Raul Grijalva relishes a good fight

  • Raul M. Grijalva

    Ruben Reyes
 

NAME
Raúl M. Grijalva

HOMETOWN
Tucson, Arizona

AGE
58

VOCATION
Serving the U.S. House of Representatives for Arizona’s 7th District

HE SAYS
"The environment is connected entirely to time: The more time you lose or waste, the less protection you have."

Congressman Raúl Grijalva is a different kind of politician. Plain-spoken and refreshingly unguarded, he disdains deal-making. When he finds something funny — or ridiculous — he’s quick to laugh, with an infectious joie de vivre.

But he doesn’t suffer fools gladly, and there’s a steely note in his musical baritone that warns listeners not to underestimate him. Grijalva plans to be a thorn in the paw of the Beltway’s ruling class for as long as he can manage it.

Grijalva is a lonely figure in Congress. Democrats like him are few — he is a champion of unions, the environment, immigrant rights and strong social programs — and even moderate Republicans are far to his right.

Nonetheless, the two-term congressman can point to significant victories. "I’m most proud that we’ve been able to return some land that was stolen from the Colorado Indian Tribe," he says. A 1915 executive order by President Woodrow Wilson took more than 15,000 acres away from the tribe, whose reservation lies about 200 miles west of Phoenix, and put it in the hands of mining companies. In 2003, Grijalva took up the cause, finally prevailing last year. In 2005, he was instrumental in restoring environmental justice funding to the Environmental Protection Agency’s budget.

"We also put up a great fight to protect the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge," he says, adding with a smile, "In fact, we’re still putting up a great fight on that issue."

These fights matter, he says: "Setting the stage for future victory is critical, as is drawing a line in the sand about what’s right."

Grijalva is firmly rooted in the southern Arizona desert. His mother is an Ajo, Ariz., native. His father was a bracero, a Mexican who moved north to work in agriculture as part of this country’s original guest-worker program, and became a ranch hand. The family moved to Tucson when Grijalva was in second grade.

Grijalva first entered politics in 1974 to boost Latino representation on Tucson’s school board. During a 13-year stint on the Pima County Board of Supervisors that began in 1989, Grijalva faced off with developers and pushed for the Sonoran Desert Protection Plan. As a congressman, his environmental voting record has garnered A+ report cards from Defenders of Wildlife and the League of Conservation Voters.

"I grew up in the beautiful Sonoran Desert, surrounded by mountains," says Grijalva. "I could see for myself that because of unrestrained growth, the stunning public spaces I’d grown up with were disappearing."

Recently, however, Grijalva’s environmental agenda has been overshadowed by the national immigration debate.

Grijalva calls the efforts of his Republican colleagues to bolster border security and make illegal immigration a felony "mean-spirited and perverse." He is working on a plan for comprehensive immigration reform — similar to his unsuccessful 2005 bipartisan bill — that would provide earned legalization for those already in the United States, practical enforcement, and a more streamlined citizenship process for new immigrants.

But his views on immigration have not been easy for even some fellow Democrats to swallow, and these days he’s not fitting so comfortably inside the Arizona Democratic Party’s big tent.

Grijalva lashed out when Gov. Janet Napolitano declared a state of emergency over undocumented immigration in August 2005. The Democratic governor called for more enforcement funding and National Guard patrols along the Arizona portion of the border. The normally jovial Grijalva has been fiercely critical: This quasi-military response, he says, is insulting, environmentally destructive, and ineffective.

Immigration will be spotlighted in this year’s mid-term elections: While Congress weighs various proposals, Grijalva’s potential opponents are already raising border-related issues. Two Republicans are poised to vie for the chance to unseat Grijalva: Joseph Sweeney, a perennial anti-immigration candidate, and former Avondale mayor Ron Drake, who says immigration is one of his top concerns.

Grijalva — and his loyal supporters — say they look forward to the fight.

The author is a freelance author and nomad currently writing from somewhere in Arizona’s Sonoran Desert.

