Arizona Eagletarian

Arizona Eagletarian

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Arizona UPRISING -- The Future with TOP TWO Primary System UPDATED 11:40pm MST 6/5/12

A few days ago, Morrison Institute's senior research fellow, David Berman -- in an op-ed published by the Arizona Republic -- offered his prospective view of what we can expect if the TOP TWO political primary system is adopted by voters in our state in November. (The actual proposal is found on the Arizona Secretary of State's website, labeled C-03-2012)

Proponents of the measure say this:
This measure will allow all Arizonans, regardless of party affiliation, to vote in a single open primary for the candidates of their choice. The two candidates who receive the most votes in the primary will compete in the general election. There will be a level playing field for all voters and candidates, and the current system of taxpayer-funded partisan primaries will be abolished. This reform will promote open government and encourage the election of candidates who will work together for the good of the state.
Arizona has been on the leading edge of some recent trends (experiments, perhaps) to change how public policy is established (i.e. independent redistricting, Clean Elections, etc.). However, we can learn from the history and experience of other states on this one before taking the plunge and committing to another experiment.

Berman's analysis partly echoed the hopes of proponents, stating:
Because party primaries traditionally have been low-turnout affairs, the few partisan voters who do show up tend to be from the opposite ends of the ideological scale -- far to the right in Republican primaries and far to the left in Democratic primaries. Moderates from both parties often fail to survive the primary, so much so that few even try.
Instead, nominees tend to be more ideological than voters who generally identify with either of the major parties.
The HOPE then, with this initiative, is to give Independent voters -- in Arizona that means No Party Designated -- the opportunity to have a stronger voice in the choice of candidates for offices, notably the Arizona Legislature. But will it?

Berman sees ways partisans can still manipulate the system.
Supporters of the top-two vote-getter proposal argue that the election system should be reshaped to encourage a level of greater moderation, if not participation. Otherwise, the proposal's proponents say, the current system's end result -- certainly as shown in the state Legislature -- is somewhat predictable: ideological extremism.
That could be why, the initiative's backers say, lawmakers produce policies and budgets that conflict with the views of a majority of Arizonans. (emphasis mine)
Note the word COULD. Berman, a political scientist, made a career in researching electoral behavior and trends. If there was research to support the backers' claims, do you think that Berman would have hedged and instead use a more definitive explanation of the desired results?

The stated central objective of the top-two primary plan is to elect more "moderate" candidates, but not in the generic sense of the word.
Rather, it is to influence the selection of "less-extreme" candidates in both the primary and general election by encouraging candidates to appeal to a broader constituency, not simply to the extreme members of their own party who are most likely to vote in a primary under present practice.
After describing how, conceptually, the proponents' vision would work IDEALLY, Berman goes on to say:

This does not, however, guarantee that the most extreme candidates are destined to lose in the primary. This depends in large part on the number of candidates who enter the primary, as well as those candidates' ideological dispositions. 

For example, in a crowded primary in which the vote is distributed among a number of similarly positioned "moderates," it's possible for a very conservative candidate with a narrow but efficacious constituency to gather enough votes to advance to the general election, setting up an extremist-vs.- moderate showdown. (emphasis mine)
And along comes California. Our neighbor to the west took Arizona's lead and enacted Independent Redistricting for the 2011 cycle. But that very large state got in on the TOP TWO primary model before we even had the chance to try it. I think that's a good thing. Because NOW, we get to learn from the lessons of California's contemporary history. From The Daily Beast:
Orly Taitz, queen of the birthers, is on the ballot Tuesday in California. She is running as a Republican to challenge Sen. Dianne Feinstein for reelection. And polls show that Taitz just might make the top-two cut and be an official challenger in the fall.
It’s hard to overstate just how bad that would be for the Golden State GOP.
An avowed birther activist and litigant, dentist, attorney, mother of three, and Moldovan immigrant who radiates instability could be the standard-bearer of the party of Reagan in the largest state in the nation. Is this a great country or what?

When the record of today's California primary election results comes in, we will see just what the TOP TWO primary system means in practice. Not that I particularly care whether the "Golden State GOP" has to deal with a major headache like Orly Taitz. But really, if she emerges victorious from this primary, will it not provide another emotional high five to the "birther" movement?

Would Arizona voters REALLY like to see our state's birther prince, Carl Seel attract national fame and campaign contributions from nutjobs from Seattle to Miami or Boston to San Diego and so many points in between?

Do we really need to go down that path?

Berman closes with this:
Arizona, however, does appear to be a prime state for switching to a top-two system. Only a handful of our 30 legislative districts can be said to be competitive, and that equation won't change significantly even after redistricting* this year.
Although a top-two primary system is no magic bullet, either, it may well encourage more moderate candidates to run and less extreme candidates to get elected, resulting in a government more reflective of Arizona's general voter sentiment. (emphasis mine)
There he goes hedging again. Those who fail to heed the lessons of history...

In this case, one very important lesson comes when California's polls close this evening.


* By the way, it may not come solely because of the modest increase in competitive districts this year, but a look at the candidates who qualified for the August legislative primary already shows that there will be significant changes at the Capitol come January.

UPDATE 11:40pm MST 6/5/12

It seems California is dodging the birther bullet this evening, with Orly Taitz trailing the pack in the TOP TWO primary for the US Senate seat currently held by Dianne Feinstein.
California's senior U.S. senator, Democrat Dianne Feinstein, has more votes than the other 23 challengers running against her combined. With 10 percent of the vote in, the only real question is who will face the uphill challenge of battling the San Francisco powerhouse in November. Some political junkies have hoped the nod would go to Republican Orly Taitz, a Laguna Nigel dentist famous for being one of the nation's most prominent "birthers" who claim President Obama was not born in the United States. At the moment, Taitz is running back in the pack, with 2.9 percent of the vote. Feinstein has 50.4 percent. And second place is Republican Elizabeth Emken of Danville.
However, that 2.9 percent of the vote apparently translates to more than 50,000 actual votes. Just think about how much more energy tea partisans and birthers have in Arizona than in California before you decide whether tonight's lesson on the TOP TWO is a relief or a foreboding signal of what could take place in a summer primary with so many sun-baked birthers. It was, after all, June 30 of last year when the tea partisans stormed the AIRC business meeting in Tucson to start months of political squawking.

I'd also recommend to Arizona Eagletarian readers a blog post by Democratic Diva, Donna Gratehouse that provides additional insight on this issue.


  1. California supporters of the top-two primary are having buyers remorse. Check out this editorial from a paper that supported it and now, after seeing what happened, has regrets. Go to:

    State Rep John Kavanagh

  2. Steve,

    You do a good on here. Like your comments.

    Brent Fine

  3. Good writing, Steve. Like your thought-provoking posts.

    Brent Fine