The Republican Arizona Legislature is passing anti-voting laws, banning parental family planning, and destroying public education. Accordingly, Rep. Morgan Abraham — a candidate for state Senate in LD18 — devised an offense and defense strategy. He spoke at the April 11, 2021, meeting of Democrats of Greater Tucson.

Abbreviated video (11 minutes)

Full length meeting video

Larry Bodine: Hello and welcome to today’s Democrats of Greater Tucson meeting. My name is Larry Bodine, and I will be your host today. First, let me introduce our speaker, and that would be Democrat Morgan Abraham. Morgan is an Arizona House of Representatives member representing the old legislative district.

Today he is running for the state Senate in the new LD 18. As a progressive small business owner who routinely fights against big business, he wants to use his knowledge of the tax code to find ways to permanently fund public education to the way it was before 2008. And with his background and affordable housing, he will work to incentivize the development of new housing, making it more affordable for everyone.

And with that Morgan, the floor is yours.

Pre-K education

Morgan Abraham: I have introduced several bills here. My favorite bill. It’s hard to pick a favorite because they’re all so wonderful, but I’m a big proponent of the universal pre-K system. I dropped a bill to have a public pre-K system in Arizona for all three- and four-year-olds.

I’m a big believer that pre-K is making a huge benefit in all children’s lives. And right now, we have a system where only wealthy children can afford pre-K, which creates inequalities that ripple for years and years now. So I looked at it as an investment. Investing in pre-K costs us less than prison.

I think it’s a no-brainer. And I want to push that here in Arizona until we have more of an equitable pre-K system. So that is my number one passion bill. If I have one, it is the pre-K system here in Arizona. I am a finance nerd for other bills that I’ve run here funding education. I have an MBA from the University of Arizona. Obviously, I run a business, and I love working with our policy staffers to find ways that we can fund education.

And for me, the best way is some, is a way that a mentor of mine. He actually gave me his bill. Senator Steve Farley. He ran a bill every single year to sunset all tax loopholes for five to 10 years. So every five to 10 years, all these sales and income tax loopholes have to be voted on. So it doesn’t necessarily get rid of any tax loopholes, but it just makes them more present in the public light.

Close tax loopholes

And that was Senator Farley’s big initiative. And that’s something that I took from him. I worked with him, modified it a little bit and kept it running. Cause I think it’s essential. We have so much money wasted here and tax loopholes that we could. It’s staggering to look at, but it’s about five times. Our actual general fund budget is how much we give away in loopholes. And if we want to talk about investing that money in wonderful causes K-12 education. Pre-K even universities, that’s where we get the money from here at the legislature. So obviously it takes a three-fourths vote for us to raise taxes.

So the best way to increase the pot of money and fund more money for education is to go after those tax loopholes, which I absolutely have. I got flak and pushback for it. But it seems like a no-brainer to me, and we’re gaining momentum on that. There are a lot of Republicans that are buying into the idea too, for different reasons, but still buying in.

I’m hoping that we’re able to pass something where tax loopholes have to be revisited every five to 10 years one of these years.

Affordable housing crisis

Another passion of mine is affordable housing. I’ve run three different bills this year to address affordable housing, including eviction reform, because eviction and affordable housing are intertwined.

But we are fundamentally in a crisis here in Southern Arizona and Arizona in general. And that’s our houses are too expensive. Rent is too expensive. And we need to do something as a government. That’s what the government does when the private sector can’t solve problems. So we come in and we help.

And it’s a beautiful thing and it’s time for us to come in and help. And so, I’ve run bills to incentivize more affordable housing development. I’ve run bills to increase the state land trust, which is the state land trust fund for affordable housing. I think it’s an important issue.

And unfortunately, it’s an issue that gets worse. A year from now, we’re going to be worse in a worse, affordable housing situation than today. Five years from now, it will be way worse than we are today. We have a broken supply and demand dynamic where we’re not building enough, and too many people are moving here, which will cause prices to skyrocket.

Climate change

We, as the government, need to do something about that too to protect people. And then the last kind of bill bills, I’ve run our climate change-related bills. And as a finance person, I absolutely love the potential of clean energy and what that can do for our state. So I’m most excited about something called securitization.

