Is he or she an “MOT”? You may have wondered whether some local political candidates are Jewish. We’ve got some answers for you.
Mitzi Epstein and Matt Morales are candidates for the Arizona House of Representatives from different districts who both have strong connections to Judaism. Adam Stevens, also a candidate for the Arizona House from yet another district, is Jewish. Alex Meluskey, a Republican running for the U.S. Senate, is Christian. Mikel (pronounced “Michael”) Weisser, a candidate for the U.S. House of Representatives in Congressional District 4, is not Jewish.
Tammy Caputi is a Jewish Scottsdale resident running as a Democrat for the state House of Representatives in District 23. She is the owner and president of Yale Electric West, an electrical materials supplier for large construction projects. The current representatives in her district are Republicans Jay Lawrence and Michelle Ugenti-Rita, both of whom are seeking re-election. Caputi is running unopposed in the primary election that will be held Aug. 30.
Caputi said being Jewish influenced her decision to run for the state Legislature. “I was raised in a Jewish household that believed strongly in the Jewish values of education and social justice,” she told Jewish News in an email. “I’ve been told many times that it’s very difficult to win in District 23 as a Democrat and that I shouldn’t bother. We have three legislators (including longtime state Sen. John Kavanagh) representing us who are all far-right Republicans that share the exact same opinions and represent just one small part of our community. I think it’s important that someone represents the voices of the many people in our community who are not being heard.”
Caputi said that if she’s elected in the general election, her top two priorities will be education and the economy.
Mitzi Epstein, a Democrat, is a candidate in Legislative District 18, which includes south Tempe and Ahwatukee. She was raised Catholic and is married to someone Jewish. She and her husband, Rick, raised their now-adult sons in both religious traditions. One son chose to have a bar mitzvah; the other did not. “A Jewish perspective (on life) fits very well for me,” she said. “I’ve always admired the Jewish tradition of healthy debate. I believe the best way to find solutions to problems is by bringing all stakeholders to the table and listening to them before reaching a decision.”
She ran for the same office in 2014 and lost the election by only 1,107 votes – about 1 percent. If she wins this time, she said, her priorities in the Legislature would be promoting “strong schools, better jobs and safe neighborhoods.”
“Our schools are hurting,” she said. “We must make it our priority to restore funding for public education.”
Matt Morales, a Republican, is running for the Arizona House in District 28 in Central Phoenix and Paradise Valley, where several synagogues are located. Though raised as a Protestant, he has identified as Jewish for 19 years, he said, beginning when he was a student at Arizona State University. He said that he has not formally converted only because of time constraints. He and his wife, Mindy, are raising their young sons Jewish. Reinforced by his Hispanic roots, he said, “One thing my Jewish life teaches me is the importance of an extended communal family that is more than who is inside my house. One of the reasons I love this district is its diversity and the wonderful connection people here have with each other.”
If he wins in this highly competitive district, Morales would like to focus on education funding reform, job creation and reduction of government waste in the Legislature. “I’m also a big believer in individual rights,” he said, adding that he wants to “take down hurdles faced by the LGBT community and all people to ensure they can find happiness.”
Adam Stevens, a Republican, is running for the Arizona House in District 16 in the far Southeast Valley. He said he views the concept of tikkun olam (“repairing the world”) as a moral obligation. “I remember as a small kid talking to my grandparents, who were Holocaust survivors, and asking them, ‘Why didn’t the Jews fight back?’” His grandfather replied that they had little or nothing to fight back with, Stevens said. “That made a strong impression on me. I want to make sure that the individual right to self-defense is always protected by the government,” he said. “I want to make sure that all Americans have the freedom and opportunity to live in prosperity and not be afraid of an overreaching, overpowering government. My family’s history also makes me sensitive to protecting people’s religious rights.”
If he wins the primary race he’s likely to win the general election because of the District 16 voter configuration. Stevens wants to create a low-tax-paying but broad taxpayer base. “We need a regulatory environment that doesn’t stifle the growth of Arizona businesses,” he said, “so that economic growth can help meet communities’ current and future needs.”
An update on another Jewish candidate: Adam Stevens is a Republican candidate for the state House in Legislative District 16 whose San Tan Valley home was vandalized on July 15 with spray-painted anti-Semitic slurs. Though no suspects have been identified in what has been called a hate crime, Stevens has moved forward with his campaign and is optimistic that he can win his primary in a field of four Republican candidates.
“I’m hoping we can have a Jewish lawmaker back in the House,” he said. He has caught the attention of outgoing U.S. Rep. Matt Salmon from Congressional District 5. “Adam is just the kind of person Arizona needs to be leading the way on critical issues facing the state,” Salmon said, making it clear that as incoming vice president of government affairs for Arizona State University, he’s not officially endorsing any candidate since he accepted that job. Even though he won’t be in Congress anymore, Salmon plans to remain active, he said, in activities related to nurturing U.S. support for Israel.