Alexis Egeland

Wednesday, Nov. 28, 2018

Trailblazing lawmaker Ed Pastor recalled as tireless advocate, ‘legend’

WASHINGTON – Ed Pastor, a trailblazing Arizona lawmaker who was the first Hispanic from the state elected to Congress, died Tuesday in Phoenix, his family said. He was 75.

Gov. Doug Ducey ordered flags in the state to be flown at half-staff for Pastor, whom he called “an Arizona trailblazer and public servant.”

Pastor was a man of firsts. Born to a mining family in Claypool, he was the first in his family to go to college. After teaching high school, he began an involvement in politics that eventually led to his election to the U.S. House of Representatives from Phoenix, the first Mexican-American to Congress from Arizona.

Pastor, a Democrat, served 23 years in the House before stepping down in 2014, ending 40 years of public service.

His tenure in Washington included time on the powerful House Appropriations Committee, where Pastor helped secure federal funds for projects like the Valley’s light-rail system and a new traffic-control tower at Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport.

But when asked in 2014, as he prepared to leave Congress, to cite his most-important achievement, Pastor skipped the bricks-and-mortar projects and said he was most satisfied “where I helped individuals.”

“If you go to a family whose dad was not deported, that was a great accomplishment. The thousands of people that I helped become citizens, that’s a great accomplishment,” he said then.

Pastor said the cornerstone of his personal brand of politics was mutual regard and being able “to treat every individual with respect.”

In conversations with those who knew him, Pastor was described as a friend as often as he was praised for his legislative accomplishments. He was known for a low-key, bipartisan style that is a rarity in Washington today.

Rep. Ruben Gallego, D-Phoenix, who succeeded Pastor in Congress, said in a statement Wednesday that “we mourn the passing and honor the legacy of an Arizona legend, Congressmen Ed Pastor.”

“Congressman Pastor dedicated his career to protecting the civil rights of every American and making the American Dream possible to everyone, including the most vulnerable in our society,” said Gallego, who said Pastor inspired a generation.

Ed Pastor was born June 28, 1943, in Claypool. He earned a bachelor’s degree in chemistry from Arizona State University, where he later earned a law degree.

He taught chemistry at North High School and later helped run the Guadalupe Organization Inc., a community nonprofit. When Raul Castro became the first Mexican-American elected governor of Arizona in 1974, Pastor joined his staff where he worked on civil rights issues.

Pastor was elected to the Maricopa County Board of Supervisors in 1976 and was regularly re-elected until his successful bid for Congress in 1991, when he won a special election to fill the seat vacated by an ailing Rep. Mo Udall, D-Tucson.

After leaving Congress in 2014, he founded the Pastor Center for Politics and Public Service at ASU, which works to encourage civic engagement by students and groom them to “assume leadership positions in the public, private and nonprofit sectors.”

For his part, Pastor had no problem saying what he hoped his legacy would be.

“I hope that my legacy is, ‘If I went to Ed, and I had a problem, he helped me with it and I’m better off today with him helping me,'” he said, before leaving Congress.

In a family statement released Wednesday by his daughter, Phoenix City Councilwoman Laura Pastor, the family said Pastor would “be remembered for his commitment to his family and his legacy of service to the community he loved, the state of Arizona and the nation.” The family asked for privacy but said details on memorial services would be forthcoming.