Fully Funding Education is the Top Issue as LD 18 Democrats look to take both State Representative Seats in 2018

State Representative Mitzi Epstein
State Representative Mitzi Epstein

Education, Education, Education. That is the top issue for all three candidates competing for the two Representative seats for LD 18 as they vie to continue the trajectory of making this district increasingly blue in this year’s election.

As reported in a previous overview of LD 18, it is a district that includes Ahwatukee-Phoenix, Tempe, Chandler, and Mesa. Socioeconomically, it is a mostly upper-middle-class district. It is where the main campus of Mesa Community College is located as well as technology powerhouses GoDaddy and Intel.

Jennifer Jermaine

Until recently, the district has predominately elected Republican candidates for its local seats. Democrats made their first electoral gains in the district this decade with victories for State Senator Sean Bowie and State Representative Denise “Mitzi” Epstein in 2016.

The party hopes to continue this trend by re-electing Bowie and Epstein to their current positions and electing either Jennifer Jermaine or LaDawn Stuben who will run against Republican State Representative incumbent Jill Norgaard.

The three women running for the two State Representative seats in the LD 18 district represent all the wings of the Democratic Party.

  • Current State Representative Epstein, a children’s advocate whose first career was in computer systems, considers herself a listener and problem solver who believes that “the strongest solutions are when we bring the most people together.” Representative Epstein has put these skills to work in advancing reforms in youth suicide prevention by helping prevail upon the legislature to secure funds for a full-time youth suicide prevention coordinator.
  • Jermaine, a public services advocate, echoes that, calling herself a Pragmatic Progressive who wants “everyone to win” with compromised solutions that advance social justice and civil rights for everyone.
  • Stuben, a community activist, comes from the more liberal wing of the party and seeks to pursue a Sanders progressive agenda.
LaDawn Stuben

Red For Ed

Education is the top issue in the LD 18 district that is uniting these three candidates. All support fully funding education. All of them see what occurred with the recent Red For Ed coordinated teacher walkout as a down payment in paving the road toward full education funding.

All of them do not favor a sales tax to make up the difference in education funding, calling it too regressive on the poor and middle class. Getting rid of corporate loopholes is the method they would employ in fully funding education along with the Invest in Ed ballot initiative.

According to the candidates, the other important issues facing the district include Youth Suicide Prevention, ensuring the educating and training of a highly skilled workforce, conducting public service based on the issues, not the party, fighting government corruption, and protecting the environment by fostering clean energy development.

They see the Republican message on issues as too pro-corporation, discriminatory (especially against the LGBTQ community), close-minded and inaccessible, unpractical and not in tune with the issues of the day or needs of the people.

On specific issues, the candidate’s positions are:



K-12 Education: Saying “we overtax those at the bottom but instead we should ask everyone to pay their fair share,” Epstein believes that grown-up legislators should be able to come together and meet with the revenue committee and look at the tax structures and help solve the funding education issue through closing corporate loopholes and looking at Invest in Ed. A sales tax on the poor and middle class is not an option. Funding is the key issue, but also there is a huge need to put an emphasis back on educating the whole child, providing SEL, social-emotional learning to help children learn the “mental toughness” and empathy to make their own kind of success.

University Tuition: The state should support funding to reduce tuition at the three state universities for families. She is opposed to adding state funding into the “Freedom Schools,” such as the Center for Economic Liberty at ASU.  The founding director is William Boyes, who notoriously has proselytized that the right reform is to “Get Rid of Public Education.”

Dreamers: “DACA kids are our kids. They should have opportunities.”


K-12 Education: Jermaine asserts that the state should restore the education funding and treat education professionals with respect and value their contributions to society. Our economy depends on K-12 and companies will leave if we do not invest. No sales tax should be implemented to fund education even. Other ways to fully fund education are passing Invest In Ed at the ballot, close corporate loopholes and cut down on bad bills that cost money to litigate only to find it is unconstitutional.

