The elephant and the donkey in the living room - East Valley Tribune: East Valley Local News

The elephant and the donkey in the living room

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Mark J. Scarp is a contributing columnist for the Tribune. Reach him at mscarp1@cox.net.

Posted: Saturday, October 29, 2011 8:15 am | Updated: 5:34 pm, Fri Nov 11, 2011.

Our state lawmakers are never too busy dealing with economic crises and housing market brouhaha to be able to take the time to approve a new state weapon (the Colt .45), or to tell Arizonans how to elect the people who run their local communities.

Strange, since members of the Arizona Legislature have more than picked up the mantra of their colleagues in Congress of creating less-intrusive government that lets Americans make more of our own decisions.

This makes it difficult to understand why the Legislature has been adding more government in a more than fairly noticeable way: A state mandate to cities and towns on how to elect their council members.

The Arizona Supreme Court just announced it will hear arguments to decide this question. The Arizona Court of Appeals had affirmed Tucson’s right to conduct its city elections with party labels, overturning a state law requiring all Arizona municipal elections be nonpartisan.

This isn’t the first time. Starting in 2008 the state required that the state’s largest cities, almost all of which had been holding their elections for mayor and city council in the spring, must now hold them in November.

Of course, that’s when the ballot is already 2 miles long, but the Legislature decided that adding another 1,000 yards to it was a great thing for voter participation.

Then in 2009, the Legislature passed a law requiring that all city and town elections be nonpartisan, with no party labels allowed on the ballot.

Never mind that all of them in Arizona are nonpartisan already, except in one city: Tucson.

The reason, according to the original bill’s sponsor, state Sen. Jonathan Paton, R-Tucson, is there’s no place for partisan politics at City Hall. Here’s what he told Howard Fischer of Capitol Media Services:

 “I don’t think there’s a Republican or a Democratic way to pick up the trash or police the streets,’’ he said, as if that’s all cities do.

Well, senator, there’s no Republican or Democratic way to build state highways, either, but I don’t see you recommending that the Legislature go nonpartisan, even though you’d probably tell me that highways aren’t all the state does, either.

And never mind that you have to blindfold yourself and wear earplugs for several months to avoid the widespread revelations during municipal campaigns as to which candidates are Democrats and which are Republicans.

The upcoming runoff for Phoenix mayor between Wes Gullett and Greg Stanton illustrates that anybody able to fire up the Internet can easily identify the elephant — and the donkey — in the living room.

Party labels tend to have much more dominance in older cities of the East. In the West, extreme partisanship tends to not show up as strongly in city elections where party labels are allowed.

These labels all but exist in Arizona municipal elections now (is there any doubt about the party affiliations of any of the mayors of our East Valley cities?)

And lest anyone think that partisan city elections create one-party rule: The mayor of Tucson, the state’s often-described Democratic stronghold, is Bob Walkup — a Republican.

Whether to hold partisan elections is a decision for each city or town to make on its own, without orders from the Washington Street crowd. Let’s see some real limited government in something that isn’t about spending for education or health care — actually something that won’t cost the state anything — and see lawmakers stay out of local elections.

Too bad this will need the state Supreme Court to make sure of it.

• Read Tribune contributing columnist Mark J. Scarp’s (mscarp1@cox.net) opinions here on Sundays, and watch his video commentaries on evtnow.com/scarp

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