They want it to be a jungle out there for voters

08 Jan 2016 01:05 pm
Posted by: Donna


The year is new and, of course, the Top Two, AKA Jungle Primary people are very busy peddling their harebrained idea to gullible pundits. The latest to take the bait is Arizona Republic‘s Linda Valdez, who is arguably the most liberal member of the paper’s editorial board.

Quoth Linda:

First, you get rid of partisan primaries.

The system is a relic. These days, people who register to vote with no party affiliation make up the largest group of voters in the state. They can vote in partisan primaries, but few independents engage in elections devised to serve the political parties they have already rejected.

Partisan primaries are ruled by a few die-hard voters who represent the fringes of each party. Because most districts are not competitive, the primary candidates those extremists pick usually win in November. No moderates need apply.

In 2012, there was a ballot initiative to create a non-partisan, open primary system. It looked popular, but it failed after a “dark money” campaign raised doubts in voters’ minds.

“You learn a lot from failure,” says former Phoenix Mayor Paul Johnson, who championed the measure.

He made a checklist of what to do differently. He’s ready to try again to pass an open primary initiative.

Much about that is wrong. Valdez is even wrong about the measure being nonpartisan in 2012 (it wasn’t) and it might not be this time either, if what lobbyist Chris Herstam, who is working on the Open Primaries campaign, told me recently is true (that they’re going back to party labels because polling shows them that’s what voters want). When I and a liberal friend criticized the column on Valdez’ Facebook page and asked her why she thought it would work, she responded with the familiar talking points every supporter of this thing regurgitates. They go something like this: It will be a game changer that changes the dynamics and shifts the paradigm! Candidates will have to appeal to everyone, not just fringes in each party! Press them for specifics on how, precisely, the new system will work to elect moderates and they repeat the talking points harder. Point out how easy it is to game the system via sham candidates and they’ll blithely inform you that such dirty tricks happen all the time! (No shit they do, because they work!)

The friend who was also arguing with Linda Valdez wondered if the Top Two people were just doing a really excellent sales job. My experience with them going back to 2012 is no. They tend to step all over their dicks, even when they’re way ahead in the polls. They currently have polls showing them getting up to 80% support for their measure when the question is asked a certain way but are getting bad publicity for not disclosing donors and they still haven’t managed to come up with ballot language so they can start getting signatures, despite making it known months ago they are planning to do this.

But they don’t need to be stellar salespeople or organizers to get plenty of influential people on board with their campaign. There’s little personal investment or opportunity cost to someone like Linda Valdez to support Top Two and write a column in praise of it. If this were something she were considering sinking a bunch of her own money into Linda would probably need more to go on than “This will change the dynamics! It’ll be great!” It’s just voting, though, and despite the lip service given to how important it is and the nonstop complaining people who aren’t conservatives in Arizona do about the “craziness” at the State Capitol, voting and elections just aren’t given that much importance here. Except to conservatives, of course, and liberals who are much smaller in number and not nearly as well-funded or influential.

As Linda Valdez notes in her column, partisanship appears to be on the wane as the number of people who register unaffiliated with either party rises. This is generally hailed as a good thing in mainstream circles but maybe Valdez, who has focused on immigration throughout her career and is the author of a new book – Crossing the Line: A Marriage Across Borders – about her and her Mexican-born husband’s experience with America’s immigration system, might want to reconsider that. Don’t miss the always-insightful Heather Parton this week in Salon, as she recounts what happened in California in the 90s when Hispanic voters got fed up with the anti-immigrant nastiness and organized:

The initiative was draconian, even requiring police to verify citizenship of anyone they detain and forcing school districts to verify citizenship of all students and their families. Pete Wilson ran an ad supporting it that has become one of the most famous political ads in history, in which an ominous voiceover intoned: “They keep coming: 2 million illegal immigrants in California,” over grainy black and white footage of figures scurrying across the screen like insects exposed to the light.

Prop 187 won overwhelmingly with 59 percent of the vote. And Pete Wilson won re-election handily, as did Senator Dianne Feinstein who had run on a promise to crack down on immigration when she got back to Washington. It seemed to be a rousing success.

But while Republicans were high-fiving each other over their great victory, the court issued an immediate stay of the proposition and the Latino community in California began to protest and organize. And they also began, in great numbers, to vote Democratic. The fallout from Prop 187 and a few subsequent anti-immigrant proposals decimated the Republican Party in California. In 1994 the GOP held 26 of 52 (50 percent) U.S. House seats in the California delegation. Today they hold just 15 of 53 (28 percent). The Republican nominee has not won California in the last 6 presidential elections.

