LOS ANGELES, CA – Being a California resident, but with many friends in Arizona, the gubernatorial race in my neighboring state was usually something I would only tangentially pay attention to. But these are unique times. The individual states and their governors are under a microscope as they deal with COVID and its shutdowns. In addition, my own state’s recall election failed so miserably that it makes sense to pay a little more attention to what’s going on in Nevada and Arizona.
Considering the abject failure of the Democratic administration this past year, resulting in high gas prices, inflation and supply chain issues, as well as foreign policy blunders like Afghanistan, the Republican side is humming with activity in almost all winnable races. Arizona’s Governor race has attracted a wide field of candidates, some claiming front runner status due to key endorsements. However, I caution that it’s a long road until the August primary.
One of the candidates that most impressed me is the sitting state Treasurer, Kimberly Yee, who grew up in Arizona but has spent significant time in California. In addition she is a fighter for school choice, having pushed through choice-friendly legislation as the State Senate Republican Majority leader in Arizona, the second female to serve in that capacity since Sandra Day O’Connor served in that same position in 1973 44 years prior. Most importantly, Yee was well versed in the issue and understood the dangers of faulty strategies such as means testing or income phase-in’s that would open the door for division and litigation that would ultimately torpedo the greater effort.
Here are some great moments from our chat with the first female Chinese American Republican to win statewide in US history.
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On Visiting With Sandra Day O’Connor, Partisanship & 1973 vs. Today
“Her response was simple [when I asked what was different from 1973 when she sat at my same desk], but I will remember her words forever. ‘Back then people did not have any real care for the political party that the other person was representing, they just went to work and got the good work done for the people of Arizona. So they didn’t pay attention back then to real party affiliations. They were pretty non partisan in nature. And they focused on the policy versus the partisan parts of politics that get people elected to those offices’.”
On Tackling School Choice
“I’ve long been a school choice advocate, which means that you believe in all choices for parents and their children, for the best education system for their child, whether it is a traditional school district, Charter School, a private school setting, or even a homeschool setting. And these days, we have something called micro schools, we have virtual schools. But it started much earlier than when I served as a state senator, back in the 1990s.
The idea of school choice came in Arizona, and we were looking at the simple [concept] of going to school outside of your zip code. We called it open enrollment back in the 1990s. It opened the door for what we will now know in the whole country as ‘charter schools’, and being able to move your child wherever you would like to have them educated and not to have any boundaries. [It] allowed for a student to go to any school within the state, as long as there was a spot open at that education system.
I was a staff member at the time on the Senate Education Committee. So I was literally writing the laws that are now in Arizona statutes, and have been on the books for four decades. So many other states have followed. A charter school is very different from a traditional school district. You don’t have to use your district warehouse to purchase. You can go to Office Max or Costco and get a much lower cost, and do this more freely without the burdensome regulations, and the time that it takes to get, you know, a pencil to a classroom.
Some of our highest academic scores come out of our charter schools. We also have grown the [number of] students who go to private schools in Arizona, and we have done this through what we call the ‘empowerment scholarship accounts essays’. I was proud to be an initial founding sponsor of this idea of allowing a student who has the option of going to a private school, but may not have the funds to do so, to have public funds allow them to help pay for their tuition or other items, books and other supplies at a private school setting.
And the reason for this is again, it’s the idea of choice, it allows parents to have the freedom to go to any school that best fits their child’s needs. And in Arizona, I am so proud to say that our homeschool community has just boomed in the last decade and more. And I have been honored to be a speaker at their commencement addresses.
And it has grown from the convention center to a large facility that was housing in 4000 parents, friends and family who came to see these homeschool students graduate as outstanding scholars. It makes me very proud that this idea that parents are in control, and they have the choices on what best fits their child’s needs. It’s also best, not only for taxpayers, but for our education system.”
On Means Testing & Phase-Ins
“First of all, school choice should have no boundaries. And it sounds like the competing initiative that you’re talking about has all kinds of boundaries. Remember, school choice is based on the premise that a parent has the right to go to any school of their choice, it doesn’t matter what their personal income [is]. It doesn’t matter that a student is failing their other school, they could be a scholar and go to any school of their choice. And it also shouldn’t have any regulations on government intervening in a homeschool setting. It’s a homeschool because they want to have their freedoms to teach inside their homes. So again, it’s big government overreach, government intrusion, more regulation into a family that just wants to do their own child’s home education. Scores should not be granted to the government. If they’re homeschooling in Arizona, they sign just one document submitted to the State Board of Education that they will ever sign from the state: when they initially start homeschooling, that says, ‘I am not enrolling my child who is of school age into the public school system. I’m homeschooling and there’s a name and a number’.
I worked hard in the Arizona State Legislature to fight against what you’re talking about, which is individuals who apparently don’t trust the homeschool community. They apparently don’t trust the private school setting because they want government and the state to have eyes on the private sector and communities like private schools and home schools. That’s wrong.
