Patterson: Just say no to 'open' elections initiative - East Valley Tribune: Columnists

Patterson: Just say no to 'open' elections initiative

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East Valley resident Tom Patterson (pattersontomc@cox.net) is a retired physician and former state senator.

Posted: Sunday, August 26, 2012 7:30 am | Updated: 10:57 pm, Wed Aug 29, 2012.

Arizonans Disappointed With Election Results – an informal coalition which until now was not even named – are back on the ballot this November.

Of course, they don't call themselves ADWER. This time they're calling themselves the Open Government Committee and they're touting the Open Elections/Open Government Act. That sounds good until you realize that general elections will be closed to all but two candidates on the ballot. That means many voters will not have any candidates of their own party to vote for and that independents and third parties will have limited or no access to the ballot.

We've been to this rodeo before. The Clean Elections initiative in 1998 was also concocted by a coalition upset that more people like themselves couldn't get elected. The shiny name notwithstanding, Clean Elections was just a grab of taxpayers’ money to fund political campaigns.

But Clean Elections has been a colossal failure. The number of legislative candidates running for office failed to increase as was promised. There was no spike in the number of successful challengers, while incumbents were more than happy to take the “clean” money and the protection from being outspent. Most observers believe the political effect of “Welfare for Politicians” was to make the Legislature more dominated by the extremes.

ADWER moved on. The Independent Redistricting Commission was designed to remove partisan influence from that most political of all exercises, redistricting. That didn't happen of course, although in the latest cycle it did change the dominant party in the process from the majority Republicans to the Democrats. Still, the maps aren't really different from what a partisan legislature would have drawn except that more incumbents are running against each other. Big whoop.

When campaign finance reforms also failed to transform anything, it's on to Open Elections. Once again, their motives are pure. The initiative itself claims its purposes are to "ensure that every person… has the right to vote at any election for any candidate" and to "provide more choices to all the candidates and voters of Arizona." That's a real head-scratcher, since it actually does the opposite.

The advocates are more forthcoming. "The election system should be reshaped to encourage a greater level of moderation," according to David Berman of the Morrison Institute. Phoenix lawyer Danny Ortega is supporting the initiative because it will elect fewer Republicans like those from the "extreme right" who supported SB 1070. (Yes, that 1070, the bill supported then and now by a majority of Arizonans). Yep, certain people need to be excluded from the process.

California has done us the great favor of showing us what not to do. Their first "top two" primary was in June and the results weren't pretty. Just seven independent or third-party candidates made the legislative or congressional ballots as opposed to 192 in 2010. Fully 28 general election contests will feature candidates of only one party, mostly liberals vs. liberals and conservatives vs. conservatives. So much for inter-party competition and the rights of minorities to have any influence in the process.

Voters apparently weren't too excited over the new system. Just 18% bothered to vote in these newly important elections. The law of unintended consequences also prevailed in California's heavily Latino 69th Assembly District where a white Democrat and Latino Republican will square off after four Latinos cancelled each other out. On the other hand, several capable independents went down and no third-party candidate will be around to influence any election.

If minorities of all stripes will be the losers in Open Government, who will be the winners? It will be political organizations with power and discipline. The major parties will soon learn the folly of having several attractive candidates in the same race. They will select their chosen candidate behind closed doors rather than in an open election and the key to electoral success will be enforcing the decision. Challenges against incumbents will be hopeless. Sham candidates will become common.

ADWER organizers are once again attempting to manipulate the political process to their own advantage. It's doubtful they will even achieve their desired results. But we do know that we'll be left with an election process that's less open and less democratic. This time, let's just say No.

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