High Country News Classifieds
  • BACKCOUNTRY FILM FESTIVAL MANAGER
    Boise-based Winter Wildlands Alliance is looking for an experienced and highly motivated individual to organize our annual Backcountry Film Festival and Tour and coordinate additional...
  • LAND CONSERVATION MANAGER
    SUMMARY Leads, administers and manages the land conservation, conservation easement stewardship, and property management activities of the City of Fort Collins Natural Areas Department within...
  • CLEAN ENERGY PROGRAM ATTORNEY, NEVADA
    Position Summary: Western Resource Advocates (WRA) is seeking a Staff Attorney who is passionate about Western communities and the protection of the natural environment to...
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    Deschutes River Conservancy in Bend, Oregon
  • WATER POLICY ANALYST WITH WRA (BOULDER)
    Position Summary: Western Resource Advocates seeks a passionate Water Policy Analyst with knowledge of western water issues to join our Healthy Rivers Team to strengthen...
  • GILA NATIONAL FOREST
    9+ acre inholding. Passive solar strawbale off the grid and next to the Continental Divide Trail in ponderosa pine/doug fir forest at 7400.
  • HIRING BEARS EARS EDUCATION CENTER DIRECTOR
    Conservation nonprofit Friends of Cedar Mesa in Bluff, Utah is hiring an Education Center Director to oversee the operation of the Bears Ears Education Center....
  • PROGRAM MANAGER, SUSTAINING FLOWS
    Friends of the Verde River, Cottonwood, AZ. Apply at https://verderiver.org/employment-opportunities/
  • PROGRAM ASSOCIATE - VERDE RIVER EXCHANGE
    Verde River Exchange - Friends of the Verde River, Cottonwood, AZ. Apply at https://verderiver.org/employment-opportunities/
  • CODE COMPLIANCE OFFICER
    Teton County Planning & Building is hiring! Our ideal candidate is a team-player, a problem-solver, pays attention to detail, and can clearly communicate technical material...
  • ARCHITECTURE DRAFTSPERSON/PROJECT MANAGER
    Studio Architects is seeking a full time Architectural drafts-person/project manager with1-3 years of experience to join our firm. At Studio Architects our mission is to...
  • ASSISTANT MANAGER/TRAINEE, COLORADO RANCH
    needed for 16,000+ acre conservation property in south central Colorado. Qualified candidate would have experience working on a ranch or wilderness property, general forestry/fire management...
  • FARM HAND &/OR NANNY IN ESCALANTE
    Nanny for 18-mnth-old. Yearly salary, vacation, health insurance. Spanish/other foreign-language native spkr prefrrd.
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    Washington Association of Land Trusts seeks an ED to build on WALTs significant success & to lead the association to new levels of achievement. See...
  • BEAUTIFUL CUSTOM STRAWBALE HOME IN WESTERN COLORADO!
    Secluded, energy efficient Southwestern home on 40 wooded acres. Broker - Rand Porter - United Country Real Colorado Properties. 970-261-1248, $425K
  • FORMER RETREAT CENTER/CONSERVATION PROPERTY FOR SALE
    57 acres in Skull Valley, AZ, 17 miles from Prescott, year-round creek, swimming holes, secluded canyon, hiking/meditation trails, oaks, pines, garden, greenhouse. House, office building,...
  • HISTORIC RANCH HOME W/ 20 ACRES
    Historic 1893 Ranch Headquarters. 4 Bdrm, 3.5 Ba, 4000 ft2. Remodeled 2002. Includes 2 studio apts, stables, arena, workshop, 5 RV hookups. Chirachua & Peloncillo...
  • VICE PRESIDENT OF RETAIL OPERATIONS
    The Vice President of Retail Operations will provide overall leadership and accountability for purchasing, product development, merchandising planning, visual merchandising, retail operational excellence, oversight and...
  • ASSOCIATE DIRECTOR
    Grand Staircase Escalante Partners seeks an experienced fundraiser with excellent communication and organizational skills.
  • PROGRAM MANAGER
    position in Phoenix with the Babbitt Center for Land and Water Policy.