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Jalisco’s new governor vows to be liberal and inclusive

February 28, 2013

“I’m not a conservative,” Jalisco’s governor-elect told CNN Mexico days before he was due to take up office on Friday, March 1. “I’m a liberal in the sense that I think we must be inclusive and tolerant of different forms of religious expression and sexual preference.”

After 18 years of governance by the center-right, pro-church National Action Party (PAN), the words of Aristoteles Sandoval, 39, will have come as a relief to the more liberal sectors of Jalisco society.

While Guadalajara is one of Mexico’s more progressive and cosmopolitan cities, much of the state remains a bastion of traditional Catholic values. Ironically, in last year’s election Sandoval lost the vote in Guadalajara to the more liberal candidate Enrique Alfaro of the leftist Citizens Movement, but won overwhelmingly in the more conservative small towns where the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) has historically excelled in mobilizing voters.

Sandoval’s latest comments appear an attempt to reach out to those who voted for Alfaro, but also to distance himself from his divisive predecessor Emilio Gonzalez.

Questioned by CNN on same-sex marriage, Sandoval, promised vaguely to “recognize” and “expand social rights,” and said he would respect a Supreme Court ruling that same-sex marriages – which can only be performed in Mexico City – are valid across the entire country. The contrast with Gonzalez’s infamous utterance that same-sex marriage made him feel “nauseous” was clear.

Although Sandoval did not voice support for abortion in the interview, he did declare a need for greater sex education in Jalisco, citing the lack of information available to young people. Again, this stance was markedly different from that of Gonzalez, who once tried to ban the sale of the morning-after pill, was firmly opposed to abortion and in 2010 said it was “on the same level” as drug-dealing, kidnapping and murder.

Sandoval also took a bold stance on drug policy, calling for a public debate on the legalization of drugs in Mexico and refusing to rule out the legalization of marijuana: “I’m not saying no, but I’m not sure that it’s feasible right now.”

Although liberals may consider such declarations a welcome improvement on Gonzalez’s outbursts, they will still view them with much skepticism until there are firm policies to back up Sandoval’s rhetoric.

After all, the centrist PRI, while much less ideological than the PAN, is hardly synonymous with human rights and social progression. Having been responsible for several massacres – most infamously the murder of hundreds or perhaps thousands of student protesters in Tlatelolco in October 1968 – during its 71-year unbroken rule of Mexico, the party has its work cut out if it wants to win the trust of the left.

The young, handsome Sandoval is said to represent a new, reformed PRI, but so too is President Enrique Peña Nieto, who remains widely reviled for ordering a vicious crackdown on demonstrators that resulted in hundreds of physical and sexual assaults and arbitrary detentions in San Salvedor Atenco in 2006. But with no such stains on his record, Sandoval’s talk of “tolerance” is slightly more convincing that it would be coming from the president.

The son of a magistrate in Jalisco’s Supreme Court, Sandoval was born and raised in Guadalajara. He studied law at the public University of Guadalajara before completing a masters in politics and public administration at the city’s private ITESO university.

Having served as a state Congressman from 2003 to 2006, Sandoval was elected mayor of Guadalajara in 2009. At the age of just 35, he was the youngest person to ever take up the position.

The most notable event during his term in office was the staging of the Pan American Games in October 2011. This largely triumphant event was mostly organized by the state government, but it fortunately for Sandoval it served to overshadow many of the failures of his municipal government.

Sandoval achieved relatively little in office, leaving after just two years in order to concentrate on his bid for the governorship. He left several unfulfilled pledges: to name a cabinet in which women hold half of the positions; and to improve public security; urban mobility; and transparency.

On urban mobility, Sandoval said the city’s light-rail network would be expanded from Estacion Juarez along Avenida Vallarta to the Minerva Glorieta, yet his administration never went so far as to pay for studies investigating the viability of such a plan.

Having promised to resurface many of Guadalajara’s roads with hydraulic concrete, the municipal government ended up repaving stretches along just 24 avenues, but at a cost of 1.1 billion pesos, to be paid back over the next six mayoral administrations.

Sandoval also failed to noticeably increase public security. At the start of his administration he vowed to bring results within 100 days, then he gave himself another 100 days before ultimately scrapping any such deadline.

Sandoval’s pledges to improve transparency and gender equality in local government also went unfulfilled, as neighborhood associations rejected his plans for greater citizen participation and only two women ever made his cabinet.

Sandoval will have no excuses if he does achieve more as governor, for on Sunday the State Congress unanimously approved a set of reforms that he had proposed last week.

The reforms mean the state government will be more streamlined and a new attorney general will be appointed, with the responsibilities of the old attorney general’s office having been merged with those of the public security agency. Once nominated, the attorney general must be ratified by two thirds of the congress.

The unanimous vote was a ringing endorsement for Sandoval and he must now repay the faith that Jalisco’s citizens and politicians of all parties have shown in him. The soon-to-be governor promised to do just that when asked by CNN if he harbors aspirations to run in the 2016 presidential race.

“No way. My focus is on Jalisco,” Sandoval said. “I want to give results and I will concentrate 100 percent on the state of Jalisco. That’s what they elected me for and I will not be distracted.”

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