In Arizona's District 7, two congressional candidates are facing criticism for changing their last names in the uber-competitive Aug. 26 primary to replace retiring Rep. Ed Pastor. Both of the name changes have led to lawsuits, and both are a result of a belief that Hispanic surnames are a boon for any candidate on the ballot here.
First, there is Scott Fistler, who was running as a Republican in a district that is more than 50 percent Hispanic and where President Obama won 72 percent in 2012. Presented with these facts, Fistler thought it would be worth a shot to legally change his name to "Cesar Chavez". He also became a Democrat halfway through his campaign to collect enough signatures to get on the ballot.
Alejandro Chavez, grandson of the actual Cesar Chavez, filed a lawsuit against the candidate formerly known as Scott Fistler on June 10 -- a day before the deadline for challenges. Besides the name change and the timing of his Democratic conversion, there are also problems with Fistler-Chavez's ballot petitions. The Arizona Republic reported that about 70 percent of his signatures may not come from registered voters from the district. Many of the signatures were also not from Democrats or Independents -- the only voters allowed to vote in a Democratic primary in Arizona. Fistler-Chavez is not worried. "My campaign is too legit to quit," he said. Um, ok.
Now comes the case of Ruben Gallego, a Harvard graduate and Marine Corps veteran serving as assistant minority leader in the Arizona House of Representatives. Gallego is also facing a lawsuit concerning a name change. On August 7, 2008, Ruben Marinelarena legally changed his name to Ruben Marinelarena Gallego. The lawsuit says that Gallego violated election law by not disclosing his given name, and asks that the candidate be removed from the ballot -- or that his name on the ballot read Ruben Gallego Marinelarena.
This suit was filed by Michael Snitz, a former state House candidate who was appointed to the Maricopa County Board of Health by county board supervisor Mary Rose Wilcox. Wilcox is also running to in the District 7 race, and was endorsed by Pastor. Like Gallego, she is Hispanic, and her campaign literature sometimes features her maiden name, Garrido.
Lake Research Partners conducted a poll in May that had 38 percent of voters in the district supporting Gallego -- who has been endorsed by many unions, MoveOn.org, the Congressional Progressive Caucus and the Marijuana Policy Project -- while 32 percent supported Wilcox. One month after the primary started, Gallego had raised more than $160,000, while Wilcox had raised more than $90,000. Fistler-Chavez has not reported any fundraising.
Wilcox released a statement supporting her supporter's lawsuit, which was filed only hours before the June 11 deadline. "We the people have a right to know who is running to represent us in Congress," she said, adding:
I am not trying to push anyone off the ballot, and I am not hiding behind lawsuits filed by others. I am openly calling for Mr. Marinelarena or Mr. Marinelarena Gallego to put his legal surname, including his given name Marinelarena, on the ballot, so everyone has the chance to learn about his experiences and who he really is.
I was raised by a single mom and changed my name to honor the woman who raised me. I have been very open about this decision and the circumstance behind it. My mom is an immigrant and struggled every day to raise four kids on her own. Our family never had enough, but she gave all she had to make sure her kids got an education and an opportunity to succeed. Two of us went to Harvard on scholarships, and my sister is going to be a doctor. My mom’s last name is Gallego. My father abandoned my family when I was young. His choice to leave made my life and the lives of my three sisters much harder. I slept on the floor until I went to college and my sisters and I had to rely on the free lunch program to make sure we ate. His last name is Marinelarena. My mom is the reason I have had so many incredible opportunities in my life. I’m very proud to have her name.
Gallego is likely feeling a bit like Fistler-Chavez, who complained that "When I change my name, (people act) like I'm stealing Pope Francis' name."
For Gallego, however, the drama over his name change might actually help his campaign. There is probably nothing voters love more than moms, and Gallego's mom stepped in to defend her son today with an email sent by his campaign. Elisa Gallego's statement reads, "All of us single mothers never get credit for what we do for our children, but Ruben wanted to give me credit for all of my sacrifices by changing his last name to our family name. ... My father was a father figure to Ruben when his dad left us. I’m grateful that Ruben saw firsthand how hard his grandfather worked, and how much care he took into raising his eight children and grandchildren."
The lesson to learn from this? File a name change lawsuit at your own risk, lest you invite the mom mass email. Also, never change your name to something that already has a Wikipedia entry longer than 1,000 words. It will not help you.