Arizona Senate District 24: Get to know Alston, Starzyk

Posted 7/21/20

The 2020 primary election is two weeks away, and several candidates are vying to for seats in the Arizona State Legislature.

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Arizona Senate District 24: Get to know Alston, Starzyk

Posted

The 2020 primary election is two weeks away, and several candidates are vying to for seats in the Arizona State Legislature.

There are two candidates competing for Arizona’s state senate district 24 in the Democratic Primary, Aug. 4 — incumbent Lela Alston and newcomer Ryan A. Starzyk.

The district covers parts of Phoenix and Scottsdale.

The Daily Independent fielded several questions to each candidate primed to be listed on the ballot ahead of next month’s primary. Their answers are below. Some answers have been cut for space.

Lela Alston

Age: 77

Career and Education: Bachelor of Science, Home Economics Education, University of Arizona; Master of Science, Child Development/Family Relations, Arizona State University

Political experience: State Senator (1977-1995, 2019-present), State Representative (2011 – 2019), Phoenix Union High School District Governing Board Member (2009 – present)

Years as an Arizona resident: 77

Family: Two children, six grandchildren

Website: lelaalstonaz.com

What makes you to the best candidate to represent your party in the November General Election?

It has been my honor to represent LD 24 in the Arizona Legislature since 2011. During this time, I have been a passionate advocate for public education, increased access to healthcare, investing in our communities and our most underserved constituents. Although I am part of the minority party, I am proud of the bipartisan collaborations, stakeholders’ meetings and legislation I have helped to draft, lobby for and pass, throughout my years as a legislator.

I am the best candidate to represent LD 24 in the Arizona Senate at this time because of my proven track record as a consensus-builder, my talent as a negotiator and my belief in an Arizona that provides children, families and communities with equitable opportunities. There is much that needs to be done to make Arizona the state we can all be proud of, and I am eager to continue my service to make this happen.

What are the three most important issues you will tackle if elected?

If re-elected, protecting and strengthening public education will continue to be one of my top priorities. School funding in Arizona is still below the national standards, in spite of the increases we have seen the past couple years. Reduce class sizes, attracting and retaining teachers are key to providing Arizona students with a strong education. Healthcare remains unaffordable for too many and we must ensure every person in Arizona has health insurance. We can do this by expanding Medicaid, maintaining programs like KidsCare, and more. Investing in our communities is a must, including creating more affordable housing, job training programs, and providing mental and behavioral health services for residents.

What is one commendation and one point of improvement you can work on regarding public safety in the next term?

We must ensure law enforcement provides training on the proper use of force and addressing the underlying causes, such as mental and behavioral health issues, when interacting with residents. We should also provide the resources law enforcement needs when serving the community, like social workers or mental and behavioral health specialists. Our law enforcement officers should have a positive relationship with the communities they serve—Block Watch Programs and Community Action Officers are good examples of how police can engage with neighborhoods in a positive way.

In response to COVID-19 budget deficits, how can the state adopt long-term structural changes to its budget in the foreseeable future?

The deficits that come from COVID-19 will be difficult to overcome, but we cannot forget our priorities. We cannot cut funding for public schools, healthcare, or community services. We can overcome the shortfall by closing tax-cut loopholes that do not provide a return on investment that allow some to avoid paying their fair share.

What can you do to help improve the economy and business community?

Arizona must work on attracting jobs that provide livable wages and benefits for employees. Increasing the minimum wage was a good start, but anyone in Arizona working full-time should be able to afford to live and work in their communities. We can do this by increasing career and technical education programs in high schools so graduates have an option to start a career right away, encouraging apprenticeship programs with our local unions, investing in job training programs that can help people find gainful employment, and lowering the cost of higher education in Arizona to make a college degree more affordable and accessible for everyone in Arizona.

What should the state’s involvement be in the public education system, especially since most of its funding comes from the state budget, and the way education will be delivered is likely to change because of the pandemic?

Public education should be Arizona’s top priority. We continue to lag behind other states in per-pupil funding and it shows in our results. We must ensure our public schools have the funding they need to provide our students with a quality education on par with the rest of the country. This has only been proven further by the current pandemic. Public schools will need more tools and resources to educate our children through this pandemic.

What are your plans to improve the transportation infrastructure throughout Arizona, keeping in mind that the way we get around in the future will be affected by how the pandemic plays out?

Maintaining our transportation infrastructure is crucial. The maintenance of our streets and highways and structural integrity of other infrastructure is important for the economy and residents. The safety of our people moving throughout Arizona is a top responsibility of the state, and with the pandemic, a secure supply chain is more important than ever.

