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Ed Pastor's legacy: Generation of Latino leaders

Ed Pastor was Arizona's go-to guy in Congress for major Arizona projects. But his most enduring legacy is the generation of Latino leaders he nurtured

PHOENIX — Ed Pastor liked to say he was a workhorse, not a show horse. 

You can see the work the former Democratic congressman did for Arizona all over the state—federal money for the Valley's light rail system, Arizona State University's downtown Phoenix campus, a major park in Yuma and upgraded border crossings.  

But Pastor's greatest impact was on a generation of Latino Arizonans.

They will quickly tell you that they wouldn't be where they are today without Pastor, Arizona's first Latino member of Congress.

"My family's a family of immigrants. I think he saw some promise in me and he invested in me. Without that, I wouldn't even be here," said Roy Herrera, a Phoenix election law attorney, a former federal prosecutor and former Hill staffer for Pastor. 

"All of these things that happened—going to college, going to law school, getting into politics, getting involved in public service and your community—these are all things I learned from him. He made that happen for me."

Pastor died Tuesday night after suffering a heart attack while eating dinner at a Phoenix restaurant with his wife. He was 75 years old. 

Democratic State Rep. Charlene Fernandez had worked on Pastor's first congressional campaign 27 years ago when he asked her to run his Yuma office, at the time part of his district.

"I'm this young 36-year-old, I'm just finishing up my college degree. I said, 'Yes' without even thinking. Then I wondered, 'What does it even mean?" Fernandez recalled. 

"Luckily, there's people who want to see you succeed, and one of them was Ed Pastor ... He just paved the way for the rest of us."

Fernandez enters next year's legislative session as the top-ranking Democrat in the Arizona House of Representatives.

Would she have risen so far without Pastor's continuing support?

"Absolutely not," she said.

Born in the eastern Arizona mining town of Claypool, Pastor worked as a teacher and then earned a law degree before launching his political career. 

He served on the Maricopa County board from 1976 to '91. Pastor then ran for and won Congressman Mo Udall's open seat in a special election. Pastor went on to serve 23 years in Congress.

Pastor told his staff his office did appropriations, Herrera said. In other words, as a member of the House Appropriations Committee, his job was to bring federal dollars back home.

Arizona Democrats and Republicans viewed Pastor as the go-to guy for money to build big things in Arizona.

In time, he would become one of the more powerful Democrats in Congress. Before Pastor retired in 2014, President Obama offered him the job of transportation secretary, but he turned it down. 

Pastor rarely bragged about any of this. 

One of the few times he stood in front of a camera was to announce his retirement in early 2014.

Pastor explained his style to me during a 2015 interview on "Sunday Square Off," a year after he retired:

"I learned very quickly in politics, you can be a show horse or a workhorse. A show horse ... did things to get on radio and television. A workhorse ... did the job and people appreciated what you did."

Pastor is survived by his wife of 53 years, Verma Pastor, and two daughters—Yvonne Pastor and Laura Pastor, a member of the Phoenix City Council. 

Funeral services are pending. 

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