Candidate Changes Name to Cesar Chavez in Bid to Win Arizona Congressional Seat

And his name isn't the only thing the candidate formerly known as Scott Fistler has changed. We have the details and the controversy here.

By Chris Hoenig


Scott Fistler has twice lost elections as a GOP candidate in Arizona. Cesar Chavez is hoping he has a better fate in a Democratic race for one of the state's congressional seats.

The two men are one and the same. Confused?

After losing a 2012 congressional bid to U.S. Representative Ed Pastor and a Phoenix city-council election last year, Fistler—a 34-year-old white guy from Phoenix—changed his name and party affiliation in preparation for this year's congressional election.

The former Scott Fistler is now Cesar Chavez—yes, just like the labor leader and civil-rights activist—and a Democrat. And it's no coincidence that the area he's running to represent—Arizona's 7th Congressional district—is mostly Latino.

Fistler paid a $319 fee and successfully petitioned the state Superior Court last year to make his name change legal, claiming he had "experienced many hardships" because of his name. He filed his papers to run as a Democrat in February—even though he didn't officially change his party affiliation until April.

"It's almost as simple as saying Elvis Presley is running for President," Chavez told The Arizona Republic in a phone interview. "You wouldn't forget it, would you?

"People want a name that they can feel comfortable with. If you went out there running for office and your name was Bernie Madoff, you'd probably be screwed."

Photo Controversy

Chavez's Spanish-language campaign website—a free blogspot.com URL—contains pictures clearly designed to deceive voters, with cleverly positioned captions to make people believe something is happening in the nearby photos that is untrue.

Most of the pictures have been taken from Venezuelan media, showing rallies supporting President Hugo Chavez. Beneath are lines that read "Supporters: 'We love you Chavez'" and "Sign: Vote for Chavez 2014."

One particular picture, taken without credit from The Wichita Eagle, shows marchers at a 2006 Wichita, Kans., rally and parade in honor of the late labor leader Cesar Chavez … the one who existed before 2006. But underneath the picture on this Chavez's campaign site is a caption, "Supporters: Ready to canvas the South Mountain neighborhood." There does not appear to be a South Mountain neighborhood in Wichita—but there is in Phoenix.

"He's either trying to make a mockery of the system, or of Democrats, or of the Hispanic community," Arizona Democratic Party Chairman D.J. Quinlan told the Arizona Capitol Times. "There are two questions: Is it a problem for the FEC that he said he was a Democrat when he wasn't?" Quinlan said. "And is it a problem for the state if he was collecting signatures to run in a Democratic primary while he was a Republican?"

On Twitter, Quinlan told one user that he wished it was a joke, quipping that it "seems to be part of the GOP's Hispanic outreach program."

The family of the late labor leader said this new candidate is not the first to try to take advantage of the notable Chavez, and probably won't be the last.

"The people who do carry on his legacy shine. Those who try to ride his coattails for a political agenda, it's apparent. You just kind of have to brush it off," Alejandro Chavez, Cesar Chavez's grandson, said. "If we spent out time going after this sort of thing, we wouldn't have time to carry on his legacy through the Cesar Chavez Foundation, which provides real help to Latino families and farmers."

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"We're dealing with police violence. We deal with these huge disparities in our criminal justice system. You know, if everything was wonderful you could ask the question, 'Why would you talk about the difficult past?' But everything is not wonderful."

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Hundreds of people lined up in the rain to experience a long overdue piece of American history and honor the lives lost to lynching at the National Memorial for Peace and Justice and the Legacy Museum in Montgomery Alabama on Thursday.

The Equal Justice Initiative, sponsor of this project, has documented more than 4,000 "racial terror" lynchings in the United States between 1877 and 1950.

The first memorial honoring the victims includes sculptures and art depicting the terror Blacks faced; 800 six-foot steel, engraved monuments to symbolize the victims; writings and words of Toni Morrison and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.; and a final artwork by Hank Willis Thomas capturing the modern-day racial bias and violence embedded in the criminal justice system and law enforcement.

Among memorial visitors were civil right activist Rev. Jesse Jackson and film director Ava Duvernay. According to the Chicago Tribune, Jackson said it would help dispel the American silence on lynchings, highlighting that whites wouldn't talk about it because of shame and Blacks wouldn't talk about it because of fear. The "60 Minutes Overtime" on the memorial just three weeks earlier was reported by Oprah Winfrey, who stated during her viewing of the slavery sculpture, "This is searingly powerful." Duvernay, quoted by the Chicago Tribune, said: "This place has scratched a scab."

The Montgomery Downtown business association's President, Clay McInnis, who is white, offered his thoughts to NPR in reference to his own family connection to the history that included a grandfather who supported segregation and a friend who dismantled it. "How do you reconcile that on the third generation?" he asked. "You have conversations about it."

A place to start: The Montgomery Advertiser, the local newspaper, apologized for its racist history of coverage between the 1870s and 1950s by publishing the names of over 300 lynching victims on Thursday, the same day as the memorial opening. "Our Shame: the sins of our past laid bare for all to see. We were wrong," the paper wrote.

The innumerable killings of unarmed Black men and the robbing of Black families of fathers, mothers, and children today not only strongly resemble the history of lynchings, but also bring up the discomfort and visceral reactions that many have not reckoned with.

Bryan Stevenson, founder of the Equal Justice Initiative and the man who spearheaded this project, told NPR: "There's a lot of conflict. There's a lot of tension. We're dealing with police violence. We deal with these huge disparities in our criminal justice system. You know, if everything was wonderful you could ask the question, 'Why would you talk about the difficult past?' But everything is not wonderful."

WFSA, a local news station, interviewed a white man who had gone to see the Legacy Museum downtown, also part of the EJI project, located at the place of a former slave warehouse. He talked about how he was overwhelmed by the experience and that "Slavery is alive in a new way today."

Reactions on social media were reflective of the memorial's power and the work that is continuing toward progress.

During a launch event, the Peace and Justice Summit, Marian Wright Edelman, activist and founder of the Children's Defense Fund, urged the audience to continue their activism beyond the day's events on issues like ending child poverty and gun violence, according to the Chicago Tribune: "Don't come here and celebrate the museum ... when we're letting things happen on an even greater scale."

Perhaps the reason to honor and witness the horrific experiences of our ancestors is to seal in our minds the unacceptable killings of Blacks today, and the work we ALL have to do now to stop repeating the past.

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