Q&A with newcomer Rep. Ackerley

This is a Q&A I did with newcomer Rep. Chris Ackerley, R-Sahuarita, for the Green Valley News, and it was also published in the Nogales International and the Sahuarita Sun. This appeared online on Jan. 22, 2015.

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Rep. Chris Ackerley, R-Sahuarita, is wrapping up his first two weeks as a state representative out of Legislative District 2. The high school teacher-turned-lawmaker sat down for an interview touching on Gov. Doug Ducey’s budget proposal, his vote on the civics test requirement, scam artists in Green Valley and more. The district stretches from southern Tucson to Nogales.

Gov. Ducey is suggesting deep cuts to higher education in his budget. What are your thoughts on that?

I’m concerned. What I really think we need is a plan to move forward. We have a budget that’s going to be tough. I’m not sure that anybody at the end of the day is going to like the budget, but it’s going to be a question of whether we can live with it. I’m certainly not comfortable with the cuts to higher education that are being proposed in the budget as a starting point.

So, how are we going to provide state support for universities and community colleges? The Arizona Constitution mandates that higher education for in-state residents must be nearly as free as possible.

What aspects of the governor’s budget proposal do you like and do you not like. How would Southern Arizona fare under his plan?

I am concerned on a lot of levels. He does not include the inflationary portion of K-12 funding as mandated by the courts. He does have a starting point where education is, depending on which way you classify the $23.9 million in the Student Success Fund that he’s proposed to shift over to capital funding, essentially a wash. I commend him on that portion of it. It still leaves a lot of questions unanswered. It doesn’t address capital funding for school districts and it doesn’t include the inflationary funds.

During the recent debate on the civics test requirement for Arizona students, you voted “present” during committee, but during the final vote on the House floor you voted yes. What changed your vote?

I voted “present” in committee because I was not comfortable with the implementation and language of the bill. I’m not opposed to the concept, but I was uncomfortable with some of the underlying language. It was pointed out to me by a senior legislator around here that I should relax and told me that half the stuff we do around here is fix what we did before. I had conversations with leadership and they made a commitment that we could at least think about addressing those issues that I had. Also, because it was passed in relatively short order as school boards, superintendents and school districts weigh in on the issue, we can take a look at it to make the test a more implementable process.

What issues did you have with the bill?

One was the speed at which it happened, but that decision was made before I got here. One of my primary issues was not knowing the costs that would be associated with it, such as the administrative costs of tracking the data. I take the governor’s office and the sponsor at their word that the development cost is going to be minimal and that administering the test is going to be at the discretion of the school districts. So, they can make administering it as complicated as they want it to be. My other concern was the fact that we identified the test and score required to pass it in statute. We’re tying that to something we don’t have control over. So, if changes are made now, we have to change state law.

How is your teaching job (Amphitheater High School) affected by being in the Legislature for what amounts to the spring semester?

I’m on leave for the rest of the spring semester. We’ll evaluate what teaching assignment I have come August, if any, while I’m serving in the Legislature.

 As the lone Republican serving in your district, how is your working relationship with Democratic colleagues?

It’s only been six days. We’ve been friendly up until now. I imagine that there is going to be some opportunities to work together to advance some of the issues particular to Southern Arizona.

Do you think party affiliation is an issue?

It is and it isn’t. I don’t think that I fit the mold of a partisan politician. I have some deep conservative leanings, but because I’m a physics teacher, I approach everything from an analytical standpoint. In that sense, the party label is not too significant. On the other hand, the fact that I am a Republican and I serve in the majority caucus means I have a level of access that my seatmates simply don’t have.

Have there been any surprises your first two weeks in office?

In a sense I knew what to expect, but I wasn’t prepared for it. What I’ve learned is that one of the big issues is information management. I discovered the chinks in my system, so moving on I’ll do a better job of that as we move through the session.

What are some key issues you would like to see some progress on this session and how do you think you can make those happen?

Education is the reason that I ran. We have to have a more holistic conversation about where we want to go with education for the next 10 or 15 years. I think there is an opportunity to do that because there are a lot of things coming together. The fact that we are transitioning to a new assessment, the AzMERIT test, at a statewide level means that by necessity we’re going to have to put on hold a lot of things. I hope that means we get an opportunity to weed through things that will be based upon that assessment and have a conversation about that. Part of the problem with education in the last few years has been driven by assessment needs and not educational needs. I would like to see us driven back to educational needs rather than just the assessment.

Arizona has opportunities on the Mexico border but appears to never have truly realized them. What’s the magic formula for driving economic advantages north to communities like Sahuarita and Tucson?

I hope that I can play a part in that. Obviously, the big one is transportation infrastructure. I serve on the House Transportation Committee. We have got to resolve some transportation issues with the trade route there.

The second one is that, historically, I don’t think the jurisdictions in Southern Arizona have played well with each other or played well with the state. I’m hoping that I might in some way bridge some of those issues. I don’t yet know how I’m going to juggle all those, but I’m hoping we get a better working relationship between the jurisdictions in Southern Arizona and then with the Legislature and the executive.

Green Valley residents are routinely targeted by scam artists by phone, mail, email and online. What can the state do to help go after scammers or help people defend themselves?

I don’t honestly know off the top of my head. I would think most of the law enforcement is done by local jurisdictions. I think we obviously need an aggressive response from the Attorney General’s office but I’m not an expert in the field. So, I wouldn’t want to venture a guess to what specific needs are prompted by the state, but it’s certainly something I will become more involved with during my tenure here. If there are ways to prod the state to more prevention and prosecution of those scam artists, I’ll certainly advance them.

You can view this story on the Green Valley News here

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