Education and healthcare dominated the discussion at the Arizona Clean Elections Commission debate for Legislative District 23 in September.
Democrat Daria Lohman and independent Chris Leone are vying for the district’s senate seat, and democrat Eric Kurland is running for the state house of representatives. The three candidates took part in an amicable discussion in which all candidates largely agreed on the issues.
Notably absent from the debate were the Republican candidates, including incumbent Rep. Jay Lawrence. Current Sen. John Kavanagh and Rep. Michelle Ugenti-Rita, who are vying to swap seats, also did not take part in the debate.
Much of the debate centered on education funding.
Kurland, one of the teachers propelled to the ballot by the Red for Ed movement, said that Arizona needs to reduce class sizes and continue to increase pay for teachers in order to reduce the state’s teacher staffing shortage.
He said teachers “should not have to choose between teaching kids and having kids.”
All three candidates agreed that the state needs to prioritize locking down long-term funding solutions for public education in Arizona.
Gov. Doug Ducey’s 20x2020 plan, which resulted in increased funding for teacher raises earlier this year, has been criticized for relying on overly-optimistic revenue projections to fund education over the next several years.
Leone said that the state needs to match education expenditures with revenue and that “we should treat education funding like our water supply, put it on a secure, stable basis for the next 100 years.”
He said that as an independent he could help bridge the gap between the two parties to find a long-term funding solution.
Lohman said the legislature needs to be more accountable for where money is going, calling charter schools a “black hole” for education dollars. She also said the for-profit prison system is inefficient because it prioritizes profit and is siphoning off state funds that could be used for education.
Kurland said he identified $350 million that could be freed up to fund public education by doing away with most private school tax credits and using bond funding for new school construction instead of cash.
The candidates also addressed funding for higher education, with Kurland advocating for free community college for all.
“I don’t know how we are going to get there just yet, but that is where we have to go because…you don’t get a high school diploma to get out of poverty,” Kurland said. “You have to go to a community college to make a little bit more of yourself, and when people make a little bit more of themselves, we all win.”
Lohman also advocated for making community colleges more affordable and promoted increased support for vocational training.
“Jobs like plumbers and electricians – you can’t outsource those,” she said. “They are the right jobs for a lot of people.”
Leone supported government assistance, especially for low-income families, for workforce training programs, noting that college is not for everyone.
The candidates also talked about access to affordable healthcare, identifying it – along with quality public education – as a crucial tool to pull at-risk Arizonans out of poverty.
“We need to start looking at how we’re going to make sure everyone in Arizona gets covered,” Lohman said, adding that Arizona should start looking at starting its own statewide system separate from the federal government as Congress moves to pare down the ACA.
Leone said Arizona as a state needs to advocate keeping the ACA around.
“I really think the Affordable Care Act was good, and I was really sad that it is getting picked apart and dismantled.”
While he noted the ACA has problems that need to be fixed, Leone said that ACA “was bending the costs (of healthcare) down, the growth rates.”
Kurland said that he liked the ACA exchange because it was a helpful marketplace to compare options but that the future of ACA is largely a federal issue.
State legislators, Kurland said, need to focus on protecting AHCCCS, Arizona’s Medicaid program that provides healthcare to children and qualifying adults from low-income households.