When voters last heard from Jeanne Casteen, the educator and former Governing Board President of the Creighton Elementary School District, she was the 2020 Democratic Nominee for Maricopa County School Superintendent. 

Although she did not prevail in a close race, Ms. Casteen has remained active in public circles, conducting interviews with local and state public figures and becoming a leading voice for Secular Arizona. 

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Frustrated with the constant reactionary and anti-public education stance of Republicans in the State Legislature, Ms. Casteen has decided to run for the State Senate seat in the new Legislative District (LD) Two. 

If elected to the State Senate this November, she wants to work on:

  • Fully funding public education. 
  • Affordable housing.
  • Fair wages for everyone.
  • Protecting the water supply and combatting climate change.

Ms. Casteen graciously took the time to answer questions about her campaign for the State Senate.

The questions and her responses are below. 

  • What are at least two reasons you want to run for a term in the Arizona state legislature in the new LD Two? 

“I want to run because I think that we need to make sure that we have somebody running in as many seats as we can. The voters in this area should have a choice for a state Senator as well. The GOP is currently hearing bills that seem to focus on hurting the people of Arizona, and I intend to advocate for the Common Good. 

We need somebody who actually cares about education, the working class, the rising cost of housing, and about fair wages. Unfortunately, what I’ve seen coming from the gentleman I’ll be running against is none of those things.”

  • What are least two reasons voters should elect you over your opponent in this race? 

“I have a background in education and I have a passion for education, and I think we have a real problem in Arizona with regards to teacher retention. You know, it’s not that we have a shortage of teachers. We have a teacher retention crisis. And so, what I’ve seen so far are coming from my opponent are more attacks on educators that are going to tie their hands. And in the case of HB 2161, perhaps even possibly put children in harm’s way. I was at the committee hearing when he said that he didn’t want a teacher to coach or console his children.

And coaching is, you know, you’re a teacher, that’s what we do. We coach kids on how to improve their essay writing or to improve their spelling or whatever our subject area is. And as far as consoling, I mean, especially coming out of COVID, I can’t imagine not consoling my students, My student comes to me and says “My grandmother passed away because of COVID,” and I can’t console them? It’s absolutely ridiculous and downright callous. 

We really all know the motive of that bill and it seemed to be outing our LGBTQ students. There were amendments added, but the protections for parents are still so prevalent in that bill. The wording is still so vague that it would have a chilling effect for teachers who don’t want to risk being targeted or penalized.

 I talked to my daughter about it. She’s graduating in May. And just over lunch yesterday, we talked about some of these bills and she said, “these bills are making it impossible for people to teach.” She is actually telling me that she’s considering taking a year off after graduation to see if these bills go through, and decide if she would continue in education and sign a contract. And that’s a tragedy because she’s already an incredible educator. She was valedictorian. She received scholarships. She got incredibly high marks from her ASU professor. And so already, before she’s even in the classroom, she’s considering a different career path and it’s a direct result of some of these attacks on education.

There’s that and another bill, HB 2166. It’s a bill that would do away with taxes for guns and ammunition. Instead of doing something that would help people, especially people living in poverty or working-class people like perhaps a tax exempt status for diapers or car seats or feminine hygiene products. That makes a heck of a lot more sense to me than doing away with tax revenue for guns and ammo.

In a state where we already have so many tax breaks and tax cuts and tax loophole for the wealthy, why on Earth? They’re not essential items. Why wouldn’t we want the tax revenue from them? So his policy ideas include attacks on educators and an opportunity to maintain, I guess, his good score from the NRA? It’s not helping families. And that’s what I want to do is help families and I do have experience doing that. I mean, even though it’s school board experience, I have experience actually helping working class people in the district (Creighton Elementary) where I sat on the board. We knew what families were dealing with like food insecurity. So rather than provide breaks for guns, we decided to actually address that problem and provide a supper program for families within the district.

We know that when parents achieve a higher education and, and go further with their education, that the outcomes for the entire family and the children are going to be better. So we started a family resource center that’s focused on adult education, and I’m proud to say that in that district year after year, we’ve grown, graduated more and more of our adult learners with GEDs so that they can be set up to get better paying jobs and to perhaps even further their education on their own. 

I have the experience and the track record of advocacy and creating policies that actually help working class families.”

  • What are at least four issues you will focus on in the legislature?

“Education is my passion and our schools really are the heart of our community. In the state of Arizona, we have a two-tiered education system, and we have politicians who seem to be focused on the privatization of our public education system, oftentimes for their own personal profit.

