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Education, democratic process fuel political passion of ASU alum

Martin Quezada
November 10, 2015

Editor's note: Leading up to Homecoming, we'll be running several stories a week on ASU alumni. Find more alumni stories here.

Arizona native Martin Quezada was born and spent his early childhood in the Maryvale neighborhood of west Phoenix, where he attended St. Vincent de Paul Elementary School.

After an ethnic studies course and an internship during his undergrad years at ASU sparked a fierce passion to serve his community, Quezada returned to university to “sharpen his intellectual weaponry” at the Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law, where he received his Juris Doctor in 2008.

Now a member of the Arizona State Senate, Quezada remains devoted to his community, serving in a number of roles from elected member of the Pendergast Elementary School District Governing Board to the ASU Los Diablos Latino Alumni Association and the Maryvale Village Planning Committee.

The Democrat recently spoke to ASU Now about what he thinks are some of the most pressing political issues facing Arizona today — investing in education and “dark money” campaign financing — as well as the importance of being “a steward of, and not an owner of” one’s public position.

Question: At what point in your life did you know you wanted to pursue a career in government?

Answer: I discovered my desire to work in government after I participated in the Arizona Legislative Internship Program during my undergrad education at ASU. I interned in the Arizona State Senate for the Democratic Caucus, and after watching the legislative process firsthand I realized that I needed to be involved in this work in some way and that my community needed a stronger voice. 

Q: How has your experience at ASU helped to put you in the position you are in today?

A: ASU has played an influential role in my professional and educational development. Studying ethnic studies as my minor gave me a cultural awakening and understanding and desire to learn more about history, politics, government and community engagement. It was the best preparation to enter the legislative internship program, and those two experiences together gave me the spark to one day run for office myself. My return to ASU for my law degree allowed me to sharpen my intellectual weaponry in order to actually be effective in my governmental pursuits.

Q: What is your favorite part of the work you do today?

A: I am able to passionately serve my community. It is a good feeling to be able to give of myself for the better of my family, friends, neighbors and the future of our state. I also truly enjoy the opportunity I have to continue to learn about the complex issues that are involved in governing a state. Every day I learn something new. 

Q: What do you think are some of the most important political issues facing Arizona today?

A: As a native of Phoenix and a true believer in our democratic process, I think there are a few issues that all Arizonans should be prioritizing as being critically important. The first is the lack of investment in our public education system at all levels, from K-12, to our community colleges to our state universities. Ensuring that we have an educated workforce that will provide for us in the future should be our number one priority. To this point, we have failed to ensure that we are making an adequate investment in our schools. That has led to underperforming schools, teacher shortages, drastic increases in tuition and ultimately making a higher education and a better life less of a realistic option.

The other major issue that impacts all other public policy in Arizona is the growing influence of dark money in our campaign finance system. Corporations are able to pour immense amounts of money into campaigns to basically purchase their policymakers with no requirements for ensuring that the general public knows where this money is coming from and which policymakers are most likely to be influenced by it. This leads to further expansion of corporate interests at the expense of society's interests. It is an issue that needs to be dealt with soon to ensure the legitimacy of our democratic process. 

Q: Which Arizona political figure past or present do you most admire and why?

A: I have had the opportunity to learn from several of my legislative predecessors up close and personal, and continue to learn from them today. County Supervisor Steve Gallardo provided a tremendous amount of mentorship and guidance. I watched very closely and learned from former State Rep. John Loredo and former State Sen. Joe Eddie Lopez while they served in the Legislature. I admire the three of them tremendously. 

Q: What advice would you give to aspiring politicians?

A: My main piece of advice would be to always stay grounded and remember that once you are elected, you are only a steward of, and not an owner of, your public position. You must never forget that every vote you make, every action you take must always be to further the interests of your constituency, not yourself as an individual. If you maintain that focus, you will act to push an agenda that benefits the people you serve rather than advance your own political career. Although those actions may indeed hinder your political advancement, those are the kinds of leaders Arizona truly needs. Treat each day as if it is your last in office, and never go home without feeling pride about the service you provided for the people of Arizona.

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