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Lea Marquez Peterson's business experiences don't add up to her campaign promises

Lea Marquez Peterson wants you to believe that her experience as a champion of small business makes her the best choice in Arizona’s 2nd Congressional District.

Marquez Peterson is the Republican nominee to succeed Martha McSally. Her main platform in a split district that went for Hillary Clinton by five points in 2016 is touting her unique position as an expert in small business. She claims her experience qualifies her to grow the economy in Southern Arizona. But Marquez Peterson has missed the mark more than once when it comes to growing businesses and predicting what Southern Arizona needs to build a strong economy.

Her own small business went bankrupt

If you are not familiar with her business history, on paper Marquez Peterson would appear to be an entrepreneurship success story. She graduated with a degree from the University of Arizona in marketing and entrepreneurship and quickly became the face of strong women in business in Tucson. She served on several commissions and boards since the early 2000s and had fans in both parties locally. She has leveraged her status as a Latina woman business owner and attempts to appear moderate, despite her website stating her clear position as a conservative.

As the CD2 race heats up, she’s mostly avoided going on record on issues of importance to Southern Arizona while instead shifting the conversation to boosting small businesses. But while she considers herself an entrepreneur, she appears to have leaned heavily on her marketing background to sell a false picture of her business bonafides, because they don’t add up.

Counterpoint: Marquez Peterson a 'phenomenal asset' to SAz business

The first sign of a problem came in 2005 when Marquez Peterson and her husband, Daniel Peterson, filed for bankruptcy protections. The couple’s business had amassed a whopping $3.2 million in debt while reporting $104,477 in assets. There were tax liens and defaulted loans. It doesn’t take a small business expert to wonder at what point in the process of creating that colossal amount of debt, the couple didn’t question the track they were on, especially given their lack of hard assets. She told the Tucson Weekly "My business experience was in the development of gasoline stations and convenience stores. Industry margins were much stronger in the late '90s when I began."

Expanding businesses has inherent risk. But blaming the industry rather than adjusting and finding solutions beyond a bailout points to a familiar hypocritical trope within the “open markets” vernacular.

While bankruptcy protections are designed for businesses that are unable to turn around in a bad economy, fallen on hard times, or made a business mistake, the protections are designed to reward risk and entrepreneurship and avoid a crippling credit nightmare.  In Lea’s and Daniel’s case it is not hard to imagine them thinking the next step will be the one to get themselves out of the hole. Scrambling to consolidate, create more opportunities, begging off creditors. But that is the thinking of a gambler, not someone you trust to represent the interests of all types of small businesses. Even her one-time cheerleader, Ann Day, whose endorsement opened many doors in the Republican community, was shocked to learn of how poorly the Petersons had managed their business interests.

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Liveable wage didn’t ruin small business as she predicted

Another mistep for Marquez Peterson came in her adamant opposition to Prop. 206, where she led the assault on what turned out to be a popular initiative for voters in Arizona in 2016. Voters gathered enough signatures to put the initiative on the ballot that would raise minimum wage from $8.50 incrementally to $12 by 2020. In 2016, 60 percent of Arizona voters approved the citizen-run initiative in spite of moneyed interests attacking it.

Backers said Prop. 206 brought current minimum wage levels up to a livable wage and were consistent with inflation increases to correct Arizona’s stagnant minimum wage. However, Marquez Peterson relied on her marketing skills when she claimed that the steep increase would have “devastating financial impact” on Arizona’s small businesses. She not only opposed the hike, she leveraged her position with the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce to continue to attack it, even after it won with a resounding majority vote. In December of 2016 Inside Tucson Business op-ed, after the initiative won, she said “This could have a devastating impact on retailers, restaurants and other trades in the Tucson region.”

But as Arizona Daily Star columnist Tim Stellar pointed out a year after the increases began, the increased spending from minimum-wage earners outweighed any impact on our economy from job losses. “In other words, the voters knew better than the Arizona Chamber of Commerce and others who catastrophized about how the minimum wage increase would affect the economy.”

Does Lea Marquez Peterson know what small business means to voters?

Another thing to keep in mind when Marquez Peterson and others in the various Chambers of Commerce speak about small businesses, is that they use the federal standard of 1-500 employees as the qualifier of a small business. But a business with 500 employees has very different concerns than a business with 3 employees. CD2 is largely made up of small businesses, in the truest sense of the term. According to US Census Data, 49 percent of businesses in CD2 have 1-4 employees. Companies with 1-19 employees make up the lion’s share at 84 percent. And less than 6 percent of companies have 50 employees or more.

Yet even a quick look at her donations list on the FEC.gov website tells a different story of representation. Her donations come largely from CEOs and executives from some of the largest companies in the district with the most employees. Koch Industries ($10,000 donation), Charles Schwab, Michael Bidwell (owner Arizona Cardinals), Hensley Bottling (Cindy McCain’s family company) are some of the out-of-district folks interested in Marquez Peterson being elected. But the local angle includes Jim Click and Bob Tuttle, co-owners of the billion-dollar auto company that bears their names (900+ employees), Rob Assenmacher of CAID (over 5,000 employees), Luis Seldner of the Offshore Group (23,000 employees), Omar Mireles of HSL Properties (over 300 employees) and Desert Diamond Casinos (thousands of employees.) And other major donors include smaller companies like Don Diamond of Diamond Ventures, with 25 employees but billions in profits.

Her donors are a who’s-who of the richest and most powerful in Tucson. They represent the .5 percent that have the most influence locally and they certainly want to send Marquez Peterson to Congress to represent them, and not the majority of Tucson. In this time of increased awareness of the disparity between the richest and the poorest, it is no question who Lea Marquez Peterson would represent.

No need to speculate, Marquez Peterson already signaled support for rich

Take a look at her position on the Tax and Jobs Act which she strongly favored. While economists and the Congressional Budget Office agree that it will provide a boost to the economy initially, it will balloon the federal deficit, causing any gains to be absorbed. According to Forbes “In 2018 alone, tax cuts and spending hikes will add $242 billion to the federal budget deficit. As a result, the annual deficit will top $1 trillion in just two years and rise to $1.5 trillion by 2028.” Additionally, the plan phases out any benefit to the middle class so quickly, the greatest benefit goes to the top 1 percent wealthiest among us. With these kind of budget shortfalls, it is easy to see who will suffer; the most economically vulnerable among us including the poor, the elderly, Veterans, people of color, etc. Social Services will be gutted. Some predict that to stop the bleeding of the government in this scenario, earned benefits like Social Security and Medicare will be first on the chopping block — a large dream of the Lea Marquez Peterson type of Republican.

Her full support of this bill is an indication of who she will be working for in Congress, and it isn’t you and me.

Bankruptcies and missteps on economic policy don’t automatically disqualify someone from being able to govern. However when your entire platform is based on representing “small business” and you tout your business credentials as your unique qualifications to hold office, it better add up. Perhaps Lea Marquez Peterson should have taken more applied statistics and economics classes.

Marion Chubon is president of the super PAC Represent Me Az.


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Paul Ingram/TucsonSentinel.com

Lea Marquez Peterson awaits primary election returns in August.