We have a teacher retention crisis. I’m vested in this as well because of my own daughter. I know what is possible when education is fully funded. At one point about a hundred years ago, we were number one in the nation in education and over the last 25 years, since the introduction of charter schools and the expansion of vouchers and STOs, we’re constantly in the bottom three with Mississippi and Alabama. And it’s not that all charters are inherently bad, but they should be monitored, held accountable, and play by the same rules as traditional public schools. 

Education is something that’s very important to me. I would love to see a poverty or opportunity weight, for districts and schools that serve our most vulnerable communities. We must provide for the Common Good and lift those kids and those families up. There are several states that have implemented that kind of weight and it just makes sense. There’s a weight added for kids who receive special ed services, and a weight for our language learners. When we have some of the highest levels of childhood poverty in the state of Arizona, I think it makes a lot of sense for us to have an opportunity or poverty weight added in order to level the playing field.

I have two adult children, and another thing that I’m very focused on and worried about is the rise of housing costs and not just here in Maricopa County, but really all throughout the state and even throughout the country. So, we really need to have creative solutions when it comes to providing affordable housing and making sure that families have access to affordable housing that isn’t taking up more of more than 50% of their income.

Fair wages are something that is very important to me as well. Again, having children, one of them is in college. The other one opted not to go to college, but anybody who works 40 hours a week would be able to pay all of their bills. Maybe put a little bit of money in a savings account and perhaps even take a vacation every once in a while.

But unfortunately, that’s not really what’s happening. Many of my students’ parents work two and three jobs just to be able to make ends meet. These issues are connected. Housing costs are rising, the wages are stagnant, and families are forced to double and triple up or move out of the district altogether because they are being priced out.

Then of course, I think all of us should be really worried about climate and we need to really start addressing the water supply issues that we are facing. Sadly, many legislators don’t seem to want to really do anything about it.

Instead, they’re (Republican legislators like my opponent) focused on punishing LGBTQ students and their teachers, and removing taxes for guns and ammo. But this issue of water is one that we all need to be paying attention to. And again, I’ve been here 31 years. Both of my children were born here. This is the only home they’ve ever known. And the reasons why I focus on these issues specifically is because I want them to be able to live and thrive and survive here and for my future grandchildren someday, to be able to call Arizona their home.”

Do you support Universal Pre-K?

“Absolutely, yes.

The outcomes when a child has access to Pre-K Education are staggering. Their  vocabulary increases, their social skills are stronger, and the positive effects last an entire lifetime. Universal pre-K should be available for every child and specifically for kids who are living in poverty and whose parents struggle to pay their bills.”

Are you for expanding Kids Care?

“Absolutely, yes. I’m a big fan of universal healthcare as well. I think it was the Koch Foundation a few years back that actually did a study about universal healthcare and that it actually saves taxpayers’ money. So of course I would want to be able to make sure our families who need it the most have access to healthcare. We all do better when we all do better.”

You support preserving voting rights, early voting, and protecting Democracy?

“I’m a big fan of democracy, and the bills moving through the legislature are disgraceful. I don’t want to take our state back to 1958. I hope we see more elected leaders from the Republican party call out the extremists in their party the way County Recorder Stephen Richer and Senator Paul Boyer have.”   

Do you support funding the police?

“We can take a good, hard look at our police force and see how we could make some changes. And if that means reallocating money to more mental health care resources and social services then I think that makes sense.”

Do you favor a secure border, coupled with immigration reform?

“First of all, I think all dreamers should have some form of amnesty.

I’ve had far too many students in the past who were brought here when they were children. We need to make sure that we allow people who are fleeing violent situations to find refuge here. 

As far as securing the border, we’ve seen all the pictures of fences being breached and people getting past it. So, I think it makes more sense for us to be a good neighbor and to work with our neighbors south of the border, so that we can address people crossing the borders in a different way.

I don’t necessarily see people trying to come into the United States as a bad thing or a problem. I think that it’s an opportunity for us to collaborate and work together to improve the system.”

  • Is there anything that wasn’t covered in the first three questions that you would like the readers to know about you and your candidacy? Please explain. 

“We need to flip the legislature. We need elect people who want to uphold the Constitution and who want to promote the Common Good. We need people who can work with others, and who will listen to their constituents. I’ve done this in the classroom, in the boardroom, and I will do it as the next Senator in Legislative District Two.”

 

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