guilty of felony offenses.

Increasing the fervor, state Senator Pearce was able to float three more propositions in 2006 demonizing the immigrant community: Prop 300, denying in-state tuition to undocumented students, forcing them to pay higher out-of-state rates or drop out of school; Prop 100, denying bail to illegal immigrants charged with serious felonies; and Prop 102, denying an award of punitive damages in any civil court action to an undocumented plaintiff.

Frightened voters approved all three measures.

Although similar anti-immigrant measures had been passed by Arizona lawmakers years before, they always had been shot down by Governor Janet Napolitano, a Democrat. Brewer, on the other hand, was more than happy to sign SB 1070 into law in 2010, thus securing her seat in that year's governor's race and putting the state of Arizona on the map as the capital of anti-immigration sentiments.

A few months later, lawmakers adopted a broadly written law that plainly intended to shut down Mexican-American ethnic-studies courses in the Tucson Unified School District.

Intoxicated with power, Pearce drew up another slate of anti-immigrant bills last year, with the intent to: deny citizenship to U.S.-born children of illegal immigrants, ban undocumented immigrants from state universities, make it a crime for them to drive a vehicle in Arizona, and require school districts and hospitals to check the legal status of students and patients.

The cumulative result: protests and marches in the streets, civil disobedience, calls for national conventions, entertainers, and corporate America to boycott Arizona, and a renewed push to register more Latinos to vote.

"We need to stop reacting and start acting. If there is any truth to our numbers, it will only be seen at the voting booth," says Danny Ortega, chairman of the National Council of La Raza, longtime activist and Phoenix lawyer. "We've been lulled into believing that because we've had a significant increase in population, that gives us power. Maybe [it does] from a consumer standpoint, but not from a political standpoint."

Business leaders eventually stood up and objected to the direction Pearce and other lawmakers were taking the state, acknowledging the devastating impact to Arizona's economy. Those laws not only prompted boycotts and hurt Arizona tourism, but gave pause to potential new corporations and businesses who didn't want to open their doors in such a caustic political climate.

"When the chips were down and we needed them — those people who were making money off of us — to work with us on issues over at the legislature and with the Governor, they were nowhere to be seen," Ortega says. "Now they're starting to come forward. Why? Because it's affecting them."

And with backlash from the business community, Pearce's cohorts in the state Senate shied away from his 2011 round of anti-brown bills. They all died on the floor.

Later that same year, it was Pearce's political career that hit the skids when the disgraced lawmaker forcibly was tossed out of office in a recall election — again, driven by Latino leaders.

As for Arpaio, he has been stripped by Immigration and Customs Enforcement of federal authority to check the immigration status of individuals in his jails; the Department of Justice has declared he committed the worst acts of racial profiling in U.S. history; and is under federal investigation over abuse of power allegations and his office's failure to investigate hundreds of sex crimes in his jurisdiction.

Rosa Macias, CEO of Muebleria Del Sol, a Valley furniture business, says that Arizona's anti-Latino laws have cut her profit in half. But she and other Latino business leaders started Fuerza Local, a Latino version of Local First, to pool their political power against Arizona's anti-Latino climate.

"We want to build a coalition to keep the community strong and keep business here," Macias says of the three-month-old effort. "Politics is a very important part of this. People have to know where these changes are coming from, and who is really making these decisions? It determines our way of life in many ways, and in the end it all boils down to politics."

Many community organizers are savoring the November 2011 recall of Pearce, the architect of SB 1070. It was an unprecedented win orchestrated by Citizens for a Better Arizona, a coalition of activists led by community leader Randy Parraz and volunteers such as Adriana.

"Once you taste victory, well, it's a powerful thing," Ortega says.

It's been six months since Russell Pearce was thrown out of office, but the laws he sponsored continue to haunt Arizona families.

Many families, like Adriana's, are a blend of citizens and non-citizens. Her two younger sisters were born in Arizona, and enjoy benefits she can't access — like cheaper tuition at state schools, scholarships, their choice of universities.

"I'm empowered, but I'm still stuck," she says. "I mean, I'm doing something to change my situation, but I still face the reality of it as I walk and knock on these doors."

State Senator Steve Gallardo talks about introducing a bill that mimics the California DREAM Act, which allows children brought to the U.S. before they turned 16 — who meet certain educational criteria — to qualify for financial aid.

It is unclear how Obama's temporary immunity for DREAM Act-eligible students will interact with Arizona law increasing tuition costs for undocumented immigrants.

"It makes no sense that we have such bright kids and we're going to shut the door on them?" Gallardo says. "How can you look them in the eye and tell them you're not going to stand with them?"

While California lawmakers supported varying versions of the measure, Republican Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger vetoed each one as they came across his desk in 2006, 2007, and 2008.

It wasn't until June 2011 that the bill was signed into law by Governor Jerry Brown, a Democrat.

Gallardo also is exploring a measure to repeal SB 1070.

"We need to talk about this," he says. "The immigration debate has turned Arizona upside down, and it's time for us to talk about the damage it's done. We need to start pushing positive measures to mobilize our community — let's pass a DREAM Act, let's put a repeal of SB 1070 out there."

