Feathered Bastard

Arizona Democratic Party and Ruben Gallego Take Money from Nativist Mark Spencer's PLEA

There's absolutely no doubt that Mark Spencer, head of the Phoenix Law Enforcement Association, has turned the police union into an anti-immigration juggernaut. Spencer has been a tireless backer of state Senator (and neo-Nazi hugger) Russell Pearce's efforts to turn all law enforcement officers in Arizona into immigration agents. He's one of Sheriff Joe Arpaio's strongest supporters. And he's transformed his post into a nativist bully pulpit, appearing frequently on Mexican-basher J.D. Hayworth's former radio show, for instance, to back a far-right stance against undocumented people in the city and state.

So why would the Arizona Democratic Party and Ruben Gallego, ex-chief of staff for Phoenix City Councilman Michael Nowakowski and candidate for the state house in Legislative District 16, which includes largely Hispanic areas such as South Phoenix and Guadalupe, take donations from a group led by such an odious individual?

According to campaign finance reports on the Arizona Secretary of State's Web site, Gallego took $410 in cash from PLEA's PAC, which is chaired by Spencer. Gallego also proudly lists PLEA on the endorsement page of his Web site along with such lefty union groups as SEIU and the United Food and Commercial Workers Union.

Gallego also notes in his bio that he's "the son of two Hispanic immigrants."

So why does he take funds from a guy like Spencer who has targeted the Hispanic community in rhetoric and action? A guy who has spread incendiary shibboleths about the Mexican military operating in Phoenix? A guy who never passes up the opportunity to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with Russell Pearce?

"Spencer represents a lot of police officers," Gallego responded when I called him for comment. "And those police officers -- when it comes to labor issues -- I'm going to support [them] at the state Capitol. I clearly [told PLEA] I would do that, but will not support any of their immigration views."

Gallego was quick to point out that he's participated in anti-Sheriff Joe marches and does not support Joe's style of police work. He made a separation between the leadership of PLEA, which decided to give him the nod, and the rank-and-file members of that union.

The problem both Gallego and Phoenix cops have is that Spencer has been elected by that same rank and file. Perhaps Spencer is in his second term as PLEA honcho because he's been a successful advocate on bread-and-butter issues for cops. But Spencer is also one of the many faces of anti-immigrant hate in Arizona. His advocacy for turning the Phoenix Police Department into a Mexican-rousting army cannot be compartmentalized and ignored.

Which is why all Democrats supportive of comprehensive immigration reform should turn down endorsements and donations from Mark Spencer's PLEA until he no longer heads that organization.

Gallego scoffed that $410 "is nothing." (Gallego's raised $24K to date, according to his campaign filings.) So I suggested that if he didn't need the money, he should return the contribution.

"Would that make you feel better?" he replied after a pregnant pause. He went on to state that it would be an "insult" to return the dough, so he wouldn't be considering that possibility.

Equally troubling is the state Democratic Party taking Spencer's payola. Last year, Arizona Dems took $1,000 from PLEA. In 2008, it also took $1,000. The state GOP has accepted far more from PLEA. But then, the state Republican Party, led by anti-immigrant bigot Randy Pullen, is far more in line with Mark Spencer's way of thinking.

State Dems spokeswoman Jennifer Johnson also rationalized pocketing the green, arguing that Spencer just happens to head the union.

"The Democratic Party has a long-standing relationship with various law enforcement organizations," she told me. "We value those relationships...That doesn't mean we're going to agree with them on every issue."

If Arizona Dems are going to use that yardstick, they might as well take money from Randy Pullen. After all, that doesn't mean they're going to agree with Sand Land GOPers on everything.

If, hypothetically, PLEA was headed by Russell Pearce or Joe Arpaio, would the Dems and Gallego still take the cash? In deed and word, Spencer may be a junior member of the he-man Mexican-haters league, compared to Pearce and Arpaio, but he's still on board with their program of de facto ethnic cleansing.

During one visit to J.D. Hayworth's erstwhile afternoon show on KFYI, Spencer summed up his attitude toward the undocumented: They're all criminals.

"I think it's difficult for a person who's in this country illegally to obey the law -- in a Biblical fashion," stated Spencer of religious leaders speaking out against anti-immigrant rhetoric, "when every moment they're here illegally is the further commission of a crime."

What Spencer teaches in Sunday school is one thing. To whom he gives money as the head of PLEA is another. So why sully yourself, your message, or your commitment to social justice by taking it?

PS: Thanks for the comment below, Dennis. I don't remember speaking to Gallego at the march. I did see him there. I may have said or nodded hello, but we did not have a conversation. If we had, I wouldn't have a problem admitting it. In fact, I would have used it in the blog item! Grist for the mill, dontcha know.

It's not really that important of a point, as I didn't (and don't) challenge his statement that he's attended marches. There were a lot of people present at the march. Politicians, ordinary people, etc. Not many of them have taken money or an endorsement from Mark Spencer's PLEA, though. I can think of one other.

PLEA is a dangerous organization while Spencer remains its president. As you know, Spencer is a crucial Joe Arpaio ally. Why is he a crucial Arpaio ally? Because he's the head of PLEA. It's not because of his looks. 

Gallego might be a swell fella. I know he has the support of some powerful politicos and organizations. I don't think he needs the money or the endorsement from PLEA. And I don't think the Dems should take money from PLEA, either. Not until Spencer's out of there.