Editor’s Note: Cronkite News Service is profiling groups on both sides of the debate over Proposition 121, which would create open primaries in Arizona. This story looks at those opposing the change.
PHOENIX – They don’t agree on much, but a plan to create “top two” primaries has Arizona’s major and minor political parties on the same page – or at least close to it.
The responses range from outright opposition from Republican, Libertarian and Green leaders to noncommittal dislike from the Arizona Democratic Party.
Proposition 121, dubbed the Open Elections/Open Government Act, would replace the current partisan primary system with a single primary that advances the top vote-getters regardless of party.
The Open Government Committee, led by former Phoenix Mayor Paul Johnson, contends the change would produce more moderate candidates and increase primary election turnout.
Tim Sifert, spokesman for the state’s Republican Party, said voters should be able to elect the candidates of their choice and that political parties should maintain the right to elect their own candidates.
“We are adamantly opposed to this constitutional amendment,” Sifert said.
The state Democratic Party hasn’t taken an official stand on the measure, but Executive Director Luis Heredia said there is little support for it.
“We believe that Prop. 121 does not resolve what the proponents believe, which is to moderate the state,” he said.
Leaders of Arizona’s Libertarian and Green parties argue that the initiative would make it virtually impossible for their candidates to make it onto the general election ballot.
“It will destroy third parties in Arizona,” said Warren Severin, chairman of Arizona’s Libertarian Party.
“There is a reason we have partisan primaries in Arizona,” said Angel Torres, co-chair of Arizona’s Green Party and a candidate for state House in a district representing the Phoenix area.
“Whether you are a member of the Democratic Party or the Republican or Libertarian or Green Party, those voters can vote for the candidates that can best represent their views and their values in the general election.”
If passed, the measure could create general elections with Democrats running against Democrats or Republicans running against Republicans in state, local or federal elections. The change wouldn’t apply to presidential elections.
Maricopa County Attorney Bill Montgomery, a Republican, has become the public face of the group Save Our Vote AZ, a coalition that is the main opposition to Proposition 121. The group fought the measure five times in court, twice reaching Arizona’s Supreme Court, but failed to keep it off of the ballot.
Montgomery said that once he did his homework he found the initiative “woefully inadequate” in meeting its promises to voters, including producing better candidates and increasing voter turnout.
“You may wind up only having a choice between two people from the same party,” he said. “Not much of a choice.”
Montgomery said Save Our Vote AZ will be stepping up its fundraising and media campaigns in the coming weeks.
“I’m putting a lot of miles on my car getting around and talking to as many folks as I can,” he said.
The Open Government Committee, supporting the measure, had raised over $1 million as of Sept. 27, but much of that money was spent trying to Proposition 121 on the ballot.
As of Sept. 27, Save Our Vote AZ had raised $108,226, according to the group’s post-primary election report filed with the Arizona Secretary of State’s Office. Most of its funding came from a group called Americans for Responsible Leadership, which has contributed $75,000.
Americans for Responsible Leadership, which lists a Phoenix post office box as an address, has a website dedicated to its opposition to Proposition 121 and Proposition 204, which would make permanent a one-cent-per-dollar sales tax dedicated primarily to education.
Its site said the group, which has donated $500,000 to the campaign against 204, educates the public on “concepts that advance government accountability, transparency, ethics and related public policy issues.”
The League of Women Voters, which participated in the lawsuits against the measure, contends that Proposition 121 would limit choice and could harm third parties.
“One of our greatest concerns is that on the general ballot there could be only one party to choose from,” said Barbara Klein, the group’s president.
Although those opposing the measure are against it for a variety of reasons they are connected by the status quo, said David Berman, a senior research fellow at Arizona State University’s Morrison Institute for Public Policy.
“I think the organizations which are opposing are pretty much concerned about the loss of influence to their parties and their groups,” Berman said.