“Everything is built on relationships—that’s what I’ve learned in organizing.”
The state once known for some of the harshest anti-immigration laws in the country could soon have one of its most prolific immigration advocates as a representative in US Congress.
Arizona State Sen. Raquel Terán announced in April her plans to run for the seat currently held by US Democratic Rep. Ruben Gallego, seen as one of the state’s most progressive congressional representatives. Gallego, who is running for Kyrsten Sinema’s Senate seat, has made a name for himself as a left-leaning firebrand, and community members from the district want his replacement to fill a similar role.
Terán thinks she’s the woman for the job—and so do leaders in the community she calls home.
“The decision to run for office was made with close family and friends, and community partners that I’ve been working with for the last 20 years,” Terán said. “For us, shaping this campaign with the voices of the people in the district—with the voices of people who have ensured we have representation—has been integral.”
Terán grew up along Calle Internacional—the road that designates the border between the US and Mexico—and has spent her life surrounded by friends and family who live their lives on both sides of the border. Her interest in state governance was sparked by her roots; when elected officials began to propose harsh anti-immigration laws, Terán fought back.
“When I first got involved in Arizona politics, I got involved because of comprehensive immigration reform,” Terán told The Copper Courier. “As we’re having conversations in our communities, people are very mindful of how government has impacted their lives.”
From Organizer to Legislator
Terán began volunteering with the voter registration group Mi Familia Vota in 2008, working within Latino communities to increase voter registration and turnout. Since then, the number of Latinos registered to vote in Arizona has swelled from less than 100,000 to over 650,000 in 2022.
What began as voter outreach efforts grew into full-on immigration advocacy. Terán led a successful recall campaign against the state legislator who wrote the state’s “show me your papers” law, helped oust former Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio, and worked with grassroots groups like LUCHA to activate young voters and build support for progressive causes and candidates.
“When we have people who have these lived experiences, we can actually connect the dots in how policy impacts people’s lives,” Terán said. “When people like me are elected into positions of power, we can bring in the people who have been on the outside.”
Since then, Terán has gone on to hold the same office as the man she had recalled, sponsored legislation that would have guaranteed overtime pay for salaried employees, paid family leave for state employees, provided access to abortion care for telehealth patients, and provided protections of basic rights for Arizonans experiencing homelessness.
These proposals were never considered by the legislature, however, as Republicans in the majority rarely allow bills from Democrats to be brought to a vote. In 2023, for example, Republicans have only allowed the legislature to vote on 24 bills proposed by Democrats. They have, however, voted on more than 300 Republican bills, as reported by The Arizona Republic.
While serving in the legislature, Terán also led the Arizona Democratic Party during its most successful campaign cycle in decades, resulting in the elections of a Democratic governor, Democratic attorney general, the reelection of a Democratic US Senator, and bringing both chambers of the legislature just one seat away from a Democratic majority.
Progressive Groups Eager to Endorse
Her efforts have not gone unnoticed. Shortly after announcing plans to run for Arizona’s 3rd Congressional District, which covers the south and west portions of Phoenix, downtown, and parts of Glendale, Terán earned endorsements from influential progressive groups like Moms Fed up and Living United for Change in Arizona (LUCHA), as well as political powerhouses including former US Rep. Ann Kirkpatrick.
“Raquel has always represented this district,” said Alejandra Gomez, Executive Director for LUCHA. “With everyday people, with our union leaders, with Democratic Party leaders, with elected officials, with grassroots community organizations like ours, Raquel is building a bold, inclusive democracy that includes all of us.”
“It’s been such an honor to have Raquel be both a mentor—the person that brought me into organizing—and then also be a lifelong friend,” Gomez added. “What I have seen from her is that every role that she has taken has always been in service of ensuring that our community’s voice is being included, and that it’s being heard loud and clear.”
While community endorsements are not always decisive in campaigns, LUCHA’s track record in Arizona makes their support of Terán noteworthy and potentially game-changing.
“Their support really translates into ensuring that we truly and authentically engage with our communities,” Terán said.