I fought against that for many years, even within my own party. I do believe that your initiative will clearly be the way to get to school choice, parents’ rights and the best education options for their children. I commend you for staying strong, and keep within your path because you are looking at school choice in the truest form. And the other seems like maybe they’re working with school districts on the side, or teachers unions are other types of associations that really don’t want to let go of what they have in the marketplace.
Again, this is education’s free marketplace, just like we have a free marketplace in business. Schools should be able to have a free education system that allows for education entities to compete with one another to make them better. Consumers walk with their feet to the best restaurant or retailer of their choice. A parent should be able to walk with their feet to the best educational institution. Maybe a family chooses for one child, a traditional school district, or a charter school, maybe their other child is best schooled at home or virtually, or maybe they should have another student that can be in a private school setting, because that’s what works best for their education and academic learning. Those are options that parents should decide, not the government.”
On Privacy Issues, Often Ignored In Today’s Discussions
“Let’s stay on the issue of freedom and privacy because I’ve been fighting for freedom, and privacy and opportunities for a very long time. I did that in the legislature. I’m doing it today as State Treasurer. On the theme of privacy, we have something called FERPA, which is the Family Education Rights and Privacy Act. Back in the legislature, they have groups that are from the outside or even the government that tries to do data mining on our young students. And it is so discouraging. Quite frankly, it’s insulting because I’m a mom of young children. And these young children cannot fight for themselves. They don’t know this is happening, but their data, and their information is being used without any parental allowance. That is wrong. I fought against that in our school system.
One of the things that some businesses tried to do is, and this was happening in Arizona.. You have a private business, and they go in wine and dine or take to lunch, the school administrators. Because what they ultimately want is the list of students at that school, so that they can provide business services or advertising or marketing to that population of students.
The worst case is when they’re also asking for their academic data. This is maybe an academic institution that wants to find those who need learning assistance. So they’re looking for data on those who have academic skills that need some help. Well, that’s private information that a parent should be able to sign off on. Not just someone being wined and dined from the school district office to hand over to a private business that is asking for this data. That’s against federal law. So I fought against that. It’s now on the books, you can’t do that in Arizona.
On Biden Administration Overreaching With Regards To Privacy
“Let’s just fast forward to the government overreach that we are seeing by the federal government, Joe Biden and his administration has been fighting to look at your personal personal data, particularly in the financial area, by moving any financial transaction from your private bank to the IRS, $600 or more. That’s your everyday citizen. It’s not your highest 1% earner. So this is, again, big government looking at your private financial records, whether they’re private personal records, or even business records, they want to know how you’re spending your money. That’s not right. That’s private information.
And take a look at what is happening with the Biden administration’s choice for Comptroller of the United States. This is someone who is in charge of all of the financial institutions privately across America. Biden’s selection was Saule Omarova, who was schooled in Moscow, a Soviet era administrator who wanted to centralize banking, and put all of these private financial institutions under a public Federal Reserve. So all of what we know as the free enterprise system will be centralized, as communism is. Socially, we have seen this country go from a free market, to one in which the people are relying more and more on a big government system.
That’s why you don’t see workers come into the workplace anymore. They would much rather be reliant on that free money, that government check that comes in the mail so they can just sit on the couch and not work. And that’s not the way our country was founded. We were founded on work, work ethic and being able to earn your money for yourself. And I fear for the young people in America. Because they will rely on this big government system. And that’s not American.”
On A Proven Record of Conservatism
“Someone like myself has been working in public service and public policy for many years. So it’s a long standing proven conservative record that one can check on. I’m proud of my record, because we’ve been fighting this fight. All of these issues really have been at the forefront for more than just this point in time. We’ve been fighting for, for instance, for freedom, and allowing families to choose what’s best for their health when it comes to vaccinations for many years. Just take a look at our school system. If a family chooses not to do their standard flu shot or other types of vaccines, there’s always been something on the books that allows them to have that exemption, whether it be a religious exemption, or a medical related exemption. And they’ve had that sign off on Arizona laws for many years.
And when I served in the legislature, I was on the Health Committee. Being an advocate of freedom for all of these years, I helped those families who didn’t have the means or the funds to be able to go do a copay to get that doctor’s note and get a little piece of paper signed to send to their school for that medical exemption. So we allowed for the ease of that family to do this by fax or by mail. They didn’t have to pay that copay to just get the signature so that they could get the exemption for their child to not have a vaccine. That’s something that I have on record for many years.
