So what’s the deal with this Open Primaries initiative?

05 Oct 2011 06:56 pm
Posted by: Donna

A group called the Open Government Committee is collecting signatures for an initiative that would change primary elections from the current partisan ballot system to one where all the candidates would appear on the same ballot and the top two go on to run in the general election, irrespective of party. It would be similar to nonpartisan municipal elections, except that the candidates’ party affiliations will be indicated. The Open Government folks promise that the following idyllic state will ensue if voters approve the initiative:

Partisan candidates seeking the nominations of their party often simply address the issues of a narrow group of voters who vote in a Primary Election. Under Open Government, all candidates, regardless of their political party, will compete against each other in the August General Election. That includes all candidates for local, state, and Federal office – except for President and Vice President. As a result, candidates will be forced to address issues of importance to ALL of us – Independents, Democrats, AND Republicans alike. The Results

EVERY voter will be permitted to vote in EVERY election.

Voters will have real choices, with candidates who better represent all the people of Arizona rather than just the political parties, extreme views of narrow interests, and the lobbyists.

More open-minded candidates guided by common sense, instead of extreme ideology from either side of the political spectrum, to run for office.

More Independent-minded candidates accountable to the voters, and not the political bosses.

Okay, people in Arizona who say things like “extreme ideology from either side the political spectrum” in earnest fall into two basic categories: 1. clueless 2. lying. And I have very little patience for them, especially when they hold a position in the community in which they ought to know good and damn well where the problem lies. But I digress. For all its pleasing buzzwords (open! free! choice! independent!) this top two primary proposal lacks something crucial: evidence. Former Phoenix Mayor Paul Johnson (Dem turned independent) actually offers his own anecdotal decades-old experience as a candidate as proof that his initiative will work:

Johnson said there’s a marked difference between how a candidate runs in a nonpartisan primary and how he or she runs in a party primary. He should know: He has run in both, first as a candidate for Phoenix mayor and later through two Democratic primaries for governor.

There’s a marked difference because city races are about trash collection and traffic lights whereas legislative and executive office races are more likely to be fought over social issues like abortion and gay marriage. That’s not going to change because they’re all on the same ballot. Nor will it necessarily increase turnout. Independent Arizona voters can already vote in either primary and the ability to do so has not caused them to participate in primaries in significant numbers. Nonpartisan city elections are typically low turnout affairs as well. The backers of this top two primary initiative are making grand promises based on platitudes and fairy dust. How exactly will it diminish lobbyist influence, for example?

The sucky thing is that this useless (and possibly counterproductive) measure will probably make it to the ballot and be voted in as it was in California last year. Washington adopted it a few years ago and Louisiana has had a top two primary system since 1975. How has that worked to make Louisiana a more moderate state? Let’s see, in the 1991 gubernatorial primary the top two candidates were the Democratic Lieutenant Governor Edwin Edwards and Republican David Duke. Yes, that David Duke. The Grand Dragon KKK David Duke. Look, if David freaking Duke can get through your supposedly moderating primary system under any circumstances, you ain’t got much of a moderating primary system there, sport.

And how am I getting “real choices” in the general election if the top two in the primary happened to be, oh say, JD Hayworth and Jeff Flake? Something tells me Mayor Johnson would greet that as a most welcome result. Jeff Flake is the moderate one! This gets me back to the Amiable Wingnut problem and how nice behavior masks rabid ideology to the extent that Flake is viewed as moderate by many people (including Dems) even though he votes in lockstep with Michele Bachmann*. Furthermore, non-major party candidates and voters would be effectively disenfranchised. How about write-in votes? Will they not count too? Think that’s unimportant? Ask Senator Murkowski of Alaska about that. Yeah, the more I think about this top two primary system the less “choice” and “freedom” I’m seeing.

*Unfortunately this doesn’t work both ways. Elected Democrats in Arizona don’t get moderate cred for civilized behavior, which is odd since most elected Dems here are civilized and moderate. If there really were a Democratic equivalent to the John Bircher whackaloon mob on the GOP side in our state, they’d be socialists or communists. But our Dems are not even close to that.


  1. Comment by State Rep. John Kavanagh on October 6, 2011 5:22 pm

    I debated Paul Johnson on this issue last July 19th on Horizon. While I did not know it at the time, his statement that the Morrison Institute supports the so called “top-two” open primary or “jungle primary” was false.

    There are many good reason to reject this “pie-in-the-sky” reform and I mention them on the show. Go to:

  2. Comment by Dennis Gilman on October 8, 2011 10:09 am

    Good article.

  3. Comment by Diane D'Angelo on October 14, 2011 9:53 pm

    Excellent column, Donna. I’ve done a complete 180 on this thing. And your sentence explains why: “This gets me back to the Amiable Wingnut problem and how nice behavior masks rabid ideology to the extent that Flake is viewed as moderate by many people (including Dems) even though he votes in lockstep with Michele Bachmann.”

    Speaking of rabid ideologues…Kavanaugh: Are you still grooving on Canadian “iilegals” because they have money and “buy foreclosed homes”?

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