Parraz Has the Right Values, but He’s Thin on Substance

Candidate for U.S. Senate, Randy Parraz

In a video shot at a campaign appearance for the Democrats of Greater Tucson, Randy Parraz – a community organizer running in the Democratic primary for John McCain’s Senate seat – says voters should ask themselves “what type of values this person has.”

In an interview with Blog for Arizona writers, Parraz talks about how he thinks he is the candidate with the right values to replace Senator John McCain in November. “[Voters] need someone who understands the issues,” says Parraz, citing his history of working as a union leader and organizing against Sherriff Joe Arpaio. “We don’t need a traditional candidate,” Parraz continued.

In fact, Parraz spends a lot of time making the case for himself as the candidate with the right values to represent Arizona in the Senate. And, as a progressive and a grassroots activist, I appreciate Parraz’s background as a community organizer. After spending over an hour and a half on the phone with Parraz and his campaign staff, I am reminded of my days working with Obama for America. The same kind of grassroots excitement that fueled Obama’s presidential campaign, and the Dean campaign in 2000, is now evident in Parraz’s organization. I believe that Randy Parraz is a man who genuinely wants to fix Arizona.

Unfortunately, I just don’t think that Parraz’s good intentions are enough.

With all the buzz surrounding Parraz’s candidacy, I was excited to have an opportunity to chat with him about the substantive proposals he brings to the table. But, while researching Parraz’s platform and political stances, I soon came to a frightening realization: for the boatloads of evidence out there demonstrating that Parraz has the right values to be this state’s next senator, he’s got very few tangible ideas.

For example, in our interview, I asked Parraz to clarify his remarks on Arizona Illustrated two weeks ago, when he said that we “can’t secure the border” and that it would be insulting to try. Arguably, illegal immigration is the issue that will draw Arizona voters on both sides of the aisle to the ballot box this year; every aspiring politician running right now should have a polished answer on the subject available at a moment’s notice. Parraz is quick to say that he opposes sending additional National Guard troops to the border, saying, “I don’t buy into the argument that the border is insecure. How many agents do we need to feel the border is secure?”  He further quipped, “Republicans only want bigger government on the border.”

However, when Parraz was asked about what his ideal comprehensive immigration reform package might look like, he was disappointingly thin on details. The usual Democratic platform was present – he supports family reunification, and the DREAM Act; opposes mass deportation of illegal immigrants. But on the question of whether illegal immigrants should pay a fine, Parraz is vague. At best, Parraz advocates raising our existing low-skilled job quotas, and allowing existing illegal immigrants to choose a pathway to citizenship, legalization or temporary worker status, but specific details on how to implement these pathways  (without affecting America’s existing labour shortage) were absent. And as for whether or not his comprehensive immigration reform package involved re-examining our system for recruiting highly-skilled immigrants, Parraz offered only platitudes, saying, “America needs to maintain our competitive edge.”

Parraz at a press conference during his community organizing days, in 2008

Even on his “top priority” issue – jobs and the economy – Parraz offers few ideas. When I asked Parraz about the first bill he would love to sponsor in the Senate to address this issue, Parraz used the opportunity to attack John McCain by saying, “the top issue [in this state is] jobs and the economy. [On this], John McCain has been disengaged for 24 years.”

Parraz highlights the gap between the minimum wage and the living wage, saying that “people should be paid for the work they’re supposed to be doing.” Parraz criticizes the existing system, which he characterizes as a virtual “black market” of workers who are paid below the minimum wage. He further observes that Wal-Mart is Arizona’s largest employer, using this to support his argument that Arizona must attract high-tech jobs to provide sustainability for the state’s job market. But, again, Parraz avoids details when asked how we might accomplish this. Parraz says that, if elected, he would work to figure out if the state properly leverages its federal stimulus money in the fields of energy, healthcare and tourism. He further would like to examine how we might attract small businesses to the state by re-examining federal regulations on affected industries. Finally, Parraz would like to “engage the private sector.”

In fact, on many issues, Parraz seems intent on “engaging the private sector” – this was a phrase he repeated over and over again throughout the interview. On his website, Parraz emphasizes the failing quality of public education and suggests improving federal and private funding of Arizona’s public schools. When asked what role the private sector could have in public education, Parraz cited existing programs that allow private corporations to “create committees that provide computers and networking, and to adopt certain schools.” Parraz seemed surprised when I questioned whether inviting private corporations to sponsor schools could result in increased  numbers of fast food outlets and vending machines in public school hallways, saying merely that part of the private sector would also be interested in reducing obesity and improving the health of our children.

The one substantial platform point I could find on Parraz’s website was on a proposed “financial transactions tax”. In brief, Parraz supports implementation of a tax on any purchase or sale of stocks or bonds, which Parraz feels would “provide a pot of money to deal with some of the damage done by financial institutions.”

“Banks have been getting a free ride,” comments Parraz, summarizing the nation’s general ill-will towards big banks. But, when asked about the effect such a tax might have on the nation’s economy, Parraz provided only limited discussion. The tax, which has generally been described in economist circles as a small fee to slow the market (and thereby discourage the kinds of strange distortions that can cause a market crash) can, by definition, slow economic growth by discouraging trading. Parraz seemed unaware of his proposal’s potential effects. Surprisingly, he also dismissed suggestions that the cost of the tax might be passed on by banks to consumers, saying only, “the tax will not bankrupt large banks.” When asked if a capital gains tax, rather than a financial transactions tax, might better accomplish his goal to target big banks and increase revenue, Parraz admitted he didn’t know much about capital gains taxes.

The press conference in 2008 was conducted the morning after Parraz was arrested by Sheriff Joe Arpaio's officers during a peaceful protest.

Finally, I asked Parraz about his stance on science research and technology. Again, Parraz was only able to fire questions back at me. Although he supports stem cell research, Parraz had no particular thoughts on how to improve federal funding of scientific research. He cited the fact that federal stimulus money has supported new research proposals (it has), but suggested that as senator, he would address additional lack of research funding by looking at what other research projects needed money. Never mind that the National Institutes of Health and National Science Foundation are the clearinghouses for research proposals – it almost sounded like, as senator, Parraz would be interested in adopting a side job as a grants reviewer.

I’ll admit that prior to this interview, I knew virtually nothing about Randy Parraz and his campaign to be Arizona’s U.S. Senator. In fact, I only knew of Parraz’s candidacy through the attacks of his online supporters against front-runner Rodney Glassman (incidentally, on this point, Parraz’s campaign only touts the freedom of bloggers to write whatever they choose – a position I’m generally in favour of). But, I figured that if Parraz was able to attract such fervent support in political bloggers – who tend to be a thoughtful and intelligent bunch – he must not be too bad.

And indeed, Parraz seems like a genuinely good guy, who won’t intentionally do wrong by Arizona in the U.S. Senate. Sadly, I think Arizona needs more than just a man with the right values to fix the problems in this state. We need a senator with the right ideas and the right values, who is capable of articulating both why we need a change and what we can do to tangibly affect that change. Parraz might have enough heart to be our senator, but with less than ten days left until the Democratic primary election, it may be too late to prove to voters that he’s also got the thoughtfulness to back it up.

Cross-posted: Blog for Arizona

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