Championing Popular, Progressive Policy
Over the years, LUCHA has mastered the art of presenting progressive policies and candidates to voters in a way that is appealing to the general public. They spearheaded the passage of several ballot propositions, including ones that raised the state minimum wage and tied its annual increases to inflation.
The group has also successfully implemented paid family leave for workers, pushed for millions of dollars in state funds to be invested in addressing Arizona’s housing crisis, led the charge to allow undocumented Arizonans access to in-state college tuition rates, and helped bridge the gap between traditional Democrats and the more progressive wing of the Party—without compromising their values.
The candidates LUCHA endorses, in turn, are able to protect the groups’ progressive wins from being undercut by Arizona’s conservative-led legislature.
Shortly after voters approved the minimum wage hike, Republicans sought to undermine the new wage rule by creating a lower tier of minimum wage for students. The bill, sponsored by Republican Rep. Travis Grantham, failed in part because of the efforts of Terán and her fellow Democrats, who worked tirelessly to defeat the bill and ensure the public knew what Republicans were trying to do.
“We stopped that bad bill, and we did that because we organized within our caucus, we organized with the majority party, but we also organized with members in our community. That’s what I’m proud of,” Terán said.
Terán believes it is because of people like her serving in the legislature that the public is made aware of unpopular bills, which in turn helps doom them to failure.
From Arizona Capitol to US Capitol
Terán sees these experiences as an asset as she seeks to serve in the US Congress, where her party is currently in the minority. In addition to organizing voters around unpopular bills, she says her time in the legislature has helped her to develop the skills necessary to negotiate with Republicans, so they can work together to pass meaningful, bipartisan legislation.
“At the state legislature, you have to ensure that you have relationships both with your caucus, as well as with the opposite side of the aisle,” Terán said. “Everything is built on relationships—that’s what I’ve learned in organizing.”
While initiatives such as immigration reform and living wages are of personal importance to Terán, she is also keenly aware of the needs of those in her community. Before formally announcing her plans to run for Congress, she spent months meeting with community members to hear their needs and learn what issues matter to them.
Some of the most common issues she heard about while on the pre-campaign trail include building a more equal economy, providing pathways to stable and affordable housing, universal healthcare, protecting democracy, and solutions to address the climate crisis.
“Our children can’t play outside because it’s too hot,” Teran said. “My kid is a seven-year-old that, when summer comes around, he can’t get on a slide, he can’t get on a swing, so addressing our climate crisis is an important issue to members of our community.”
Protecting Abortion Rights
There is perhaps no more hot-button issue at the moment than reproductive freedom.
In Arizona, where Republicans have been at the forefront of the nationwide attacks against abortion, protecting the right to reproductive health is of particular concern. As recently as April 2023, an anti-abortion law disguised as a measure to protect victims of domestic assault was passed by the Republican-led legislature.
Terán, a Planned Parenthood Advocates of Arizona Civic Engagement Leader, opposed the bill (which was ultimately vetoed by Gov. Katie Hobbs) and has been adamant that abortion rights advocates can expect to have her as their fiercest ally in Congress.
“There have been so many attacks [on] women’s reproductive health, and she has never backed down,” Gomez said. “What I know about Raquel is that she will never back down.”
But in order to advocate for these causes at a national level, Terán will first need to win. This is why she sees support from organizations like LUCHA as crucial to her victory—because they not only give support through words, but through actions. In 2022, LUCHA, along with a cohort of similarly-aligned groups known as One Arizona, spoke with more than 1 million Arizonans through door-to-door outreach, and were able to communicate by phone with voters over 8 million times.
And the candidates they spoke in support of—Governor Katie Hobbs, US Sen. Mark Kelly, and even Gallego—won.
“Our campaign is incredibly honored to have received the endorsement of Living United for Change” Terán said. “I have been involved with LUCHA since they started—since they were an organization we dreamed to see. Having LUCHA’s endorsement means a lot to me personally, and it also sends a strong message—that the strongest, most progressive organization is with us.”