Trailblazing lawmaker Ed Pastor remembered as tireless advocate, ‘legend’

Former U.S. Rep. Ed Pastor speaking at the National Council of La Raza Annual Conference at the Phoenix Convention Center in 2017. Pastor died Tuesday at age 75. (Photo by Gage Skidmore/Creative Commons)

WASHINGTON – Ed Pastor, a trailblazing Arizona lawmaker who was the first Hispanic from the state elected to Congress, died of a heart attack Tuesday in Phoenix, his family said. He was 75.

Gov. Doug Ducey ordered flags in the state to be flown at half-staff for Pastor, whom he called “an Arizona trailblazer and public servant.”

Pastor was a man of firsts. Born to a mining family in Claypool, he was the first in his family to go to college. After teaching high school, he began an involvement in politics that eventually led to his election to the U.S. House of Representatives from Phoenix, the first Mexican-American to Congress from Arizona.

Pastor, a Democrat, served 23 years in the House before stepping down in 2014, ending 40 years of public service.

His tenure in Washington included time on the powerful House Appropriations Committee, where Pastor helped secure federal funds for projects like the Valley’s light-rail system and a new traffic-control tower at Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport.

But when asked in 2014, as he prepared to leave Congress, to cite his most-important achievement, Pastor skipped the bricks-and-mortar projects and said he was most satisfied “where I helped individuals.”

“If you go to a family whose dad was not deported, that was a great accomplishment. The thousands of people that I helped become citizens, that’s a great accomplishment,” he said.

Pastor said the cornerstone of his personal brand of politics was mutual regard and being able “to treat every individual with respect.”

Rep.-elect Greg Stanton, D-Phoenix, said Pastor deserves credit for many aspects of daily life in Arizona, though he said the congressman would have never said so himself.

“No elected representative in Arizona history had a bigger impact on the daily lives of Arizonans,” said Stanton, until recently the mayor of Phoenix. “He deserves to be lauded as one of the most effective Congress members ever, but others have to tell that story because Ed Pastor would never tell that story.”

Stanton said Pastor’s legacy inspired him to run for Congress, and he hopes to carry that legacy on in his time on the Hill.

“He became friends with everyone, worked in a bipartisan way, and ultimately got the job done for the people he represents,” Stanton said. “If I could have a quarter of that success, I would consider my time here successful.”

In conversations with those who knew him, Pastor was described as a friend as often as he was praised for his legislative accomplishments. He was known for a low-key, bipartisan style that is a rarity in Washington today.

Former Arizona Rep. Jim Kolbe said Pastor would want his legacy to stress the importance of bipartisanship, which he said is essential in Congress.

“You can’t get things done by attacking other members, you have to work together to get things done,” said Kolbe, a Republican who represented Tucson. “That’s the way our government is set up, and Ed Pastor truly understood that. That’s what made him a great member to work with.”

Rep. Ruben Gallego, D-Phoenix, who succeeded Pastor in Congress, said in a statement Wednesday that “we mourn the passing and honor the legacy of an Arizona legend.”

“Congressman Pastor dedicated his career to protecting the civil rights of every American and making the American Dream possible to everyone, including the most vulnerable in our society,” said Gallego, adding that Pastor had inspired a generation.

-Cronkite News video by Charlene Santiago

Rep. Raul Grijalva, D-Tucson, said Pastor mentored him when he first started in Congress, and he treasured that friendship. “He’s going to be missed and his contributions to Arizona and the country as a whole are immense,” Grijalva said. “It’s a great loss for all of us and for his family in particular.”

Former Maricopa County Supervisor Mary Rose Wilcox said she knew Pastor for more than 40 years, and that his impact was felt in many parts of the state. Like others, however, she said it was his personality that had the biggest impact.

“He was the type of person that whenever anyone went to Washington they were treated very well by him – he had a very common touch,” Wilcox said. “You never thought of him as a big-shot congressman you thought of him as Ed, someone who could help the community.”

Edward Lopez “Ed” Pastor was born June 28, 1943, in the mining town of Claypool. He earned a bachelor’s degree in chemistry from Arizona State University, where he later earned a law degree.

He taught chemistry at North High School in Phoenix and later helped run the Guadalupe Organization Inc., a community nonprofit. When Raul Castro became the first Mexican-American elected governor of Arizona in 1974, Pastor joined his staff to work on civil rights issues.

Pastor was elected to the Maricopa County Board of Supervisors in 1976 and was regularly re-elected until his successful bid for Congress in 1991, when he won a special election to fill the seat vacated by an ailing Rep. Mo Udall, D-Tucson.

After leaving Congress in 2014, Pastor founded the Pastor Center for Politics and Public Service at ASU, which works to encourage civic engagement by students and groom them to “assume leadership positions in the public, private and nonprofit sectors.”

For his part, Pastor had no problem saying what he hoped his legacy would be.

“I hope that my legacy is, ‘If I went to Ed, and I had a problem, he helped me with it and I’m better off today with him helping me,'” he said, before leaving Congress.

In a family statement released Wednesday by his daughter, Phoenix City Councilwoman Laura Pastor, the family said Pastor would “be remembered for his commitment to his family and his legacy of service to the community he loved, the state of Arizona and the nation.” The family asked for privacy but said details on memorial services would be forthcoming.

– Cronkite News reporters Ian Solomon and Charlene Santiago in Washington and Brianna Bradley in Phoenix contributed to this report.

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