The walls of state Rep. Demion Clinco’s office are still bare. He only moved in two weeks ago after he was appointed to the vacant House seat, and the only bit of color in the office are his bright green socks. But the Democrat lights up while he talks about his new LD 2, SB1062 and trade with Mexico. Here's a wide-ranging Q&A with Green Valley and Sahuarita's newest state representative, who replaced Sen. Andrea Dalessandro after she was appointed to former Sen. Linda Lopez's seat.
Q: Can you size up the key issues in the district right now?
A: In the district I think … we have some major environmental issues. Going out, speaking with stakeholders, I mean there’s real concerns about infrastructure needs, about HOA bills that are moving through the legislative process, and education is a major issue. So those are things that, just in going out and speaking with stakeholders and constituents in the last few weeks, these are the major pressing concerns that I think are facing the district and things that I’m certainly going to work on here.
Q: How have you spent your first few weeks in office?
A: So it’s been very busy. I was assigned committees, government and financial institutions. I dropped a bill which is specifically looking at, it’s like an Arizona local-first bill so when companies are bidding on state contract the preference would be given to the company with its offices in Arizona. So it keeps more money local. When $100 is invested into a local business $73 stays in the local economy versus national, which is in the 40s. So it’s good for economics and it’s good for local business. Especially as we’re moving out of this recession we really need to be embracing and enhancing and improving our local business climate. Certainly in the district there are so many local businesses and hopefully some of them can take advantage of this.
So I dropped the bill, I got it agendized on the committee and I actually got it through the committee. So I’m now meeting with stakeholders from the Arizona Chamber to some large companies that have businesses here in local first Arizona and working on creating some amendments so that everybody is really satisfied with the bill and it really meets its function and purpose.
Q: Are you going to be able to whip up enough votes to get it passed?
A: I think that if I can get these stakeholders on board and we can craft an amendment so it doesn’t exclude large corporations, which I think will already have a major stake in the state, then I think it has a good chance of moving through the House.
So that was Week One, and then Week Two has really been defined by SB1062. So you know I’m the only openly LGBT legislator in the House of Representatives, so I stood up and have taken a stand against this bill. I think it’s very toxic to our state, I think there’s no justification for discrimination, so to see a bill like this even presented on the floor of the House is, I think, very discouraging sort of for the future of our state. To see the sort of impact that it’s having economically is also very worrisome. I mean when major corporations like Apple and American Airlines and PetSmart are all talking about pulling out or writing letters to the Governor to say to veto, then that’s something that is very concerning.
Q: You can kind of tell they didn’t expect this bill to have the kind of backlash that it’s had because there’s already three senators who have changed their mind about it. What do you think about that?
A: I think there’s so much bad policy. I mean, when we talk about policy, when you say is this really good for Arizona, does this move Arizona forward or is this a divisive, polarizing bill that does something like discriminates or takes rights away or attacks minority groups. I mean, when we see these types of bills coming forward, it’s not about good policy its about subjugating and discriminating against parts of our community that some people in this body don’t value. So to say that they weren’t expecting this bill to blow up, I believe that. I think they were hoping this bill would move through quietly and that then people could be discriminated against and it was specifically an attack on the LGBT community as an unprotected class in the cities that have actually passed ordinances like Tucson and Phoenix to make sure that those communities aren’t discriminated against.
Q: So is it frustrating to you that the only way that you can speak out against these bills, because you can’t really vote them down as Democrats if they have the Republican majority, is by making a big deal about it and causing it to blow up nationally.
A: I mean, I don’t think we made a big deal about it… I think that it’s a good reminder for this body and for this government that the nation is watching. You know when we’ve passed things like the Martin Luther King, not having the holiday and SB1070 and we continue to pass bills that are so catalyzing that the entire country focuses on them. I mean, clearly the media is watching what’s going on in Arizona and so when we pass a bill that harkens back to the Jim Crowe era.
Q: So that’s been your first two weeks, which have been pretty busy… So what do you kind of see happening down the line?
A: I mean, there’s a variety of things, there’s a number of legislative issues that I’ve been slowly working on. I’m really interested in a reinvestment tax credit for historic communities like Nogales that could really impact South Tucson, so those are things that I’m working on. There’s also just a tremendous amount of legislation moving through the system that’s so incredibly time consuming to really fully understand what are the implications of all of these new laws that we’re making in our state? So I’ve spent my first week with very sleepless nights just trying to catch up on everything that I missed on the first two weeks and then sort of getting an understanding of the rhythm and meeting my colleagues and making new friends and sort of understanding how this process works.
Q: How important are you finding it is to meet your new colleagues?
A: Incredibly important and for me its really, because I was placed in this position during the legislative session. I mean, I’ve had maybe two or three hours to myself in the last three and a half weeks. I’ve spent my time every weekend going out into the district. I’ve met with the mayor of Nogales, I’ve met with the Green Valley town council and then trying to balance that with also making connections and really meeting my colleagues and getting to know them and what their issues are and what’s the issues facing their constituency and their districts and what are our shared values because I really think there is opportunity at a very core level. The thing that has surprised me the most is really how wonderful all of these legislators really are when you sit down and you meet them one to one. I mean, people come with such diverse backgrounds and expertise and it takes a lot to get here so to really sit down and meet people one to one it is really reassuring in an odd way, and yet there is this sort of less appealing group mentality that exists within the majority party.
