An open primary is best hope

by Laurie Roberts, columnist Jun. 13, 2012 12:00 AM
The Republic |

The plea for relief is going up across Arizona.

“I am totally disgusted with a legislature that puts special interests and personal beliefs before the constituents they are supposed to represent …,” writes Sue Coady of Carefree. “We need a massive change.”

“Not in all these many years on this earth and many in Arizona have I experienced such closed-minded, self serving people in positions of power in the state,” writes George Douglass of Buckeye. “Sign me up for the dekookification panel!”

“Operation Dekookification is right on target,” writes Margaret Walker of Scottsdale. “Elect a Legislature that lines up with the people who live here. One that is neither too far left nor too far right; one that draws thoughtful, intelligent bills that serve all the people of Arizona; one that puts the state first and partisanship and special interests last.

“In essence, one that is sane.”

Thus comes this, your third opportunity to begin Arizona’s dekookification process.

The first, by requesting an early ballot for either the Republican or Democratic primary — yes, independents, you too. (Beginning Thursday, Maricopa County voters can go to, click on “elections,” then on the button that says “request an early ballot”.)

The second, by registering (if you’re a Republican) as a write-in candidate for one of the thousands of open GOP precinct committee spots by 5 p.m. today, to promote change within the state’s dominant party.

And the third? By signing a petition aimed at fundamentally changing the way we elect our leaders in Arizona. Basically, it’s an amendment to the state Constitution that would allow you to vote in the primary for anyone you please.

Novel idea, that.

This is not a Republican initiative or a Democratic one. Not a single elected state official, party hack or legislative lobbyist has thus far signed on.

Which is perhaps why I so like the idea.

It’s called the Open Elections/Open Government initiative and the concept is simple. Instead of holding partisan primary elections, Arizona would hold one primary open to all voters and the top two candidates, regardless of party affiliation, would move onto the general.

Gone would be the day when most legislative elections are decided in the primary, long before most voters ever cast a ballot. When our leaders (from both parties) cater to the narrow ideological interests that now get them elected before Labor Day.

Instead, you replace it with a system that guarantees actual choices come November, one aimed at electing people who appeal to a broader swath of voters — leaders who would meet on what is now rarefied earth in this state: middle ground.

To qualify for the November ballot, 259,213 registered voters must sign the Open Elections/Open Government petition by July 5. Campaign organizers have 310,000 signatures, but they’re shooting for 350,000 by July 1, just to be safe.

To find out where you can sign a petition, e-mail or go to While you’re there, sign up for e-mail updates to be notified how you can help as the campaign rolls along. Then pass the word to everyone you know to do the same.

The Open Government initiative has been endorsed by a number of business interests, including Greater Phoenix Leadership, the Southern Arizona Leadership Council and the Flagstaff 40. Nationally, the two major political parties and the AFL-CIO have opposed top-two primaries, according to former Phoenix Mayor Paul Johnson, a Democrat turned independent who is co-chairman of the campaign. The big boys haven’t begun making any noise here … yet.

But locally, some legislators, lobbyists and political strategists are starting to pooh-pooh the plan, warning that it won’t spur independents to vote and that it may actually strengthen the two parties and incumbent politicians.

The thing is, the people doing the pooh-poohing have a vested interest in keeping things just as they are.

This initiative creates the potential for competition — something that now just doesn’t exist — and with that, an incentive for our leaders to work for the greater good, because they know their re-election will depend upon it. Sadly, that’s just not the case right now.

“Overwhelmingly, people will say I don’t understand why it is that my elected officials don’t seem to be in agreement with the majority of the public,” Johnson said. “You know, there’s an easy answer for that. It’s because they aren’t elected by the majority of the public.”

Ah, but we can change that. We really can.

Reach Roberts at or 602-444- 8635.


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