Clean Elections Profile: Sen. Rebecca Rios
From the time she was a young girl, Arizona state Sen. Rebecca Rios (D-23) has been interested in politics. Born into a political family, she was helping her father, former state Sen. Pete Rios (D), campaign at the tender age of twelve. After earning her bachelor’s degree in social work from Arizona State University, a seat in the Arizona House of Representatives opened up and she jumped at the opportunity to serve to be able to promote children’s issues.
More than a decade later, Rios is the Assistant Minority Leader in the Senate. A supporter of Clean Elections since its inception in 2000, Rios has been a champion of the program - using it for all three of her Senate campaigns. Having run as a privately financed candidate before the law was passed, Sen. Rios noticed a marked difference when running under Clean Elections. She found that running ”Clean” freed up a large portion of her time that would have been spent raising money or attending fundraisers.
“It [Clean Elections] really encourages you to get out there and meet and talk with constituents. It really helps in terms of the grassroots support that you gain,” Rios said of the public financing program. “You really feel free to vote your conscience and vote what’s best for your district – you don’t feel like you owe anything to any particular organization.”
Rios candidly admits that the infusion of big money into a political campaign can be hard to ignore. “Even though you try not to be beholden to those who fundraise for you, it’s very difficult not to turn around and say you can’t talk to someone has given you a lot of money.” Yet, now there is no perception of special interest influence as the only obligations she must fulfill are those to her constituents.
While outside influences may have bankrolled specific candidates in the past, the Clean Elections system has opened the door to a wide array of candidates. Those with diverse agendas and diverse backgrounds are now making their way into the political fray. “At the end of the day Clean Elections allows non-typical candidates to run, be it minorities, young people or women,” said Rios. “We have a number of people serving in the legislature who were Clean Elections candidates who wouldn’t have had a shot in the dark if they were running traditional – no political connections, no money.”
Rios feels strongly that Clean Elections provides the best opportunity to make races more competitive and open to minority groups, and is adamant that the system should be available at the federal level. “I absolutely believe that Clean Elections should be instituted for Congressional races. I think when you talk bout the difficultly of raising money it is magnified tenfold when you are talking about congressional districts. You need to be independently wealthy, have connections, or be an amazing fundraiser.”
Rios’ dedication to Clean Elections is further evidenced by her introduction of a bill to expand Clean Elections to county supervisor seats in the state.
Rios continues to prioritize children and families and is working to ensure that adequate funding is allocated to social services, health care, and education. She plans to use Clean Elections for her campaign for political office.