Posted on April 04, 1994 in Washington Watch
Arab Americans have every reason to be proud of their community’s presence in the upcoming 1994 elections. Already, a record number of Arab Americans (51) have announced their candidacies and qualified to run for public office. Among them are candidates for Senate and Congress on the federal level, Governor, Mayor and City Council on the state and local level.
In addition to Congressman Nick Rahall (Democrat, West Virginia) and Congresswoman Pat Danner (Democrat, Missouri), the two current Arab American members of Congress, at least two other Arab Americans will be running for Congress this year. One of them, Ray LaHood, a Republican from Illinois, is virtually assured of victory. Having won the Republican primary on March 15, he will face a weak Democratic challenge in his largely Republican district in central Illinois. Less certain is the bid of Brenda Elias, who is running for Congress in New Hampshire.
Two very prominent Arab Americans, both of whom are Democrats, are involved in gubernatorial races. One is Joe Ganim, a young and dynamic mayor running for Governor in Connecticut; the other is Eddie Basha, a popular and successful businessman who is running in Arizona. While it is still early in the election cycle in both states, polls show both candidates doing quite well. Their name recognition is not very high (though both have time and money to overcome that), but what is quite promising about their polling numbers is that both have very high favorable to unfavorable ratios.
The sole Arab American Senatorial candidate this year is Spencer Abraham, a nationally prominent Republican activist running in the Republican primary in Michigan. Abraham faces a stiff challenge from the daughter of Michigan’s former Republican Governor George Romney. Polls show the candidates locked in a very close battle.
All of these major candidates are receiving strong Arab American support for their efforts, and none have hesitated to claim their ethnicity or to appear at Arab American events.
A more detailed rundown of these and selected other Arab American races appears below:
Nick Joe Rahall, a nine-term Democratic Representative from West Virginia, faces the voters again this year in his state’s 3rd Congressional District. Rahall, high-ranking member of the Natural Resources Committee, and the Public Works and Transportation Committee where he chairs the subcommittee on Surface Transportation. Rahall is proud of his Lebanese heritage and has enthusiastically lent his support to Arab American empowerment efforts. He has also been a very active supporter of the Clinton Administration’s legislative initiatives, including votes in favor of the Family and Medical Leave Act, and the President’s economic stimulus and budget plans.
Pat Danner, a freshman Democratic Representative from Missouri’s 6th Congressional District is in for a challenging race this fall. She has the solid backing of her party, after emerging with an absolute majority in an eight-way primary last year, but because she is only in her first term the GOP will try to dislodge her. A member of the Public Works and Small Business Committees, Danner voted for the Family and Medical Leave Act and the President’s economic stimulus plan but against Clinton’s budget reconciliation plan which included both new taxes and spending cuts. Danner is in favor of creating a trust fund for any new tax receipts which would be used to cut the deficit.
Ray LaHood recently won the Republican nomination for the seat of retiring U.S. Representative and House Minority Leader Bob Michel (IL-8). The 18th district is two-thirds Republican and Lahood won 50% of the Republican vote and 17,000 more votes than the Democratic nominee. Prior to his run for federal office, LaHood had served as the State Representative in the Illinois General Assembly. He has extensive experience in national politics, first as Staff Director for Congressman Tom Railsback and most recently as Chief of Staff for Congressman Michel. Among the central tenants of his campaign are economic development and a dedication to constituent service.
Brenda Elias is a candidate for the Republican nomination for Congress from New Hampshire’s 2nd Congressional District. The CD is traditionally Republican, but is now held by two-term Representative Dick Swett. Elias, the former Mayor of Franklin, is basing her candidacy on her strong record of fiscal restraint – having achieved budget surpluses in her last three Franklin budgets – combined with a relatively liberal stance on social issues including a strong pro-choice position. She has been endorsed by popular former Governor Meldrim Thomson in the primary; and the Republican Congressional Campaign Committee has pledged to heavily back the winner of the Republican primary in the fall election.
Joe Ganim, the Mayor of Bridgeport, is a candidate for the Democratic Party’s gubernatorial nomination. Ganim has the strong support of Bridgeport (the second largest city in the state) which reelected him with 80% of the vote last November. Ganim is the only one of the four candidates in the Democratic primary to have executive experience in government, and will be able to point to his strong record of bringing Bridgeport back from bankruptcy and the dynamic programs he instituted to deal with a host of social problems. The central tenets of his campaign are fiscal responsibility, including dramatic reductions in the state income and property taxes and cutting state spending; aggressively combating crime by tightening gun laws and increasing sentences for violent offenders; and emphasizing the role of public education.
Eddie Basha, a supermarket magnate in Arizona, is making a bid for the Democratic nomination for Governor. A member of the state Board of Regents and an ex-member of the state Board of Education, Basha is pursuing an outsider strategy, while accentuating his business experience and advocacy for children and education. He is basing his candidacy on four central precepts; education reform and access, a strong response to violent crime coupled with early intervention and education to stop its growth, a simplified bureaucracy built around a more responsive government, and an accent on children and providing for a stable and nurturing environment.
E. Spencer Abraham is a candidate for the U.S. Senate seat to be vacated by Donald Riegle (MI). Previously, Abraham had served as Co-Chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee and Deputy Chief of Staff the Vice President Quayle. From 1983 to 1991 he was Chairman of the Michigan Republican Party. Abraham has a broad base of support among Michigan Republicans and business leaders, including three-quarters of all county chairs and all the vice-chairs of the Republican State Committee. The foundation of Abraham’s campaign are fighting tax increases while cutting spending, strong anti-crime initiatives, and overhauling our health care system with targeted reforms and an eye towards a more market driven plan.
