Non-partisan election? No such thing - Tucson Local Media: Editorials

Non-partisan election? No such thing

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Posted: Wednesday, November 25, 2009 12:00 am

Sixty years ago, the late Barry Goldwater was part of a movement in Phoenix called Charter Government that changed their elections to non-partisan. Part of the motivation  was the then-overwhelming dominance of Arizona by the Democratic Party. Like a home-based poker game, it's always the losers who want to change the rules.

Almost all cities and towns have since converted to formally non-partisan elections, leaving only Tucson until the Republican legislature recently mandated a switch for 2011. The motivation behind this was a belief by many in the local business community that the GOP couldn't win Tucson elections. Any reasonable appraisal of Arizona election history belies this myth. Arizona (now) leans Republican. Pima County and Tucson (now) lean Democrat. Leaning can be overcome — Tucsonans have chosen seven Republicans in their last six elections. Three of the seven countywide elected officials in Pima are also currently Republicans.

This is the same group who were hustled into believing that Prop 200 was a winner and blew more than enough money on that turkey to have elected both of the other Republican council candidates in the recently close Tucson election.

Another group of perennial losers, minor parties, are pitching the latest political Hula Hoop called the "instant run-off". This is partly based in the pathological need to replace pluralities with absolute majorities, but mainly in the belief that their candidates would fare better if voters had multiple choices. Most voters have trouble finding one candidate they like now.

From the very beginning, Democrats gamed non-partisan elections better than Republicans who took it seriously. That's why they dominate in most localities. The nature of their present coalition allows them to do so, particularly where there are strong public employee unions. They also developed an unofficial methodology for running local governments, claiming non-partisanship and sucked Republicans in.

The basic problem for conservatives is that, while developing enough think tanks about government to counter liberal group think on our college campuses on national subjects, they have devoted little effort to how to govern locally at the city and school board level. They have allowed the non-partisan myth to continue. Only recently have groups like the Goldwater Institute begun paying attention to local governments.

Check recent elections in Marana, Oro Valley and Sahuarita, and you will note the overt partisanship of the local Democratic Party. Good — hopefully that will get Republicans off their duffs. We need clear choices.

That occurred this election in Phoenix, where the non-partisan pox originated. The 6th District election became so partisan that the local media began identifying the supposedly non-partisan candidates with a (D) and (R) after their names. Sorry, Barry, but at least the Republican won, 55-45.

It's past time we clarified positions on local issues and labeled them properly, one of the advantages to formal partisan elections. Another comes from my old friend Tom Volgy, former Tucson Mayor (D) and Professor of PoliSci  at the University of Arizona. He notes partisan elections motivate more people to find candidates and increases voter interest and turn out. He also won three out of four with that system.

Another solid reason is prevention of vote fraud. Partisan elections have built-in poll watchers from at least two sides. Who replaces them — "neutral" bureaucrats?

The Democrats on the City Council are challenging the constitutionality of the new state law mandating both non-partisan and by ward elections. While I philosophically support the latter, I hope they win. I kinda like Councilman-elect Steve Kozachik and there's no way he's coming back from a lefty Ward where he was just beaten regardless of label. Ironically, it's his supporters who got the rules changed.

Hear Emil Franzi and Tom Danehy Saturdays 1-4 p.m. on KVOI 1030 AM.

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