Aaron Lieberman

Aaron Lieberman

“I want our politicians to get back to being, ‘We’re Arizonans first, and we’re Democrats and Republicans second,’” said Aaron Lieberman, a Democrat who’s running in the Aug. 28 primary for a state house seat in Legislative District 28.

Lieberman said that his desire to run stems from wanting to create a more bipartisan atmosphere in the Arizona House and seeking to improve the state’s education system.

“A big part of that is this idea of tikkun olam, of repairing the world,” he said. “You’re trying to make the world as it ought to be, not as it is, and that’s a big part of what’s driving me to get into politics. We need to fix some things that are broken.”

The race has drawn some national attention because it is competitive and because education is a major issue. As primary candidates, Lieberman and incumbent Kelli Butler are seeking two House seats, hence they’ll both be on the general election ballot in November to face a Republican incumbent in Maria Syms, a vocal opponent of #RedForEd, and a non-incumbent, Kathy Petsas.

There is also a contested primary on the GOP side for the LD28 State Senate seat, with sitting Sen. Kate Brophy McGee facing challenger Kenneth Bowers. Christine Marsh is unopposed in the Democratic primary for that seat.

“In Arizona, it’s pretty unusual to have a challenger to an incumbent in a primary,” said Kim Fridkin, a professor with Arizona State University’s School of Politics and Global Studies. “It could potentially have a downside in terms of this divisiveness because you’re having an intraparty competition, which you don’t necessarily need, but I don’t think in reality that it’s going to have that much of a detrimental effect.”

She added that not many voters are likely to be very aware of the politics in a local primary.

However, the Arizona Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee expressed hopes of flipping the entire

delegation. In a statement to Jewish News, Murphy Bannerman, the ADLCC’s communications director, wrote, “We are excited about our chances of flipping the district entirely this year in the general election. Kelli, Aaron and Christine are strong candidates with deep connections in the district, who are committed to improving our education system and making health care more affordable for hard-working Arizonans.”

Lieberman would also like to go back to the days of civil bipartisanship.

He told a story he heard about the Arizona political scene in the early 1980s, when Democrat Bruce Babbitt was the state’s governor and Republican Burton Barr was the majority leader in the Arizona House of Representatives.

“Every Sunday … Babbitt would drive to Barr’s house. He’d get the newspaper off the curb, he’d walk in and he’d hand the newspaper to Barr, and Barr would hand him a cup of coffee, and then sit down and talk about what they were going to do to move the state forward — you know, Democrats and Republicans working together — and they actually did big things,” Lieberman said.

Among those “big things,” he said, were the Groundwater Management Act of 1980, which regulated groundwater pumping issues to manage the supply in major areas of our state, and the 1982 creation of AHCCCS, this state’s version of Medicaid. Arizona was the last state to start a Medicaid program — a full 10 years after the last previous state had done so.

Lieberman grew up on 22nd Street in sight of what is now known as Piestewa Peak in what is now Legislative District 28.

He went to Madison Heights Elementary School, Phoenix Country Day School and Brophy Prep before leaving the Valley for Yale and his career, first as a Project Head Start teacher and then as an educational entrepreneur, forming Jumpstart shortly after his 1994 graduation, and Acelero Learning in 2001.

He’s proud about “being able to impact 40,000 kids every single day,” adding that “the kids enrolled in our Acelero Learning Head Start programs make gains at three times the national average. It was a great success story.”

He did all this while living in urban areas on the East Coast, and apartment life was getting a bit crowded with two boys ages 8 and 10 at the time.

“I always say that there’s only so many times that you can say, ‘Don’t bounce the ball in the apartment,’ before you’ve got to do something different.”

Which, he said, is why he moved his wife and kids to Arizona about three years ago to work with his brother, a neurosurgeon, as CEO of Phoenix Spine Surgery Center.

However, he missed the work he had been doing with early education and “then, this opportunity came to run for Legislative District 28, and I just felt, ‘You know what? I can’t just sit on the sidelines.’”

Ballotopedia.org identifies Lieberman as one of 27 educators running for Arizona legislative seats in the Democratic primary and one of nine running in competitive House races.

Lieberman also was the leading fundraiser in the LD28 races in the second quarter of 2018, according to Yellow Sheet Report. JN

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