Q. Where did you grow up?
A. I grew up mostly in Phoenix, but really all over. We lived in South Phoenix, Maryvale, Glendale and North Phoenix. We even lived in Tucson for a few years. I went to Deer Valley High School. Back then, my buddies and I called it Deer Valley 90210!
What were some early influences for you?
As a kid, we moved around so much that my mom would drop me off at the library for hours, so I always enjoyed reading whatever I could find. And now I get to discuss great books nearly every day at Veritas [Preparatory Academy] with my students.
I remember reading about Prime Minister Robert Peel of Great Britain in the 19th Century who did what was best for his country in repealing the corn [grain] laws and had to resign as a result. It’s hard not to admire anyone who willingly gives up power for the good of their country. Look at George Washington. It’s no stretch to argue that without Washington, the world would look radically different than it is today, and not in a good way. After defeating the greatest British military force at the time, he relinquished power…twice.
Another influence was Nino Pascolati, my English professor at Paradise Valley Community College. I became an English major mostly because of him. I would regularly stop by his office hours and discuss literary criticism or whatever else I wasn’t satisfied with in our class discussions. I remember apologizing for challenging so much but he thought it was great that a student in community college cared about something like that!
What did you study in college?
I studied English at ASU in the Barrett Honors College for my undergrad. My master’s degree was in communication studies. Looking back, if I could do it all over again, I would have studied the classics or philosophy – or both. I started the Masters of Philosophy program at ASU but the legislature and my other job got in the way so I had to step down. I still plan on earning a PhD in Philosophy at some point.
So it’s obvious you love philosophy! How did you get interested in it?
My philosophy professor at Bible College. He wasn’t the most organized teacher I’ve ever had but he was so passionate about it and would actually hang out with his students when none of the other professors would. We’d talk philosophy for hours and I loved it. My favorite modern philosopher is Roger Scruton – I have 15 of his books! As far as ancient philosophy goes, it’d have to be Aristotle and Aquinas. I love Aristotle’s discussion of the intellectual and moral virtues. Hey, how can you not like Aristotle? And Socrates is hilarious!
How does philosophy play into your role as a state legislator – and what you look for – in government?
I like a good argument. Not being argumentative; but constructing a good argument. By that I mean a conclusion that necessarily follows from its premises, the premises are more plausible than their negations and contain no formal or informal fallacies. I always tell the members on my committee, “if you can give me a good argument for your bill, I’ll put it on the agenda.”
You have served as a state representative since 2012. What made you want to get involved in politics?
Involvement and interest are two different stories. My interest in politics started when I was editor-in-chief at ASU West’s student newspaper. In the summer of 2002, there was a suicide bomb in Israel at the Park Hotel. One hundred elderly Jews were celebrating Passover and the bomber murdered 30 of them. I couldn’t fathom why someone would want to do that and previously I never really cared about international politics, but I decided right then that I was going to learn all that I could about the issue.
So I started a pro-Israel club at my campus and got to know the Jewish students from Hillel at the ASU Main campus. I ended up spending a month in Israel during the height of the suicide bombings. It was a transformative experience. After the trip, I went to a few training seminars in D.C. with AIPAC where they encouraged me to get involved with members of Congress. So after I earned my undergrad, I put together my resume and visited the office of every member of the Arizona Congressional delegation. Congressman Shadegg ended up giving me an internship and I eventually worked on the Bush Cheney re-election as a paid staffer.
That explains the beginning of my interest. As for why I got involved in politics? I had always thought about running, but never made any solid plans towards it. So when Linda Gray and Jim Weiers retired from the state legislature, I figured if there was ever a time to run, it was then. I did. I knocked on a lot of doors and made a lot of phone calls. And, here I am. Second term.
Are you going to stick around the legislature?
I’m definitely going to run for re-election. I haven’t really thought much past that.
What are some lessons you have learned over three years working with constituents and fellow elected officials?
Get the policy right and then worry about the politics. As far as I’m concerned, if I get the policy right, I can message it and communicate it with constituents. And then I can justify with conviction why I am supporting the policy.
Tell me a little about what it means to be a “common sense conservative?"
I think by definition conservatism is common sense, but it’s not always perceived that way. I think we get painted as knee-jerk and reactionaries when in reality we are just trying to conserve what works.
You are a big supporter of responsible spending on education. How do we move the needle in improving education?