I’ve run multiple bills on it. It’s where you put a bunch of debt on coal and natural gas plants in order to retire them sooner. I think it’s a brilliant idea. We should have done it 10 years ago, but we’ll do it now. And that allows us to put more money into clean energy initiatives, solar or other clean sources.

I’ve also introduced two bills that make it easier to finance solar on residential, solar, on households or commercial, solar, and then also a bill to make it easier to connect solar and some of our big existing utilities transition to solar quicker. As an Arizona and I’ve been here my entire life, it’s such an economic opportunity for us to be the solar capital of the world.

Much less the solar capital of Arizona and the United States. And it drives me nuts that we’re not promoting that. And so I’m here to hopefully fix that and continue to push for cleaner Arizona and a more solar Arizona. So now going to, that was all offense. Those are my bills.

Playing defense: killing bad bills

They’re written, I’ve run them. Some of them have been heard in committee. Now the other thing that I truly do enjoy doing and that’s killing bad bills. We play defense here a lot at the legislature. We are 29 Democrats out of 60 here in the house, which is the body I serve in. And so we have to kill some really bad bills that are going to be harmful for Arizonans.

And we do that by picking off one Republican here or one Republican there. It’s all behind the scenes. It’s very quiet. You never hear us talk about it publicly. But it’s something that we all do and it’s something that I do. And so a couple bills that we were able to kill this year with the work of one or two specific Republicans.

One was an anti-ESG bill. For anyone that’s not familiar with the USG. It stands for environmental, social, and governance. So it’s a style of investing where you put your money, where your values are. What this bill would have done is it would have banned all state money from being lumped in with any index that has an ESG score.

It’s just really silly, really harmful for any sort of progress in these issues. And we were able to kill it with the help of two specific Republicans.

Another bill, again, just absolutely silly was an abortion divestment bill where any company that promoted abortion would have been banned from being owned by the state land trust.

That’s about 75% of the S and P 500. And so this idea that Arizona doesn’t invest in 75% of the S&P 500 is a while to me. And we were able to convey that and express how silly and stupid that idea is and kill it. One of my favorite bills that we were able to not least favorite bills, but favorite bills that we were with the kill was a bill that messed with teacher pensions.

Hurting teachers. Why?

And again, the Republicans just do anything they can to try to promote their values and hurt teachers. I don’t know why. I don’t know. I don’t understand it. It doesn’t help anyone, but they wanted to prevent what areas teachers’ pensions could and couldn’t invest in, which would just reduce the return and increase the volatility.

And as a finance person, it was just absolutely stupid. And so we were able to kill them. And then the last two ones were fairly high profile. There were a lot of anti-COVID bills this year. COVID vaccine bills that would punish employers for requiring the COVID vaccine, bills that would mandate employers from not promoting the COVID vaccine, just anti-public health bad bills.

And we were able to kill a lot of them. And of course, the famous audit of Pima County, there were multiple bills that we’re calling for that. And again, working with one or two Republicans on the other side we were able to kill that. And so I like talking about both sides of the legislature, the offense, which is what’s fun.

It’s my values. It’s where I want to see the state go. But the defense is just as important, especially when you’re in the minority where there’s 60 members and only 29 Democrats. The defense has to be a big priority to anyone that’s coming here. It’s how we protect our state is by playing defense sometimes.

I have plenty of contact information. I am very active on social media. I like to talk about my values, my bills. Shine a light on what happens here at the legislature as much as possible.

And then I have a Twitter, LinkedIn and Facebook, and then a website. So I should be pretty easy to find if anyone is wanting to follow up or talk about any issues. And so I’m sure I have lots of constituents on this.

Larry Bodine: Could you tell everybody here how we can reach you, how we can find out more about you and what we can do to support.

Morgan Abraham: Yes. Thank you. But my website, Morgan Abraham.com. I’m on all the social media sites. The best support I can ask is just reaching out and getting a shift. We’re a grassroots campaign.

We’re going to be knocking on a lot of doors, making a lot of phone calls. And if that’s something that interests you, the world to me. I so appreciate all your time and it was a wonderful conversation and it was so great seeing so many friends on this call that I haven’t seen in a very long time.

Larry Bodine: All right, Morgan. Thank you so much for your time and all the work you’re doing in the legislature. Thank you very much for coming today and best of luck, Morgan. Go get ’em.