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1:01 AM Sat, Dec. 15th

Lawmaker wants nonpartisan races to be partisan

Says voters should know where a candidate stands

Rep. Jay Lawrence, R-Scottsdale, is proposing a bill that would force city council and mayoral candidates to run party labels. (Howard Fischer/Capitol Media Services)

Rep. Jay Lawrence, R-Scottsdale, is proposing a bill that would force city council and mayoral candidates to run party labels. (Howard Fischer/Capitol Media Services)

PHOENIX — A Scottsdale Republican lawmaker wants to force city council and mayoral candidates to run with party labels, saying he believes it will help prevent liberals from sneaking into office.

“I want people to say, ‘Here’s who I am and here’s what I believe,’” said Rep. Jay Lawrence. And he said making people declare if they’re a Republican, Democrat or something else goes a long way to providing voters with that information.

“There are certain things that a Republican believe,” Lawrence said.

More to the point, Lawrence contends the lack of a label allows some people to get elected who he believes do not represent the people who put them in office. He said having to declare party affiliation keeps candidates from “meandering from side to side and kind of being conservative, but never saying, ‘But I’m a Democrat.’ “

His legislation, HB 2032, comes nearly a decade after the Legislature moved precisely in the opposite direction.

Jonathan Paton, who in 2009 was a Republican state senator from Tucson, got his colleagues to forbid local candidates from running with party labels. Paton said at the time that the issues important to local voters, like fixing potholes and picking up trash, are not partisan.

But there also was a partisan reason behind the measure: Paton conceded he believed that more Republicans would get elected in Tucson, a city with a Democratic majority, if they didn’t have to run with the party label.

As it turned out, the Arizona Supreme Court voided the law, declaring the Legislature has no right to tell charter cities like Tucson how to conduct their elections.

That precedent makes it questionable whether the measure would be enforceable in any of the state’s 19 charter cities, assuming Lawrence could get it enacted. But that ruling does not apply to the other more than 70 communities without charters, leaving the door open for the Legislature to force them to move to partisan elections.

The bottom line, Lawrence said, is the labels would help voters identify the true conservatives.

“I think Scottsdale is a great example,” he said.

There, he said, conservatives oppose the Desert Discovery Center in the McDowell Sonoran Preserve, a more than 47,000 square foot facility to educate visitors about desert living. The $61 million facility would cover about 5.3 acres near a trailhead.

It’s already been scaled back from its original plans due to protests.

“But there’s a very liberal cadre that wants it built,” Lawrence said, suggesting that a council elected on a partisan basis would never approve such a plan.

Lawrence also believes that, if nothing else, having candidates run with party affiliations will bring out more Republicans voters. He said it’s part of the whole Trump effect.

“Whether you like Trump or not, I believe there is a strength in the president that will taste itself to many who might not otherwise go to the polls,” Lawrence said. “I think there is an angry electorate at the way Trump’s being treated by the media.”

What that means, he said, is a Republican “might stand a better chance than just a nonpartisan, where you wind up with a Democrat or a friend.”

And what of Paton’s argument that most city issues are not partisan?

“Potholes are nonpartisan,” Lawrence agreed. But he said party affiliation — and even support for Trump — even can be a factor here.

“If you declare your loyalty, for example, to President Trump, I believe that, in and of itself, is an issue that says, ‘Don’t worry, I’ll take care of the potholes. The other people may not.’”