Fast forward to today, it’s the same discussion, it’s just a different one. Look at the issues, for instance, when we talk about our freedom in the marketplace, and less regulation and being able to to have a free marketplace, so that businesses can compete. Businesses can stay open when we’ve had these issues of what is essential and what is not essential. The government should not, for instance, be saying that one business should stay closed while the others should stay open. That’s not freedom. That’s really big government saying that I choose a winner and a loser. And what we have seen because of those poor decisions by lawmakers and leaders across the country, is that the individuals or businesses that were chosen as non essential, unfortunately, could not stay open for very much longer when they were allowed to open. And that’s a sad story from the state of an economy. We should allow for businesses to thrive in every instance. And we should trust them to make those responsible decisions inside of their businesses.
Those mom and pop shops know what’s healthy, what’s safe, what is in the best interest for their employees, but also their consumers, their customers, their patients. And so we should trust that judgment, and the government should not be picking these winners and losers when we see that every day.
Research Your Candidates Wisely
“Going back to your issue, you really have to take a careful look at candidates. 2022 is a very important year, as many states are electing their statewide constitutional officers, their congressional leaders, their legislative leaders. As you take a look at your candidates, see who has been there with you and your values for many years, and compare them to the people who have just shown up or those, who use the talking points but have no substance beyond that on the hard questions. There’s really a lot of education that should go through a person’s vote. Keep those candidates accountable for what they’re saying. And make sure that it’s not just words, but it’s also actions.”
On Asian American Roots
“My family came from the grocery store business. In Arizona, back in the 1930s, my grandfather on my mother’s side opened up a little grocery store in South Phoenix, and nine children worked in this little grocery store that they called ‘New State Market’. My mother was one of those nine children. They worked so hard as many families do, to achieve this wonderful American dream. As they were getting ready for school, they would stock the store shelves. As they came home, they would work the cash register until they got to their homework, and then later to dinner, sometimes at 10 o’clock at night. These are the stories of hard working mom and pop shops across America, just to be able to provide for their families, but also to live out that wonderful American Dream story, which is really so inspiring.
My mother became a public school teacher working in the education system for 38 years. But she taught me that as you raise a family, and as we do achieve this wonderful dream of freedom and opportunity, we pass it down to our next generation. As I am a mother of young children, I do this public service work, not for myself, but for my children and their future.
Because we see that our American values, the foundational principles that we have lived with in this wonderful country are being stripped away every day by the radicals, the liberals and the socialists in this country. So that scares me for what we would see ahead in our future. And that’s the reason why I am fighting this fight. And I’ve been fighting it for a very long time. But the reason why I’m running for governor today is really for our future generation to keep these principled values, these ideals that we’ve had in this country of freedom and opportunity and prosperity, but doing that with our families to preserve those wonderful freedoms that our country was founded on. As we fight these fights with big government, with government mandates and overreach and what we see out of the White House today, we go back to how we were raised and we will continue to fight so that we will be able to preserve this wonderful country that we know and love today.”
On Her Grandparents Heritage, Immigrating To Arizona & Pennsylvania in the 1930’s
“My grandparents came [to America] in the early 30s. They chose on my mother’s side, Arizona to settle. And on my father’s side, they immigrated to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, where they opened a little hand laundry business in the early 30’s. Even on the side when they weren’t working, my father and his brother, my uncle, were singing for the war bond effort ‘God bless America’, throughout the streets of Pittsburgh to raise money for our American war effort. There are so many years of stories about how we have been standing for our freedoms not only in my family legacy, but I joined so many others in this country to be able to fight this fight, especially as we enter 2022 so that we elect the right people in these key positions, again, to preserve these freedoms and opportunities.”
On Asian American Leadership
“I’ve spoken to groups, not just in Arizona, but across the country, to empower Asian Americans in their great work that they’re doing on the ground, whether it’s in business, to technology, to education, I mean, there are so many industries, that Asian Americans are paving the path as Trailblazers. We should be proud of that work. There is not one specific one, but I will share with you that I really do believe that as we look at education, we look at the future of our young children, we should teach them how important it is the Asian American work ethic has really been laid out in this country, not just today, it has been laid out for centuries. Asian Americans on the railroad, building those, as well as the mining, and so many other industries in this country, it is a really beautiful story that we’ve got to get out there. For young children to learn this in their education system will really allow them to be more rich in their history. And it’s an American history, the Asian American contributions to our workforce. So again, I really do promote that. And I hope that schools across the country will incorporate these wonderful stories into their curriculum.”
On Her Favorite Christmas Movies & Songs
“‘Home Alone’. Because again, I’m a mom of young kids. And that is played over and over again, the Christmas movie we’ve been watching. Wonderful Christmas theme and a great ending. I love the old hymns. So I have to say, ‘come all ye faithful’ is a great one at Christmas time, and also ‘Joy to the world’. So I could probably sing all of those the entire season and more so hard to choose one favorite. I love to join my children and family to drive around our neighborhood and various places throughout the city where there are beautiful holiday lights. It just is so festive. And it’s just something we do traditionally every year. There’s a fun time where we bring hot cocoa, you know in the car and just enjoy the time together with the holiday music and seeing the beautiful lights. Marshmallows and hot cocoa.”