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home : latest news : latest news September 15, 2014

10/13/2012 9:45:00 PM
PROPOSITION 121: PRO: Open primaries promote nonpartisanship, proponents say
Some donors for Prop 121
Greater Phoenix Leadership Committee - $121,500

Professional Fire Fighters of Arizona - $100,000

Mark Sklar, managing director of DMB Associates Inc. - $35,000

Cowley Companies Inc. - $25,000

Arizona Pipe Trades 469 (PAC) - $20,000

James Kaufman, retired developer - $20,000

Philip Francis, retired executive chairman of PetSmart Inc. - $20,000

United Food & Commercial Workers Local 99 General Account - $20,000

William Post, former chairman of the board of Arizona Public Service and

Pinnacle West Capital Corporation - $12,500

Mary Kay Post, retired - $12,500

By SEAN PEICK Cronkite News Service

PHOENIX - As mayor of Phoenix, Paul Johnson found city officeholders and candidates more willing to seek common ground and less beholden to groups promoting narrow interests.

The reason, he said, was the city's nonpartisan primaries.

"It created substantially better results," Johnson said.

Then came running for governor in partisan primaries. And seeing rising public discontent with divisive politics.

Those experiences, he said, are behind his support of a ballot proposition that would create open primaries for state offices. If approved in November, Proposition 121 would have the top vote-getters advance to the general election regardless of party.

Johnson joined with other business and civic leaders to form the Open Government Committee, which got the measure on the ballot and fought successful court battles to keep it there.

With relatively few voters currently taking part in primaries, especially independents, Johnson said open primaries would lead to a more inclusive government.

"It is a way to allow independents and independently minded Democrats and Republicans to have an equal voice with what has become an ideological extreme in both parties," he said.

The group promoting that idea has raised a large amount of money along the way.

As of Aug. 24, the Open Government Committee had raised $965,000 and spent $954,000, according to its latest filing with the Arizona Secretary of State's Office. That's the most to date among groups supporting or opposing the various ballot measures.

Save Our Vote, a group headed by Maricopa County Attorney Bill Montgomery that is opposing Proposition 121, had raised $33,000.

Even so, Johnson sees both sides' finances as fairly even because his group spent more than $800,000 on petitions to get on the ballot. The group's lawyers wrote off most of the fees from court battles that twice reached the state Supreme Court.

"We're now with the media portion of the campaign," Johnson said. "They've got to go run a media campaign, we have to go run a media campaign. The good news for us is we've already identified people who like our initiative and that'll give us money."

While Johnson shies away from outright declaring himself the group's leader, he has also made the most significant financial investment in the form of a $150,000 loan earlier this year.

Forty-six of the 255 total contributions, including loans, totaled at least $5,000 each.

While the 177 individuals who donated gave a combined $284,000, 15 organizations donated a collective $334,000.

The largest donation was from Greater Phoenix Leadership, a coalition of Phoenix-area business leaders that has given $121,500 in six installments.

"We believe in representative democracy, we believe that every voice is important to be heard," said Thomas Franz, the group's president and CEO.

Professional Fire Fighters of Arizona, a union representing thousands of firefighters statewide, donated $100,000. Other contributing organizations included Cowley Companies Inc., the Southern Arizona Leadership Council and the Arizona Cardinals.

Sarah Smallhouse, president of the Thomas R. Brown Foundations of Tucson and a member of the Open Government Committee's leadership, contributed $5,000. She said Arizona's current primary system leads to elected officials who won't work effectively with the business and nonprofit sectors.

"Together, with reinforcement, we can do a lot more than those three things working independently," she said.

Having to spend so much money supporting open primaries is discouraging but necessary to Lea Marquez-Peterson, president and CEO at the Tucson Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, which has endorsed the effort.

"It's important to educate our community so they understand what the particulars are in this initiative," she said.

David Berman, a senior research fellow at Arizona State University's Morrison Institute for Public Policy, said organization and fundraising ability don't necessarily lead to a successful campaign. But Proposition 121 has a good chance to pass, he said, because of growing public dislike for partisanship and the success of similar systems in California, Washington and Louisiana.

One thing opponents have in their favor, Berman said, is that the Open Government Committee is proposing something new and unfamiliar to many voters.

"When people are confronted with something like that, they're likely to say 'no' because they don't want to gamble," he said.

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Reader Comments

Posted: Tuesday, October 16, 2012
Article comment by: George Seaman

Hey Alan...the founders were ALL for a no party system! They foresaw the very problems we are faced with today. I'll vote FOR Prop 121, but I would have gone a step further...eliminate party designations all together. Let's have all of our state elections be similar to our municipal elections. Just like all of the other major instituions in our country (unions/corporations etc) the parties have way too much power in our country today

Posted: Monday, October 15, 2012
Article comment by: Ron in PV

Here's the problem with Prop 121: Right now, with closed primaries, voters get to choose between many candidates. In the County Supervisor's race alone, 21 candidates competed for 5 seats. In District 2 alone there were 4-6 candidates to choose from.

Prop 121 will kill choice. Here's why:

If a county or district is 70% party A, and 30% party B (for purposes of illustration), and if there are 5 candidates of party A, and one candidate of party B, odds are that the party B candidate will win, because the party A voters will dilute the party A vote. Therefore, even though party A is the majority in the district/county/state, the winner will be the party B candidate.

The solution will be more 'back room' politics, where party A officials will choose for you what single party A candidate you will be allowed to vote for. Otherwise, multiple candidates dilute the vote and disenfranchise the majority of the population.

You will have LESS choice in politics, not more. This has already happened in several elections across the country where this has been enabled.

Posted: Monday, October 15, 2012
Article comment by: Alan Whitney

Making politics nonpartisan is like eating flavorless ice cream.

I mean what's the point?

Posted: Sunday, October 14, 2012
Article comment by: G. Costner

I'm voting no on this. You get to vote in the primary of your party to get the best of that party candidate on to the election. If anyone can vote for anyone in any primary, the wrong person or not the strongest candidate will be representing that party. Just like the opposite party stuffing a ballot box to put the weakest candidate in.

Posted: Sunday, October 14, 2012
Article comment by: An Independent Voter

Partisanship is killing this country. I'm voting for Prop. 121 even if it has flaws.

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