Q: Are you having trouble meeting with people in the majority party just because of the divide that’s going on right now?
A: Not at all. I mean, at the end of the day, this bill (SB 1062), we’ve gone through the process, we’ve had that debate and now it’s gone to the governor. And it is, in a lot of ways, a distraction. It’s like all the attention is on this one bill and yet there are so many other bills that I think will have repercussions, negative and positive into the state and we’re not discussing those issues. So it is a sort of very odd experience to be sitting here in sort of the epicenter of a storm. (Editor's note: This interview took place before Gov. Jan Brewer vetoed SB 1062.)
Q: What’s your plan to get out and meet people?
A: So my goal is really to try and spend part of every weekend down in the district. This coming Sunday, I’ll be down in the Amado area. So it’s really to get out and understand not just the different municipalities and communities and what their legislative agendas are but also really meet with individuals and find out what are the major issues facing individuals. During the appointment process I sat down with almost every precinct committee person and I heard about people concerned about insurance and paying their car insurance and mental health issues and education. So these are the things when I got here, I already sort of had on my radar because those are the issues that the constituents of LD2 articulated were important to them. So I’ve been trying very hard to track legislation that will affect those issues and reach out back to the community and say, “You know this is happening, what are your thoughts?” and I hope to do that more as time progresses and I really get an opportunity to know constituents and their concerns.
Q: So is that something you plan to do for the entire session is go back down there?
A: Yeah. This is a significant responsibility and it’s not something that I’m taking very lightly. It’s really going to be my goal to get down as frequently as possible and its hard because I was also running a business, running a non-profit before I got here and this is very time consuming so to balance those responsibilities and sort of begin to responsibly step away from some of those commitments is taking a little time too, but so far it seems to be going OK.
Q: How do you connect with the GOP voters in a district that’s represented by three Democrats?
A: So, fundamentally, I think that good policy is good policy. I mean, I really believe that there are shared values in our state. You know we all recognize that there are concerns about water, we recognize that there are concerns about climate change and its impact on our desert, there are these shared values that we have. Now how we get to the conclusion and what the policy is, that’s where we start to divide. But I really do believe that the majority of Arizonans are very, very reasonable people and I’ve had nothing but good experiences with anybody I’ve met down in the legislative district. In fact, if you look at who appointed me to this position it was two Republicans and one Democrat (on the Pima County Board of Supervisors), so I think that might speak to my background and my ability to work across party lines on issues.
Q: But does it force you to be a little more moderate knowing that you come from a district with so many GOP voters.
A: So I come from a family that has a medium-size family business in Tucson that I’ve been involved in the running of, so I really am cognizant of small-business issues. I’ve run a non-profit that really deals with historic preservation, which is a bipartisan issue that’s really about community reinvestment. So I think on social issues I tend to be very liberal and on fiscal issues I tend to be more on the moderate side. So I think as legislation moves through it is truly on a case-by-case basis.
Q: Do you speak Spanish?
A: I don’t but I am working on. I lived in Italy for a number of years so I have some Italian capacity, but I’m working on Spanish.
Q: There’s a bill to move the Santa Cruz County line north. It’s kind of stalled, but what do you think of the issue?
A: I think it would have huge negative repercussions. It would have negative repercussions both to Santa Cruz County and Pima County. The bill was sort of very broad and then when analysis started to be done, it was clear that if the line was moved, Santa Cruz County would actually have to acquire all of Pima County’s assets, which are enormous. Santa Cruz County is not a wealthy county, it has a very different economic profile than Pima County because it doesn’t have a major community hub, so to look at the economic havoc that could be sort of placed upon Santa Cruz County if this happened, I mean it would be devastating for generations to come. The burden would be placed on Green Valley and Sahuarita and the new communities that would be added to fill that gap. So right now you have all this infrastructure shared by taxpayers throughout Pima County and Tucson and now it would just be Nogales and Santa Cruz and there’s a huge population disparity, so I mean it would mean very, very huge negative impacts so it’s something that I would strongly, strongly oppose.
Q: How do you feel about the proposed Rosemont Mine?
A: So I come from a background of historic preservation and I come with a very strong value system based in environmental conservation, so Rosemont Mine is not something I support for the impacts on the water but also there’s the environmental issue. Our economy is really based on heritage and ecotourism so to damage the Santa Ritas, which is a place where people come to see birds, to experience the beauties of Arizona and the Southwest for short-term gains would be significant. And I’m reading today that Rosemont actually has much larger plans. It’s not just the “small” mine, I put that in air quotes, the smaller mine, the smaller concept that they’ve proposed and that they’ve been moving through the federal permitting process with. But they have always envisioned, according to reports today, a much larger project. So that really brings tremendous concerns about what the real impacts of this type of mining operation would be on water, on the environment, on the long-term quality of life in the district. So it’s not something that I support.