I love Governor Ducey’s plan to use the state land trust to increase funding for K-12 education. Two billion for education without raising taxes – what’s not to like about it? I mean, why should we sit on a $5 Billion dollar bank account when this asset is designed to help K-12 and can put more money in the classroom to help students and teachers? The treasurer talks about a fiscal cliff in 2022, but that’s going to happen regardless due to the expiration of Prop 301. Besides, that presupposes we don’t do anything in education funding for the next seven years. That’s not only unrealistic, it’s actually preposterous to claim we wouldn’t fund education as the needs arise. As far as I’m concerned, it is never too late to start funding education. And here is a plan without raising taxes that the majority can support.
This past session, you introduced a bill, HB2517, that provided $5M in funding for the Internet Crimes Against Children Taskforce. Can you tell me more about your work in this area?
Every time I talk about it, it never gets any easier. It crushes you. We know of 15,000 unique IP addresses in Arizona that are downloading and trading child pornography. The bulk of the victims are children under 10. In many cases, infants. In Arizona, nine percent of the cases are infants. It’s horrendous. I realized early on this was a problem where we only have four full time investigators in the entire state dedicated to going after these guys. I couldn’t believe that no one had addressed this up to this point. It took me nine months, but I found a way to fund the hiring of investigators that was ongoing, and wouldn’t take from the general fund. We found the funding through the lottery commission and, thankfully, Director Bouie supports it. This is so critical. I can’t think of a more important function of government than this. It ended up at one million dollars a year - $900,000 for hiring new investigators and $100,00 for victims, really for whatever they need to help them recover.
Is that enough money?
No. But I took it in a heartbeat. I wanted $5M, which even at that falls short of addressing the scope of the problem. It breaks my heart knowing there are kids in Arizona that are being tortured, raped and abused and the investigators don’t have the manpower to rescue these children when in some cases it’s literally the click of a mouse and subpoena away from doing so. Since I introduced the legislation until the bill was signed, the Arizona Internet Crimes Against Children task force rescued 16 children. That was in three months with four guys. Think what would happen if they had a fully staffed taskforce?
But we can’t stop there. We also need to focus on helping to restore the victims to wholeness. I think it’s possible. That’s why I serve on the Childhelp board. They do such great work with helping these kids who may have been abused their whole lives and never been loved before. And there are people out there like Dan Allender who give seminars and authored The Wounded Heart that helps to restore children who are victims of sex abuse.
What are your priorities for next session?
We talked a little bit about education and I would like to go back to that. There is much discussion on whether we are getting our money’s worth out of our education system. If we are paying more, then we should have higher test scores right? Sure, but I am not a big believer that assessments are the end-all, be-all of student learning. For instance, in my classroom, my students do oral finals because I know if they can verbally answer my questions and follow up questions, then they know the material. With fill-in-the-blank or bubble tests, students lose the information the next week. Few students like to write essays and they’re harder to grade as the teacher, but it’s more worthwhile for the student.
So I’ll be running a menu of assessments bill that I ran last year. It would allow schools to choose a nationally recognized criterion or norm referenced assessment approved by the State Board of Education that is more in line with the school’s curriculum – not solely the common core aligned curriculum. Besides, I don’t think we’ll miss much as a state in ditching the Common Core test, what Arizona now calls AZ Merit. I care about if my students are actually learning, rather than about comparing my student’s scores on a one-time test with those of students across the street or in another state or country.
Do you have any favorite expressions?
I do, especially quotes from Churchill or Otto von Bismarck. A particular favorite though is Aristotle who said, “A truly educated mind is able to entertain an idea without accepting it.”
Do you have any pets or favorite pastimes?
I have a Cairn terrier, named Sydni. She’s the cutest dog you’ve ever met and I’m quite certain I’m not biased one bit! As far as pastimes, this is going to sound uber geeky but I love translating Ancient Greek into English. I’m working on the Meno by Plato right now. When my wife Beth asks me to help her in the kitchen, I tell her I’d rather translate Plato for 10 hours than cook a meal for 10 minutes. And she knows I’m not joking! Otherwise, I love hiking, rock climbing, and reading, whether it’s history or philosophy. Right now I’m reading a firsthand account of Napoleon’s Russia campaign by Count Philippe Paul de Segur, Things That Matter by Charles Krauthammer, and The Paideia Program by Adler as well. They’re all helpful in their own ways.
What would you tell someone thinking about a career in public service?
Are you sure you want to do this? Seriously, doing it well is hard work. It is a sacrifice. I enjoy it because I genuinely enjoy meeting new people, which I get to do all the time whether it’s constituents or by knocking on doors and talking to voters during campaign season. I used to sell books door to door in South Carolina to pay for college. I worked 80 hours a week, had my car stolen, was bit by a dog, moved seven times and I was in a tornado that picked up my trailer off the ground and slammed it down. It was fantastic. It was the best life experience!