The Arab American community in Michigan has full slate of candidates running for office at the local and state level. A profile of some of more prominent races includes:
Peter Nicolas is a candidate for the Democratic nomination for Mayor of Ann Arbor, Michigan. A two-term member of the city council, Nicolas has earned respect for his understanding and knowledge of issues facing the city. Coming as he does from a majority-Republican district, Nicolas has shown an ability to put together winning coalitions across partisan lines. In his bid for mayor he is building on his solid record as a social liberal as shown by his support for the domestic partnership law and as an advocate for affordable housing; but he has also acquired a reputation for standing up to spending requests that are fiscally irresponsible.
Michael Bouchard, a Republican State Senator from Michigan’s 16th district, is running for reelection this year. A small businessman and 12-year veteran police officer who also served as a state representative, Bouchard bases his reelection bid on his successful tenure in the state senate. He has worked to make the state government more responsive to citizen concerns, and to protect the interests of his district.
Tracey A. Yokich is standing for reelection as state representative from Michigan’s 26th district. A Democratic incumbent, Yokich’s district is centered in the famous Macomb County, an area that in recent political history has been regarded as one of the three most volatile districts in the country. Yokich has been very active on environmental issues including clean air legislation, and public health issues; and is a primary sponsor of a group of bills known collectively as the Campus Sexual Assault Information Act. Yokich’s outstanding record recently earned her a seat on the Appropriations Committee, where she co-chairs the subcommittee on Military and Veterans Affairs – a position of great importance to the unusually large veteran population in her district.
A number of other notable races involve the Arab American community in California, which has the largest Arab American population of any state in the U.S.; and also the active Arab American community in Rhode Island. Still others involve powerful Arab American incumbents, such as Speaker of the Tennessee State House of Representatives Jimmy Naifeh and State Assemblywoman Ruth Joseph of Maine. Another involves a first-generation Palestinian American from just outside Washington, DC.
Tim Nader, currently the Mayor of Chula Vista, is running in a special election to fill a the vacant seat in California’s 79th Assembly District. A former prosecutor, Nader is basing much of his campaign on his success as mayor of cleaning up crime and gangs in his city. In addition to his tough stance against gangs and drug dealers, Nader is an advocate of pushing environmental technology as a means of economic growth, and will be taking his record of fiscal responsibility – he balanced his city’s budget three straight years – to Sacramento where, if recent budget deficits are any indication, it is sorely needed.
Eugene Moses is a candidate for the 24th State Senate seat in California, encompassing the cities of Alhambra, Azusa, Balwin Park, El Monte, La Peunte, Monterey Park, Rosemead, and San Gabriel. Currently in his sixth term as Mayor of Azusa, Moses is known as the “Dean of Mayors” in the San Gabriel Valley and has built a reputation for fighting for the rights of seniors, veterans, and the hard-working taxpayer. His fundamental strengths include the largest volunteer base in the San Gabriel Valley and wide spread support from local officeholders, community leaders, and political activists. Moses is running on a platform of open government and constituent service and promises to continue putting people first as a State Senator.
Dan Issa, Democratic State Senator of Rhode Island’s 35th Senatorial District, is running for re-election this year. Currently serving his 20th year in elected office Issa was previously a member of the Central Falls School Committee and the Central Falls City Council. Now a four-term incumbent in the Rhode Island State Senate, Issa was the first Arab American ever elected to that institution. During his tenure, he has worked on a vast array of issues including missing children, enterprise zones/job creation, consumer protection, and judicial selection reform. Issa will be basing his re-election bid on his strong record in the Senate and his history of constituent services.
Jimmy Naifeh, Speaker of the Tennessee House of Representatives, is up for reelection again this fall. Naifeh is a long-time member of the Democratic leadership in the state house, having served three terms as Majority Leader and two terms as Speaker, and has received numerous awards for his successful legislative work. A partial listing of awards he has received for his legislative achievements gives a hint of the impact he has had: Legislator of the Year award from the Tennessee School Boards Association, the Tennessee District Attorney’s Generals Conference, and the Harry Burns and Good Guys Award from the Women’s Political Caucus.
Ruth Joseph is running for election to her 7th term in the Maine House of Representatives, District 98. Joseph is currently the House Chair of the Joint Standing Committee on State and Local Government and serves on a number of other Joint Standing Committees in the House. She was recently selected to represent the U.S. and Maine State Governments in Japan on issues of health care, elder care, and trade. The National Conference of State Legislatures has appointed her to numerous Committees involving commerce, health care, and economic development. Joseph has been a long-time champion of education funding, economic development in Maine, and job creation, and affordable comprehensive health care.
Joe Rafidi is running for the Democratic nomination for the 15th Maryland Assembly District. A first generation Palestinian American, Rafidi would be the first Arab American to win a state-level office should his campaign succeed. Active in politics for 25 years and a Carter delegate to 1976 Democratic Convention, Rafidi will be one of perhaps 8 Democrats (none of whom are incumbents) running for three slots on the November ballot. Rafidi takes a integrated approach to dealing with the issues of his district, stressing the impact of crime not only on the citizenry, but also on the businesses and education; and hopes to take a more foresighted and proactive approach to issues such as urban planning to the state capital.
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