According to research by Latino Decisions this is why:

Prop 187 and the Pete Wilson years had two effects that shifted the state dramatically to the Democrats. First, the number of Latino voters grew quickly in response to perceived attacks on the Latino community. In comparison to other states that did not experience the same anti-immigrant environment such as Texas or New York, the research clearly demonstrates that Latino voter registration in California increased must faster than anticipated by population growth alone. Second, during the mid-1990s extensive research documents a increase in Latino votes for the Democratic party in California that was sustained throughout the 2000s. Not only did more Latinos start voting, they started voting heavily against the Republican Party.

That’s right, the Democratic takeover of California was NOT the work of white granola hippies and Hollywood stars. It was Hispanic voters who registered as Democrats and showed up en masse to eject the main source of the problem – Republicans. Note that they did this despite the fact that there were Democrats, like Senator Feinstein, who acted like craven shits over Prop 187. The organizers of this effort knew that their power lay in their numbers and in the partisan electoral system that is the one that exists, not the fantasy-land one we wish did.

When SB1070 passed in 2010 in Arizona there was certainly organized opposition to it that included voter outreach (and inevitable backlash of Republican suppression tactics). But while Hispanic voters have increased in number, “independent” registration has continued to outpace Democratic and Republicans have increased their power over the legislative, executive, and judicial branches of the state. While it’s unlikely that an Arizona effort as laser-focused toward increasing the Democratic electorate and booting out Republicans would have been as fantastically successful as the one begun in 1994 in California has been, the demographics here would certainly suggest that things should be different and better than they are now. There was just no interest in it, though, since many activists angered over SB1070 were angry at both parties.

A year later young people I met at Occupy gatherings, who were expressing their outrage over a financial system that was destroying their futures, told me they weren’t really interested in politics or running for office. They were going to effect change (somehow) outside of politics This was in a stark contrast to the Tea Party movement, which got deeply involved in the Republican party. (It’s worth noting that it’s actually a myth that the Tea Party were apolitical outsiders triggered by the financial collapse. Many if not most were already GOP activists.)

The thing is that the more that partisan engagement is discouraged, and singular individuality is prized, the better it is for conservative Republicans in Arizona. Republicans are very happy to plod along under the stodgy old uncool partisan system, marching around in silly shirts and hats while winning most of the elections and ruining the state. They do not give a shit about being cutting edge or winning everyone over. Meanwhile, Democrats in Arizona have tried to give the people what they say they want, by doing their utmost to be precisely those “moderates who appeal to everyone”. For their efforts they’ve gotten little in the past decade besides humiliating election losses and being dismissed as fringe extremists by people invested in the “both sides” farce or kicked dirt on by progressives who consider them to be hapless sellouts.

The talking points of the Jungle Primary campaign are a continuation of this denigration of political participation. Politicians have (often justifiably) been fodder for derision throughout American history but this disdain for partisan grassroots activity, down to the very level being a precinct committee member or merely voting in a partisan primary is newer. Didn’t we used to like and respect people who voted regularly and who sometimes took the extra step of volunteering their time and energy to support candidates, maybe even running for office themselves? Not anymore! That’s for chumps now. Or “fringe extremists”.

The cool people are rejecting party labels, as Linda Valdez says, but they somehow also want moderate candidates who “appeal to everyone”, as another Top Two Primary supporter told me. The Jungle Primary offers them the perfect, effortless solution. Let the business leaders and their well-paid consultants figure out how to get those “moderates” elected. You don’t need to worry your pretty head about it.

It all reminds me eerily of the anti-labor rhetoric that comes from places like the Goldwater Institute.

Moreover, no less than elected officials, public employees are trustees of the power delegated by citizens to the government. Public-sector unions violate a basic public trust when they use collective bargaining to secure one-sided and obviously unsustainable benefits. For these reasons and others, the Goldwater Institute recommends that Arizona join North Carolina and other states that completely prohibit state and local government officials from contracting with public employee unions, requiring all employment relationships to be individually negotiated.

Just as bosses want you lowly workers to be atomized individuals negotiating your pay and benefits rather than forming unions to leverage your collective power, so too they want you to be “independent” voters looking to wise business leaders to guide you through the confusing jungle of voting.


  1. Comment by John David Herman on January 8, 2016 2:41 pm

    I’m with you on this one, Donna. How about the 2 of us take her out for a come-to-Jesus meeting and a cuppa joe?

  2. Comment by Mark on January 9, 2016 12:02 pm

    The premise that new voters are registering independent deliberately needs to be questioned. Mvd registrations tend toward party not declared in some cases because of the forms used, not political preferences.

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