PHOENIX -- The head of the local Border Patrol union is telling Hispanics they should not support David Garcia for governor simply because he also is Latino.
"Do not vote for lawlessness,'' Art Del Cueto said Monday at a press conference organized by the reelection campaign of Gov. Doug Ducey. "Do not vote for those individuals that align themselves with people that cuss out our law enforcement in this state.''
Garcia countered that he believes there's a racial undertone in the attacks on him by Ducey and his supporters who seek to stir up fears of illegal immigration and drug smuggling, even if Del Cueto is himself Hispanic. But Garcia stated that it's wrong that a state where 31 percent of the population is Hispanic has not had anyone in statewide elective office in four decades.
Del Cueto's comments refer to tweets by Xenia Orona, a former Garcia campaign staffer, who wrote that "law and order is the smokescreen that bigots hide their hate behind.'' Orona also used a curse word next to an emoji of the American flag and wrote that "ICE is abusive and needs to be abolished,'' complete with a hashtag that criticizes police.
Orona quit following publication of the story, with an aide to Garcia saying the Democrat candidate was unaware of the comments until they were published by conservative site P.J. Media.
And lest the message be lost on the English-speaking audience, Del Curto, also an officer of the National Border Patrol Council, spoke to the cameras in Spanish, saying he was addressing "all Latinos in the state.''
"Don't be fooled just because a candidate has the same surname as another Hispanic person,'' he said, saying the reality is that "these elections are very important.''
"Vote for our state's safety and vote for the person who has the best interests and not just for a person who feels entitled to your votes just because he is a Latino or because of his last name,'' Del Cueto said.
The endorsement comes as the issue of the role of the governor protecting Arizona from border crossers has taken center stage, with the Republican Governors Association already setting aside $9 million for commercials to attack Garcia.
He has provided some fodder for his foes to use.
Garcia talked about dismantling and rebuilding Immigration and Customs Enforcement in the wake of practices of "zero tolerance'' and family separation. Ducey supporters have said that shows Garcia seeks to "abolish'' the agency, though the candidate, unlike other Democrats, has never used that specific term
And in a speech in New Orleans, Garcia urged that people "just imagine no wall, no wall in Southern Arizona,'' comments he later said were meant to mean opposition to new walls proposed by President Trump and not a call to remove existing barriers.
Garcia, in an interview Monday with Capitol Media Services, dismissed claims he's not interested in border security, saying that, unlike the incumbent, he actually has a record of protecting the border.
"I have put my time in as a young man to defend our borders,'' he said, referring to his time in the infantry. Ducey, by contrast, has no military service.
"To think I would do anything else as governor is contrary to who I am,'' Garcia said, suggesting that the attacks on him have racial overtones.
"I think people are going to see through this bigotry,'' he said. "I think they are not going to normalize this bigotry as basically business as usual.''