U.S. House, District 7: Ruben Gallego cites climate change, Native issues as key

“We’re going to have to really do some heavy lifting to make sure we don’t underinvest ourselves into a recession,” Rep. Ruben Gallego says. (Photo courtesy of Ruben Gallego campaign)

Candidate name: Ruben Gallego
Political affiliation: Democrat
Position sought: U.S. House of Representatives, District 7
City of residence: South Phoenix
Age: 40
Current office: U.S. representative for District 7; previously served in the Arizona Legislature

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How would you rate Arizona’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic?

C or C+. The state was too slow to close and too quick to reopen, which caused a number of unnecessary deaths, Gallego said.

“You had the governor who basically took away the power from local officials to do what they needed to keep their communities safe,” he said.

On the economic side of the response, Gallego said Congress provided relief for Arizonans to stay home, but the state “was not very helpful” in terms of distributing unemployment checks, adding that some people went months without receiving benefits.

“People got evicted from their homes, lost their cars. And (in) that regard, I think it was not a very thought-out process, that the state government just did not do well.”

Eventually, Arizona did get it right, he said. The declining number of new cases earlier this fall showed this, but it’s a reflection on the people being responsible, masking up and socially distancing.

If reelected, what steps would you take to help mitigate the impact of this disease?

The impacts of the disease will economically affect the state in the long term, Gallego said, so Arizona needs to make targeted packages to restart small businesses.

Gallego emphasized credit ratings and how important they are for small business owners. He said the state must figure out a way to reinvigorate small businesses by helping them fix their credit and build long-term wealth.

Local governments also will need help with budgeting problems resulting from diminished tax revenue during the pandemic.

“We’re going to have to really do some heavy lifting to make sure we don’t underinvest ourselves into a recession.”

Do you have concerns regarding the security of our election?

The congressman said he isn’t too concerned with election security and doesn’t think votes will be manipulated, but he’s worried about misinformation spread by Russia and amplified by President Donald Trump, which could call the election results into question.

“It’s a dangerous thing. I think it’s something that will tear apart our country and I wish Donald Trump wouldn’t do that.”

Gallego said he has spoken with members of the House Armed Services Committee to ensure that voting is secure. Gallego serves on the committee, which has highlighted Russian election interference as a priority.

“We have some very dedicated and patriotic lifelong servants in the intelligence committees (who) are going to do everything they can to stop Russian interference,” he said. “But again, it doesn’t help if the president himself is spreading Russian propaganda.”

How could race relations be improved in Arizona?

“We need to hold the police more accountable,” Gallego said, adding that Black and Latino communities feel targeted by police officers, which leads to mistrust.

The “bad cops” are not being held accountable, he said, they’re fired or they resign from one department and move to the next.

“They’re not a militarized police force. They work for the voters of their districts. The unions, the Phoenix union, police officers association(s) … they’re not in charge.”

Congress introduced legislation after the death of George Floyd, including more punitive measures for police misconduct and training officers how to de-escalate tense situations, he said. It also would take away “their absolute protection from lawsuits.”

More criminal justice reform is needed, including the legalization of marijuana, he said, because convictions for marijuana possession disproportionately incarcerate Americans of color.

What is the greatest issue Arizona residents face? If reelected, how would you address it?

Climate change. Facing 55 days with temperatures 110 degrees or higher will negatively affect Arizonans, he said, and the state needs a plan to cool houses, cool streets and conserve and preserve water.

Gallego supported an infrastructure bill, recently passed by the House, which includes decarbonizing the environment, helping create resilient cities, and investing in advanced technology that will get water to homes. He wants the Senate to pass the bill.

“That’s the only way I think we’re going to be able to survive.”

What other issues are important to you and your campaign?

As chairman of the House Subcommittee of the Indigenous Peoples of the United States, Gallego emphasized the importance of the status of Native Americans.

“They have suffered through generations of neglect from the federal government,” Gallego said. “We have taken away a lot of their opportunities to be independent and at times we just outright have ignored their needs.”

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There are about 20 tribes in Arizona who control a third of the state’s land and water, he said.

“At some point, we’re going to need more water and our Indian tribes can have a right to say no,” Gallego said. This means it is important “to work with them, to benefit their economy and to have a good working relationship.”

When it comes to future legislation, he said he would prioritize tribal interests.

“We’re supposed to look out for the welfare of some of our tribal brothers and sisters.”

What in your past work, political or volunteer experience makes you a better candidate to hold this office?

When Gallego was a staff member for the city of Phoenix, he saw from the bottom what the government could do from the top.

Gallego said he helped create block watches and recreational programs in tough areas of south Phoenix.

“I know the district very well because I have worked (in) the district for forever.”

There are all walks of life in District 7, Gallego said, adding that some families have lived in south Phoenix since before statehood. Homes range from multigenerational houses to million dollar homes to homes for less than $100,000.

“This is a kind of district that, if you want to support (it), if you want to represent it, you have to work hard. You have to understand them and you have to respect them.”

What is a personal challenge you feel you need to overcome?

“I want to find a good work-life balance.”

Gallego has a 3½ year-old son, and because of COVID-19, he’s been able to stay home and spend a lot of time with the boy.

“I have a fiance (and) we’re going to get married next February,” he said. “I want to make sure I have time to spend with her.”

Gallego said he loves his job, the work he gets to do, and the career he has chosen. But finding that work-life balance would make him a better lawmaker.

“I’m not going to be a good member of Congress if I don’t have a good family life, a good stable family life,” he said.

Please share a quote or advice that you live by

“There is always an opportunity and there’s always a time for that opportunity,” he said. When they align, “that’s when you have to move.”

Is there anything else you would like to add?

“One of the things I’m also very proud of is that I turned my district from a low performing district to a very high performing district in terms of (voter) turnout.

“I’ve been a leader in this in the state, for different presidential candidates, and now I’m leading the charge to turn Arizona blue.”

Campaign website: gallegoforarizona.com