Regalado says that Arizona's law served as a tipping point, as much a watershed moment for Latinos today as Proposition 187 was for California in the 1990s.

That Republican measure, a prequel to Arizona's SB 1070 and wholeheartedly supported at the time by the state's Republican governor Pete Wilson, banned illegal immigrants in that state from receiving any public services, including a public education and nonemergency medical care. The law was eventually deemed unconstitutional, but not before it sparked long-term fallout for Republicans in the West Coast state.

Massive political organization prodded California moderates and liberals to retaliate.

With the exception of former Governor Schwarzenegger, elected during a 2003 gubernatorial recall, Californians have picked Democrats in every gubernatorial, Senate, and presidential race following the infamous law, according to Center for American Progress, a think tank on immigration policy.

In Arizona, political leaders believe multiple Democratic wins in November are possible at the state and federal level.

Ken Chapman, director of the Maricopa County Democratic Party, says that "some of the races in Arizona are going to be close, and it's gonna come down to what we can do in the field."

Enter Team Awesome — among them many who defy their undocumented status and, without casting a single ballot, take civic engagement to new heights. They are stepping out of the shadows, and not allowing laws aimed at preventing them from driving, working, or getting an education to keep them from having a voice.

Arizona got a sneak peek last year of what that army is capable of, when student organizers — many of them undocumented immigrants who are all but lifelong U.S. residents — brought about the civic awakening of several thousands of Phoenix Latinos.

Just as they're doing this year, the students spent last summer knocking on doors previously untouched by political hands — in parts of town with such low voter turnout that they never drew the attention of candidates.

Their efforts paid off in Phoenix City Council District 5, which stretches roughly from Northern Avenue to Thomas Road between 15th and 107th avenues.

As they pushed for Daniel Valenzuela, a Glendale firefighter and longtime West Phoenix resident, to win a seat on the Phoenix City Council, the young activists also threw their support behind Greg Stanton, a mayoral candidate who made clear his opposition to rigid anti-immigration laws. His opponent, Wes Gullett, offered public support to SB 1070, backing the mandate for local cops to enforce federal immigration laws.

Gary Segura, a political science professor at Stanford University and a principal at the polling firm Latino Decisions, tells New Times that while it's unclear just how great a role SB 1070 played in revving political engagement within the Latino community, he believes it hastened the movement.

"Threat is a very effective motivator, and when people feel threatened, they act," he says.

Though there were obviously factors other than immigration in play during the Phoenix race — among them taxes, historic preservation, and public transportation — the students' efforts paid huge dividends as Valenzuela became the first Latino to represent that city district in decades, and Stanton was sworn in as mayor.

In that November 2011 election, Latino voter turnout in Valenzuela's district jumped by nearly 400 percent compared to four years earlier in that same part of town, according to an analysis of post-election data.

About 900 Latino voters showed up at the polls in District 5 in 2007, but more than 4,400 cast ballots in 2011.

The trend picked up momentum throughout Phoenix: Voter turnout in 2011 among Hispanics tripled with 22,744 voters, compared to only 7,760 Latinos in 2007.

They were sending a message to local politicians.

"If we can't change the laws, then we'll change the lawmakers," says Viri Hernandez, a DREAMer who is more motivated now than ever.

They understand that the dynamics of a local election are different from countywide races, like the Maricopa County Sheriff's race pitting Arpaio against the students' pick, former Phoenix cop Paul Penzone; or statewide races, like Richard Carmona's run for U.S. Senate.

While the traditional campaign machinery focuses on political messages in mailers, signs, and media ads, the volunteers on the ground are using their tried and true strategy — reach voters repeatedly and personally.

Post-election data by Arizona's Democratic Party reveals that 70 percent of first-time Latino voters in the 2011 election were contacted at least twice — some, many more times.

Change is possible, says Hernandez.

In Glendale, three Latinos are running for posts on the City Council, including Manny Cruz, who is making a bid for mayor. For a community whose population is nearly half Latino, that council has long lacked a voice.

It worked two years ago, when volunteers hit the streets for Norma Alvarez, and they helped elect that first representative voice for Latinos on the Glendale City Council. Last month in Tempe, Latino and Democratic groups supported Mark Mitchell for mayor; he won by a 139-vote margin.

In the four days before the Tempe election, Chapman says, groups knocked on more than 6,000 doors.

"Somewhere in there, there had to be 139 votes," he says, reinforcing the importance of having passionate student volunteers who are staking their futures on these candidates.

Arizona's left-of-center leaders also expect political change to come as a result of the state's newly redrawn legislative maps that carve out new minority-heavy districts and make others more competitive. The maps, approved by the U.S. Department of Justice, all but guarantee that the Republicans will lose their supermajority hold in the state Legislature.

The redistricting commission eliminated districts that previously were "safe" Republican districts and leveled the playing field by creating more politically competitive districts.

A June 2012 analysis by the Arizona Capitol Times suggests the possibility that Democrats will pick up enough seats in the Senate to split the chamber down the middle and "effectively give Democrats powers akin to a gubernatorial veto . . . [in which] voting as a bloc, they could stop Republican proposals dead in their tracks."