University Tuition: “The state needs to restore the funding for our universities to ease the burden on students who are being saddled with debt.” Also, taxpayer dollars should not be used on funding the Koch centers at Arizona State and the University of Arizona. The Koch Brothers could use their own money to develop these centers if they want.

Dreamers: Dreamers who graduate from Arizona High Schools should get in-state tuition.


K-12 Education: The Invest in Ed is a good ballot measure to pass and is a good start to funding education. Stuben says that corporate taxes, instead of sales taxes, should be increased to make up for the budget difference. For-profit charter school state aid and private school voucher funding should either be cut off or repealed in November. Finally, bills should be passed making charter schools more transparent and accountable.

 Universities: Students should go to community college for free and tuitions at universities should be as low as possible, possibly in exchange for a commitment to national service. No public monies should go to the Koch centers.

 Dreamers: All residents should get in-state tuition.

Dark Money

Epstein: Citing Tempe as a model, Representative Epstein relayed that “we can not begin to fulfill the goals of democracy if we do not know who is funding elections. Disclosure needs to be the expectation.”

Jermaine: Already actively working on outlawing dirty money, Jermaine contends, “we need transparency to know who is influencing our government.”

Stuben: Stuben calls this issue the “biggest problem in politics…. no transparency, then there is no trust. If you are not doing anything wrong, should have no problem.”

Green Energy

 Epstein: Noting that she has solar panels on the roof of her house, she points out that we are responsible for maintaining a healthy environment and we should have long-term policies to support clean air and water.

Jermaine: Supports green energy technology and moving towards renewable resources.

Stuben: “Climate crisis is a real thing.” She supports the creation of a publicly owned solar energy utility and the crackdown on monopolies like APS who control the Corporation Commission.

Minimum or Living Wage

 Epstein: Believes that everyone should have a living wage that is determined by the cost of living in the local community. She cited one study that forecast 800,000 people did better in the state with the last increase from Prop 206’s passage.

Jermaine: “No one working 40 hours a week should live in poverty.” Also believes that local communities, led by city councils, should set the wage level.

Stuben: There should be a fight to increase wages to $15.00 an hour where people “can make a living.” Like Epstein, Stuben dismisses the assertion that businesses will fold with the increase. Furthermore, with the higher wages, people will afford more to eat and circulate more money into the economy. She also agrees that there may be regional allowances for the cost of living adjustments.


 Epstein: She recognizes that infrastructure is the key to a healthy economy. A long-term strategy needs to be developed that includes not only improvements for transportation, but also IT and other industry drivers. This strategy should also provide for renewable energy considerations.

Jermaine: Drawing on the analogy not to be “a penny wise and pound foolish,”  Jermaine believes that people are best put to work on preventative maintenance projects as opposed to major emergency repairs. She also believes in drawing on renewable and clean energy sources and strategies to accomplish these projects.

Stuben: Need to work together as a community to assess needs. Projects should not jeopardize where people live or force them to move. These projects should also be mindful of the environment.

Gun Safety

 Epstein:  She has voted yo consider a ban on bump stocks. People with dangerous histories should not be able to purchase or gain access to guns. With bipartisan collaboration, we can respect Second Amendment rights while also improving background checks and closing gun show loopholes.”

Jermaine: Believes in common sense gun control reform which includes background checks “on all sales,” the banning of high magazine clips and bump stocks. She also supports the repeal of the Dickey Amendment, which prohibits the Center for Disease Control from “studying gun violence as an epidemic.”

Stuben: Supports gun control reform and chastises those that equate that with no guns allowed. Nobody in the state should walk around like “Wyatt Earp.” Background checks should be performed on potential purchases and age limits should be placed on the acquisition of AR 15s.

