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Arizona makes history electing first two Latina statewide candidates

Anna Tovar and Lea Marquez Peterson
Posted at 1:40 PM, Nov 26, 2020
and last updated 2020-11-26 21:03:42-05

PHOENIX — For the first time in Arizona's history, two Latina candidates have been elected to statewide office.

In January, the Arizona Corporation Commission (ACC) will seat Anna Tovar and incumbent Lea Marquez Peterson to the five-person board that regulates investor-owned utilities, railroads, pipelines, and securities in the state.

Tovar, a Democrat, is finishing her term as the first female mayor of her hometown Tolleson. Her office is just around the corner from her grandparents' store where she worked much of her childhood.

"My favorite part was working the cash register," she said.

John's Market opened in the 1950s, during a time Tovar said, when her grandfather felt it necessary to shield his heritage for the sake of his business.

"My grandpa was named Juan. 'Oh, don't call it Juan, because no one's gonna come,'" Tovar said of the market's name. "So you got to give it an American name. So John's Market."

As Juan's granddaughter prepares to enter an elected office serving the entire state, she said she hasn't forgotten the lessons learned behind the register.

"Serving others and giving back you know, my grandparents would say we didn't open the store to become rich with money, but we ended up rich with friends. So that was something special to me, and I'm sure they're proud."

Marquez Peterson was appointed in 2019 by Governor Doug Ducey to finish the term of former Commissioner Andy Tobin, who Ducey assigned to run the Arizona Department of Administration. In November, she ran and won in her own right, receiving the second most votes out of the six candidates.

She grew up in Tucson in a family of small business owners. It is a space she continued to work in with her own businesses and as CEO of the Tucson Hispanic Chamber of Commerce.

"My parents have owned their own businesses, my brother, myself. So we're a very entrepreneurial family," she told ABC15. "That's the language I'm speaking, is small business, which is so many Hispanic families across the state."

Marquez Peterson, a Republican, also emphasizes her unique position as the only commissioner based outside of Maricopa County. She said she wants "to represent everyone in the state, but certainly represent the rural counties, you know, in southern Arizona. My small business background and being Latina, I think all of those perspectives, bring an interesting perspective to the commission."

One of those perspectives is about how the Commission communicates with Spanish-speaking constituents.

"I created the Spanish Media list. I had one from my former role of the Hispanic chamber and sent that in to our media folks within the commission, and then started having volunteers help me translate all of the press releases and different materials," she said.

There is no budget to add the services, but Marquez Peterson says, "having been around the commission, you can realize it with three votes, we can get things done."

And that just might be where the Commission first sees the impact of having two women who are part of the Latino community, which makes up 30 percent of the state. It's a reality more than 100 years in the making.

"I think it's wonderful that myself and Ana Tovar can be role models for children that are looking to be in public office, you know, little Latino and Latina children who will now see us as something that is the norm," Marquez Peterson said.