Q: Do you see any way of stopping it?
A: I think that this recent revelation will hopefully raise some questions within the federal permitting process and then maybe they’ll be forced to go back. It is very, very concerning to hear their leadership talking about a much more expansive project and I think that it’s concerning that the scale and scope of the envisioned project has been misrepresented not only to the community but the federal agencies that have been reviewing the project. So I hope that with nothing else there is a step back and we can really evaluate what this is and I hope that as determinations are made or now maybe are remade that the project won’t move forward.
Q: This is an election year and you originally wanted the state Senate seat that Andrea Dalessandro got and you got this one, but do you plan on running for state Senate or so you plan on running for the House?
A: No, I plan on running for this seat. I’m filing this week so it’s taken a little bit of time sort of in the midst of everything else to get my paperwork together. You know, I applied for the state Senate seat because that was where the vacancy was. Really, my goal was to help in any way that I could to serve our state and our district so which seat it was was less important than being here to speak for the constituents of Arizona and LD2
Q: So what are you looking at in that campaign season; have you run a campaign before?
A: This is my first one.
Q: Are you nervous about that?
A: I think it’s going to be… I’m not entirely sure what to expect. I’ve been involved in a number of Democratic campaigns over the years. I really am looking forward to again getting to know the district and everybody in the district with this process. I have sort of this rosy outlook about how great it’s going to be to really hear what the issues are. I think it dovetails nicely into being able to better serve the district now and into the future.
Q: What are your big topics that you plan on campaigning on?
A: I’ve had a very short time here and I feel like I’ve gotten stuff done. I mean there are legislators here who haven’t even gotten a bill heard by a committee. So I don’t know. Quite frankly, I think as the campaign comes together, again it’s my major core values which is the environment, education and really listening to the concerns of the district. I mean really, isn’t that what it’s all about in the end?
Q: Do you have any concrete ideas on how to generate cross border trade with Mexico?
A: I’m going down in the next two weeks with Sen. (Steve) Farley to visit the Mariposa Port and visit a number of the agricultural import facilities and so again really building a partnership with the city of Nogales and their leadership and on the other side of the border is something I hope to do in the coming months and year.
Q: What does the Mariposa Port really mean for the state?
A: It’s a major port of entry so the agricultural goods that are coming across our state and the bilateral trade are incredibly important to our economy. There’s a backlog of trucks getting through and there is anticipated that the amount of trucks coming from Mexico to Arizona is going to increase significantly in the coming of years as the recession completely dissipates and we move into sort of a bull economy. We have to have border infrastructure that can facilitate significant trade across the border. If we have roadblocks and produce is deteriorating because of long wait times, that traffic will go elsewhere because it is the path of least resistance. So if we can’t provide the services and facility, they’ll go, they’ll move to Texas or California. So we have to work to get federal investment into the border to be able to accommodate that sort of heavy traffic.
Q: There’s also that bill that makes it possible for visitors to travel throughout the state instead of just to Southern Arizona, which could hurt Tucson and Pima County shopping.
A: I think we are all together in Arizona, but at the same time it is interesting that that is coming out of Phoenix and the very places that were responsible and the communities that were really responsible for helping get SB1070 through. So there’s definitely been, I sense there’s been a shift. In the last six months, I’ve heard so much about bilateral trade with Mexico, how important it is to our state, that it’s a key component. Phoenix and Tucson and cities all over the state are sending delegations to build partnerships and try to repair some of the damage that was done by this toxic legislation. So I think it’s certainly going to take time to sort of heal those relationships and rebuild new relationships, but it’s key and it’s important.
I do have trepidations, I’m a little concerned that it will siphon off resources from Southern Arizona. I just read the statistics and I don’t want to misquote the numbers but it’s in the billions of dollars of bilateral trade that’s happening and the amount of trade that’s coming across, the amount of purchase power is just incredibly significant and it would be disappointing to see that just continue to move north. Mexico is emerging as a major economic player, so I think our ships are tied together, northern Mexico and Arizona.
Q: You’ve been up here for two weeks have you gotten to explore Phoenix at all?
A: In these two weeks it’s been work, work, work, but growing up in Arizona I’ve certainly spent a fair deal of time here. So it’s nice to sort of get to reknow Phoenix and I’m living not far from the Capitol in a cute historic neighborhood so it’s just sort of nice to be up here. But I come up on Monday morning and I leave on Thursday evening, so when I’m up here it’s a real intensive work week. I get home around 9 or 10 o’clock every night and get here at 7 or 8, so 12-hour days are a little long.
Q: Are you enjoying it?
A: Absolutely. It’s really such a pleasure and really such an honor to represent LD2 and really fight for the values that we as Arizonans share. So I’m really thrilled to be here and it is really fun and it’s been really a tremendous delight to get to know my colleagues and the other legislators from around the state. It’s been fun.