Improving the Economy

Epstein: Believes that investing in education is the key to improving the economy. Also, she noted that the Bioscience Road Map has provided leadership for the state’s technology and innovation sectors to take root and grow in Arizona. “Right here in our community, I’ve visited high schools where student engineers are using 3D printers to make robot parts, and I’ve visited high-tech business headquarters that use 3D printers to make titanium parts for aerospace.” 

Jermaine: Citing Amazon not choosing the East Valley as a site for their second headquarters, Jermaine contends that we are at a “critical juncture” because companies will only choose to stay in Arizona if our education is first-rate. She calls for investing in our workforce and schools by bringing the trades back to schools instead of centralizing them in regional schools like the East Valley Institute of Technology (where some students lack the transportation to attend.) She also supports students gaining experience in apprenticeship programs like auto mechanics and other trades to transition to a good paying job.

Stuben: Like the other candidates, Stuben believes investing in education is the key to improving the economy and also keeping the best employers in the community. She also supports apprenticeship programs. She believes that workers should be able to form unions because that is one of the ways to negotiate for highly skilled, paying jobs with worker protections. She also proposes legislation where workers will have the ability to form cooperatives.

The Impoverished and the Homeless

Epstein: “Strategic increases in childcare subsidies are one of the most effective ways to help working families keep their jobs. Arizonans of all income levels need access to childcare that is affordable and of high quality. Investing in our children’s success can not only help, not only to meet immediate needs but also help to prevent future problems.”

Jermaine: “I have worked with several nonprofits that help impoverished and homeless individuals and families.  There are excellent models that exist within our local community (UMOM, Andre House, One-in-Ten, Borderlands Foodbank, St. Mary’s Food Bank, and many more) and we should look to them and ask them how they need support from the State Legislature.”

 Stuben: Jobs need to be found for everyone. Believes throwing money at the issue will not solve it but, borrowing from the “whether to give fish or teach fishing analogy,” prudent anti-poverty investment planning and involvement that incorporates both parts of the analogy will.

Equal Right Amendment

 Epstein: “Pass that.” 

Jermaine: “High time we passed it.”

Stuben: “Should have been passed 20 years ago.”  


 Epstein: “ DACA kids are our kids. They deserve the same opportunities.”

Jermaine: “They are doctors, lawyers, EMTs, and teachers. They should be given the opportunity to apply for citizenship.”

Stuben: Dreamers should “have an immediate path to citizenship.” They “have already proven they are not criminals and are productive and have already done their applications” in some cases.

Border Security

Epstein: “Should be stopping criminals who are creating dangerous problems coming across the border and want to an attorney general who will enforce that.” Drug trafficking and organized crime are growing issues that the state must collaborate with the federal government to solve.

Jermaine: “We could do more for border security by investing in communities on both sides of the border instead of a wall or other technologies.”

Stuben: Believing that “people should be treated like people” and in a “compassionate immigration system,” where there is comprehensive immigration reform, Stuben believes I.C.E. should be disbanded. Furthermore, she does not “believe in separating families” and legal representation should be provided for unaccompanied minors. She does not believe in a wall and feels that “there is no looming threat” and any talk of a danger is “made up and racist.” Any illegal aliens that are criminals should be deported.

Realizing that local issues and decisions are the ones that most affect the lives of all citizens and residents on an everyday basis, the three candidates did express concerns about matters that go beyond the local community. For Representative Epstein, it is the “shell game” that goes into composing the state budget. In her mind, that needs to change. For Jermaine, it is the improvement and broadening of promoting clean elections with greater visibility, accountability, and outreach. For Stuben, it is criminal justice reform and the getting rid of privately owned and administered prisons.

These three candidates all offer compelling visions and reasons for wanting to serve the people of LD 18. All want to represent the people in a progressive fashion and move the district forward. All are worthy of consideration. For more information about the candidates, please visit their websites. Their links are below.




David Gordon, a history teacher and author of the Progressive Bull Moose blog. He is writing from Tempe and his recent article is “AG Candidate January Contreras Will Protect Vulnerable Populations” He wrote several articles about the RedForEd protests.