Ryan A. Starzyk

Age: 38

Career and education: Background in management, analysis, research, and strategic planning for large-scale corporations. U.S. Air Force (2003-2007), board of directors Phoenix Pride, vice president

Political experience: None

Years as an Arizona resident: 10

Family: Partner, Ivan Delvasto of 13 years, dog Munchkin and cat Archie

Website: ryanforarizona.org

What makes you to the best candidate to represent your party in the November General Election?

The choice between my opponent and me is night and day. The average age of my district is 34. As the district continues the economic growth and the evolution into the 2020s, it is clear from what the voters of my district have told me that they are tired of their voices not being heard. She sponsored a terrible piece of legislation in 2013 that would essentially criminalize gay men for having sex (see 2013 HB 2218, she was the prime sponsor on the bill).

The average age of the district is 34, based on the most recent data obtained. There is a vast LGBTQ+ community in the district that I have been able to rally for my candidacy. This seat has not had a primary challenger in the last several election cycles. I am a non-establishment candidate promoting a focused voter platform with the energy and drive to make it happen. Either we move forward with the change we all know is possible or stay stuck with no actionable legislative achievements for over 40 years and counting.

What are the three most important issues you will tackle if elected?

Education is underfunded and failing our future generations. Over the last 40 years, my opponent retained power while our education system now ranks near last nationally, and the next generation is tasked with fixing the failures of the past.

Mental health coverage for all is needed now more than ever, especially with the current pandemic. Every Arizonan should be covered with comprehensive mental health services, and I will fight to make it happen.

We must reform and transform police departments in Arizona. We need less spending on police and more investments into our marginalized communities.  We need to abolish private prisons, reform minimum sentencing laws, enact diversion programs and expand mental health courts/services. I will fight for a new public safety vision that protects lives and increases economic opportunity for every Arizonan.

What is one commendation and one point of improvement you can work on regarding public safety in the next term?

Public safety needs top-down reforms. We see the ongoing battle against police brutality and must transform our public safety from enforcement to engagement. Trust in our public safety officials is lost with current tensions, and we have an obligation as elected officials to put forth every possible method to improve our public safety and create a community where people can thrive. My opponent has consistently been endorsed by and taken money from the Arizona Conference of Police and Sheriffs.  She will not tackle the difficult task of reforming and transforming our police departments the way I will as a clean elections candidate focused on voters, not donors.

In response to COVID-19 budget deficits, how can the state adopt long-term structural changes to its budget in the foreseeable future?

In 2019, Arizona gave over $18 billion ($2,500 per Arizonan) in the form of tax credits and incentives. We need to eliminate corporate welfare and invest this money into our future.  I will propose legislation to eliminate this corporate welfare and invest an additional $5 billion into education over the next five years. I will also introduce legislation to mandate that tax credits and incentives cannot exceed the annual state budget. In 2019 alone, Arizona would have been able to invest $3.5 billion more into education had this legislative mandate been in place.

What can you do to help improve the economy and business community?

Arizona should not be considered just another technology hub. We need to be recognized as the Silicon Valley of the Desert.  To do this, we need to remain competitive for companies to start and stay here. Three areas will positively impact the creation of startups, growth of the industry, and/or attraction of technology companies: angel investment; innovation challenge; high tech job training.

What should the state’s involvement be in the public education system, especially since most of its funding comes from the state budget, and the way education will be delivered is likely to change because of the pandemic?

Education and workforce development will be front and center as a budget priority. In 2019, Arizona gave over $18 billion ($2,500 per Arizonan) in the form of tax credits and incentives. We need to eliminate corporate welfare and invest this money into our future generations. The state must reform our current education system to create a skills-based learning environment instead of standardized testing. We also need to open opportunities for virtual learning environments and provide educators the flexibility to teach students in the manner they feel is most beneficial for their students.

What are your plans to improve the transportation infrastructure throughout Arizona, keeping in mind that the way we get around in the future will be affected by how the pandemic plays out?

Arizona needs a robust transportation system to remain competitive. Transportation gets people to work and helps put people to work. I believe the most appropriate way to fund transportation infrastructure is with additional federal funding and a 1% tax on corporate profits over $1 million, individual income over $500,000. The legislature has a role in providing funding for cities and counties to implement transportation infrastructure improvements throughout the state based on research that identifies the best use of funding for new development. The legislature should empower cities and counties, not restrict them from making choices best suited for their locations.

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