The Independent Interview: Q&A with District 28 Rep. Aaron Lieberman

State Rep. Aaron Lieberman offers insights to his fist few months as an elected leader at the Arizona Legislature. (Submitted photo)

The Town of Paradise Valley finds itself a part of Arizona Legislative District 28 — spanning from Union Hills to Thomas Road, and from Interstate 17 to just east of Scottsdale Road

Paradise Valley son, Aaron Lieberman, a Democrat, is a freshman Representative at the Arizona Legislature replacing Maria Syms, a Republican, at the state capitol this past winter.

The Arizona House of Representatives, which is the lower house of the local Legislature, elects its members to two-year terms with a term limit of four consecutive stints in office. Today, the Republican Party holds a majority of 31 to 29 at the House while the state’s 30 legislative districts — a district consists of at least 170,000 people — elects two representatives for each district.

Rep. Lieberman was elected to his post at the November 2018 general election taking office Monday, Jan. 14.

The Town of Paradise Valley Independent reached out to Mr. Lieberman to see how the elected leader is fairing during his first term as an Arizona lawmaker. This is what he had to say:

•What is your No. 1 priority at the Arizona Legislature?

My big focus down at the Legislature has been on public education — especially making sure we continue to reverse the funding cuts that have had such a big impact on our public schools. I sit on the education and appropriations committee, so I have been able to dive into how our state spends our public dollars. I’ve been advocating to restore the cuts that were made to education at an even faster pace, while making sure we have sufficient funds in the rainy day fund to help weather a future downturn.

•As an elected leader of Legislative District 28, what are you attempting to accomplish this calendar year?

I have focused on some aspects of our educational system that sometimes do not get as much attention: college affordability and increasing our state’s investment in high-quality preschool.

To address college affordability, the first bill I introduced was the John McCain Public Service Scholarship Fund, which would provide state matching funds for young people who do a year of service in Arizona under AmeriCorps and receive a federal award.

I named the program after Sen. McCain in honor of his legacy of supporting the importance of the idea of service to a cause larger than yourself — and his track record of working across the aisle to fight for the federal AmeriCorps program. I was pleased to have 12 co-sponsors — evenly divided between Democrats and Republicans — including the Speaker of the House.

I was thrilled to have the bill passed out of the House 48-12 and look forward to the final budget negotiations to try to get this funded.
In terms of preschool funding, I proposed a special higher child care rate for foster parents so foster kids can access higher quality child care as well as restoring some of our state’s At-Risk Pre-k Program, which was zeroed out during the 2009 recession.

One of the reasons I am so passionate about this issue is that we know when children receive high-quality, pre-k, the state actually saves money later on because the participants go onto to be more successful in school and in life.

I was pleased both of these bills were voted out of our appropriations committee. The special rate for foster children was also voted out of the House and sent over to the Senate, and I hope both of these bills will also be part of the final budget negotiation as well.

•What are you hearing from constituents within your district?

The No. 1 item I hear about from constituents is their concern for our public education system. The teacher pay raise was a very important first step — but we still have crumbling classrooms and some of the highest class sizes in the country.

We need to at least get back to where we were in 2009 in terms of funding our public schools — where 95% of all of our children attend school.
The other big issues I hear about from constituents are quality of life issues.

AirBnB party houses remain a big issue. I was please to co-sponsor with Rep. Kavanaugh a measure that will provide increasing fines and give local towns more tools to help reign in the party houses that are popping up in some many of our neighborhoods throughout the district.

Particularly on the west side of our district, there are also on-going concerns about what we can do to better support homeless families as well as those accessing opioid treatment centers.

Nearly every person I speak with on this issue is both concerned for those who are struggling and wants to make sure our neighborhoods are safe. Rep. Kelli Butler and I are attempting to go to our neighborhood association meetings whenever time allows to help get a handle on this program and work with our neighbors to see what we can do to address it.

•What do you think is the most important for readers to know about what is happening at the Arizona Legislature?

There is definitely more balance down at the Legislature now, and that is good for the state.

The House of Representatives is as evenly divided as it has been in over 50 years, and that means fewer extreme ideas have made it through the entire legislative process.

I believe the best ideas are those that receive bi-partisan support — and I plan to keep working in bi-partisan manner to move the state forward.

•What are you seeing as challenges as the new session begins to unfold?

We still see many extreme ideas make it out of our committees — which are all appointed by the Speaker and have decidedly less balance than overall body. For example, on both of the education and appropriations committee, there are seven Republicans and just four Democrats, even though the overall balance is 31 Republicans to 29 Democrats.

Our health committee has a similar ratio and, as an example, has passed three anti-vaccination bills that fortunately the Governor has promised to veto (and so far they have not made it to the floor).

We have also seen some ideas pass on narrow, 31 to 29, party line votes. One of these would have reduced the minimum wage by $2 dollars an hour for young people working their way through school. In my view, these are the very people you most want to encourage to work!

Fortunately, that bill was ultimately ruled to be unconstitutional since it went again the will of the voters who approved the state wide minimum wage and was stopped in the Senate.

•What do you dislike the most about serving at the Arizona Legislature?

There is still too much partisan fighting — on both sides. We need to do more to work together collaboratively at the earliest stages in the legislative process — when bills are being drafted — so that there will be more buy in from both parties when bills get to the floor.

•What do you like the most about serving at the Arizona Legislature?

I am grateful for the relationships I have been able to build with members from both parties. In both caucuses, I have been able to find members who are willing to work collaboratively to move ideas forward. I have been very fortunate to have two wonderful chair women of both Appropriations and Education who have been willing to be work with me to further develop bills on my legislative priorities and move them through the process.

Ultimately, I have loved the opportunity to represent LD 28 — the district where I grew up — and to have an opportunity to make a difference. It’s truly been a great honor — and I look forward to continuing to work with you all in the future.

One of the biggest surprises has been seeing so many people from District 28 down at the Capitol on the various special days and school visits. Rep. Butler and I love visiting with our constituents, so please let us know if you are down there and come say hello!

Independent Newsmedia Arizona Managing Editor Terrance Thornton can be contacted at tthornton@newszap.com

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