Aaron Lieberman

Aaron Lieberman at the capitol

Democratic Rep. Aaron Lieberman (LD-28) announced June 29 that he’s running for governor. If elected, Lieberman would be the first Jew to hold the office in Arizona history.

“That would be wonderful,” he told Jewish News. While he would take pride in that accomplishment, “the job is about representing all Arizonans,” he said, no matter their background, political or religious persuasions.

In 2018 Lieberman became the first Democrat to be elected to LD-28’s second seat in the Arizona House of Representatives. The work he did to earn his seat in the conservative district, which includes Paradise Valley, is the same work he’ll have to do to win statewide, he said.

“We still have 135,000 more registered Republicans than Democrats. You have to convince people — lots of our Independents and a slice of our Republicans — that you’re focused on actually moving the state forward with solutions that are broadly supported by voters. And that’s my whole platform.”

He is running on four issues: a full recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic, investing in education, increasing access to affordable, high-quality health care and ensuring clean air and water for future generations.

“There’s a sense that our politics are broken, and when we should have been coming together to deal with COVID, it feels like we’ve been coming apart,” he said. His vision for a recovery from the pandemic addresses its economic toll on small businesses by renewing and expanding a grant program for businesses with fewer than 25 employees.

“The economy has definitely showed some good signs, but for many Arizona businesses, you really make your money in the spring, and you try to get through the long summer, and even into the fall, and missing out on a lot of that winter tourism and that spring boom, we still have some of our true local small businesses that are really struggling,” he said.

He’d also like to address the pandemic’s ramifications on the state’s health care and education systems, while also still monitoring infection rate data and new variants.

He describes education as one of the “animating passions” of his life and as governor would “fix and fund our schools.” He would like to see higher teacher pay, too.

“We need to continue to dramatically increase funding for our schools and specifically funding for our teachers so that we can get more teachers in the classroom. Then you can start to reduce class size and do other things like that,” he said. He also wants to have preschools across the state and reduce the costs of community college.

Lieberman founded two organizations focused on early childhood education before being elected. In 1994 he founded Jumpstart, a nonprofit group that connected students in Head Start, a federal program for low-income children, with tutoring services. In 2002, he founded Acelero Learning, a for-profit company that runs nearly 50 child care centers for low-income families around the country. He was CEO of Acelero for 13 years before transitioning to board chairman.

More recently, Lieberman spent two years as CEO of Phoenix Spine, and in 2017 became a partner with New Profit, a venture philanthropy organization that backs social entrepreneurs advancing equity and opportunity. Lieberman founded and led New Profit’s Early Childhood Support Organization, which provides leader and educator development and curriculum coaching to support better outcomes for low-income children who are enrolled in subsidized child care programs.

On the issue of health care, he wants to expand KidsCare, Arizona’s children’s health insurance program.

“For less than $10 million in additional state investment, we could double the enrollment and eligibility for KidsCare and draw down another $60 million in matching state funds. It makes economic sense and will, most importantly, get more kids covered in Arizona.”

When it comes to clean air and water, he takes aim at the current leadership in the legislature and at Gov. Doug Ducey. They have not been willing to talk about or acknowledge climate change, he said, “and that’s just silly and wrong.”

He plans to put policies in place that will ensure “we’re giving a better state to our kids than the one that we found.”

Lieberman says funding for his vision is already there. In the time he’s been in the legislature there have been multi-billion dollar surpluses “where we could have accomplished everything I just mentioned and have money to spare. But instead we doubled down on really big tax cuts. We need to stop cutting and start investing in things that make Arizonans broadly more successful.”

Lieberman is one of three Democrats, so far, who have announced they are running in the Democratic primary for the state’s highest office. He joins Secretary of State Katie Hobbs and business adviser Marco Lopez, who was an aide to former Gov. Janet Napolitano.

He said what sets him apart is his executive experience at a large organization.

Rep. Alma Hernandez (LD-3), who is also Jewish, endorsed Lieberman in early July.

“I know that if he sets his mind to something, he will move heaven and earth to make it happen. That’s the tenacity we need in the Governor’s office, and that’s why I am supporting Aaron for Arizona,” she said in her endorsement.

Lieberman said he knows how to work with people from all different backgrounds and parties to get things done.

“I’m 2-0 in kind of uphill, challenging races. I hope to be 3-0 and be our next governor,” he said. JN