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Sat, Oct. 19

Petitions filed for 2 Arizona ballot measures

PHOENIX (AP) - Initiative petitions filed Thursday would allow Arizonans to vote in November on one ballot measure to dramatically change the state's primary election system and another that would set the stage for possible constitutional challenges to actions by the federal government.

Supporters of the primary election changes said that measure would provide voters with a louder voice and reduce the impact of ideological extremes, while the businessman bankrolling the campaign for the states' rights measure said he needed to take a stand for fellow citizens.

Both proposals would go on the November ballot if officials determine backers submitted the required number of voter signatures on petitions and if the measures survive possible court challenges. Thursday was the filing deadline.

The initiatives measures would join seven measures already referred to the November statewide ballot by the Legislature. Those also include a states' rights measure. Other topics include property taxes, trust land and crime victims.

In addition, there's a wild card in the form of a proposed initiative measure for a penny-on-the-dollar sales tax increase to provide additional state funding for education and other services. Its supporters already filed initiative petitions but Secretary of State Ken Bennett said a paperwork flaw disqualified the measure. A lawsuit to overturn his decision is pending in court.

Under the primary election measure, any voter regardless of party affiliation could vote for any candidate for an office on a future primary election ballot. And the two candidates receiving the most votes in the primary election would advance to the general election, regardless of partisan affiliation.

Currently, a voter registered with a party can only vote for primary election candidates in that party, though independents can pick a party's ballot and choose among candidates on it. And now, only the top vote-getter from each party advances to the general election.

The primary election measure is similar to laws in California and Washington state and is backed by business leaders, developers and union officials.

Supporters say the new system would foster election of candidates more willing to work cooperatively with each other on mainstream concerns such as education and economic development, partly by spurring competition in election districts where voter registration favors one party.

That would mean ideological extremes would have less of an impact because more candidates would have to pay attention to all voters, said the campaign's chairman, former Phoenix Mayor Paul Johnson.

"You always have a runoff," said Johnson, an independent who unsuccessfully ran for governor as a Democrat in 1998. "The goal is to give everyone a choice in every election, and today that doesn't exist."

Arizona Republican Party Chairman Tom Morrissey condemned the primary election proposal as trampling on rights of voters "who deserve meaningful choices among candidates."

"Our current system of party primaries is the best way to give voters the option of distinctive candidates," Morrissey said in a statement released by a party spokesman.

The state Democratic Party's leadership hasn't taken a position on the ballot measure so far but may, spokesman Frank Camacho said. "There's some good about it. There are some concerns."

The so-called "checks and balances in government" measure championed by businessman Jack Biltis would allow the state to "reject" any federal action that either the voters or the Legislature and the governor deem to be unconstitutional.

The three-sentence measure said it would protect freedoms and "preserve the checks and balances of the United States Constitution."

Arizona State University law professor Paul Bender said Biltis' proposal would have no legal effect if approved by voters because it would be trumped by the U.S. Constitution's supremacy clause. That clause holds that federal laws are the highest laws of the land.

A state cannot strike down or ignore a federal law, said Bender, who teaches state and federal constitutional law.

"States are not empowered ... to partially secede from the union. States don't have the power to pick and choose what legislation they pay attention to," he said.

Biltis, the owner of a company that provides back-office functions such as payroll services to businesses, said Thursday his proposal stems from his personal concerns that government is growing out of control.

"The states have to act as a check on the federal government," he said Thursday.

He cited the federal health care overhaul and the Patriot Act, a federal anti-terrorist law enacted after the Sept. 11 attacks, as examples of overreaching by the federal government.

Biltis said Thursday he has spent about $1.2 million to get the measure on the ballot, mostly for consultants and petition circulators.

The primary election measure's backers reported raising $702,071. The largest single source was a $150,000 loan from Johnson, a developer.

The primary election and states' rights measures are both proposed constitutional amendments, and supporters had to submit 253,213 voter signatures to qualify them for the ballot. The primary election measures' backers said they submitted 365,486. Biltis said his campaign submitted approximately 320,000.

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