The Democrats now have the opportunity to boost their representation in the Arizona House, which boasts a mere five Latino lawmakers, and the Senate, which includes four Latinos.

"If [Latinos] show up to vote in numbers that reflect their growing population, they can most certainly be a force in this election, across the board," says Joseph Garcia, analyst of Latino Public Policy at ASU's Morrison Institute for Public Policy. "But we've been hearing for years that the Latino voters finally are going to flex their muscle, and that really has yet to materialize. But this year seems to have a different vibe to it."

Luis Heredia, director of the Arizona Democratic Party, tells New Times that although there was an increase of more than 60,000 Latino voters in 2010 compared to 2006, Latinos continue to represent a small percent of the overall electorate.

In Maricopa County, the party director says local Democrats, student volunteers, and political organizers knocked on nearly 63,000 doors and made nearly 80,000 phone calls reaching out to the community in the first five months of the year.

"Change, real change, is always pushed from the bottom up," Gallardo says.

The Obama campaign is putting boots on the ground in Arizona, capitalizing on the Republican presumptive nominee Mitt Romney's harsh anti-immigrant messages and pushing to win Latino vote in a state that historically votes Republican.

"We believe we can be competitive in Arizona," Mahen Gunaratna, communications director for Obama's Arizona campaign, tells New Times. "Latinos will be a deciding factor in this election — and the outcome will have a long-lasting impact on the community."

He says that victory "depends on people spreading the word about President Obama's vision for a strong middle class, and Mitt Romney's extreme agenda, which is on the wrong side of every issue important to the Latino community — jobs, education, healthcare, and immigration."

As Romney clumsily reaches out for the Latino vote, he steps back from positions he took earlier on the campaign trail — declaring that "self-deportation" is the solution to the immigration problem, that he would veto the DREAM Act, and that SB 1070 was a model for the nation.

By comparison, Obama once again endeared and energized Latinos by declaring temporary immunity from deportation for undocumented students, suing Arizona over SB 1070, and pulling from Arizona the federal 287g program promptly after the Supreme Court ruling on SB 1070 (287(g) allows police officers to cross-train as immigration-enforcement agents), as well as stating that ICE wasn't going to respond to calls from Arizona cops plucking undocumented immigrants off the streets. It all has enthused Latinos who may have been prepared to sit out this election.

Republican leaders concede their party needs to re-evaluate its stance on illegal immigration, specifically in dealing with the estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants living in the country.

During a June 17 appearance on 12 News' Sunday Square Off, state Republican Party spokesman Shane Wikfors admitted that the Republicans need to deal with the immigration issue.

"This is a conversation that isn't going to go away anytime soon," he told host Brahm Resnik. "I think the Republican party needs to re-evaluate its position on how we deal with people that are part of us, and part of our community. This may go against the grain of the base, but look, we need to take a serious look at how we deal with people who are here in this country, and how to bring them into this melting pot we call America."

Wikfors' comments speak volumes about the importance of snatching the Latino vote.

On June 21, at a national conference of Latino officials in Florida, Romney pledged to find "common ground," reversing his earlier position and unveiling a proposal for permanent residency for highly skilled college graduates and members of the military, a better work visa system, and giving priority to legal permanent residents who are applying to bring family members to the U.S.

A poll conducted in April by longtime pollster Bruce Merrill and the Morrison Institute for Public Policy shows Arizona voters are evenly divided between President Obama and Romney.

It's an encouraging sign for moderates and liberals in a state that historically has been a deeper shade of red, especially considering that Arizona's own Senator John McCain won the state with only a nine-point lead over Obama in the 2008 presidential race.

The sun is setting as Adriana reaches the last of the homes on her clipboard. She's been walking for about two hours, hitting about 25 houses scattered throughout the Avondale community.

She approaches an older man trimming a bugambilia plant in his front yard and asks if she can leave some political literature with him. She hands him a "Carmona for Senate" door hanger; he seems skeptical. He asks whether she has met the candidate, and knows what kind of man he is.

"Oh, yeah. Me and a group of other students sat down with him," she tells him. "He's pretty amazing. He has a good story."

As she speaks to the man, Adriana tries to maintain eye contact while searching the bag over her shoulder for a pamphlet on Penzone. She comes up empty, but still tells him about the former cop's run against America's self-proclaimed toughest sheriff.

"We're hoping this is the year that Arpaio retires," she says.

"We're getting into that sheriff controversy?" the man asks, pausing from his work to look right at Adriana. "You think [Penzone] will do a better job than Sheriff Joe? Sheriff Joe is just doing his job."

Adriana politely fires back: "You think so? I don't think so. I think he's misusing our tax dollars, which is really bad. That money should be going into our schools. And I'm sure you've heard about the sexual abuse cases that were never investigated. I think that's a huge leadership problem. He can say he wasn't aware of it, but those are [his] people, and [he] should be looking over them and demonstrating a type of leadership that is helpful to Arizona."

The man pauses, resumes his yard work. "Yeah, I think you're right," he finally says. "It may very well be time for Sheriff Joe to retire and let someone else go in there and change things."

Adriana gives the man a thumbs-up as she walks away, a faint smile on her face.

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