“Throw the bums out” seems to be a common sentiment these days regarding our state Legislature. While the emotion underlying the sentiment may be justifiable, the facts point to a different conclusion; there is a need for systemic changes.
First of all, because of the Federal Voting Rights Act, the legislative body is not representative of the public. Legislative districts are drawn to ensure minority representation. The net effect of creating “majority-minority” districts is to simultaneously create “strong majority” districts. This is referred to as creating safe districts for a political party, leaving only seven competitive districts with registration within 5 percent of each other.
The remaining 23 legislative districts in Arizona are elected in the primary, in which winners face only token opposition in the general election. Low voter turnout empowers the far left and the far right with disproportionate influence.
So we should not be surprised when our elected officials in the Legislature tend to vote in ways that do not represent the majority – it is simply because the majority didn’t elect them.
The problems don’t just end there. We have made the problem worse with two populist reforms: term limits and “clean” elections.
With term limits, legislators understand that they have to make their mark quickly. A freshman legislator has to learn the process and figure out how to get along with partisan leadership. Any freshman attempting compromise gets shunned by his partisan leadership team.
A third reform virtually guarantees the election of a virulently partisan or ideological candidate. A candidate running for a House or Senate seat need only to collect 120 $5 dollar contributions to qualify for $14,319 in primary and $21,479 in general election funding. Taxpayer funding removes any market test for candidates to justify themselves in front of centrist-based business. Only statewide elected officials or county supervisors care anymore about the large or small employers who pay a vast majority of taxes and create most jobs.
So, the state is faced with the largest fiscal crisis in its history and we are shocked that our Legislature cannot resolve this problem in a common-sense way.
If you really want to “throw the bums out,” here is your scorecard: 46 of 53 Republicans voted to permit Arizonans to vote on a temporary sales-tax increase to support public education, health care and public safety. Two moderate Republican senators, one of whom was ill, and two ultraconservative state senators failed to support the governor’s plan.
Blame also falls on Democrats, who chose not to provide a single vote for the public-election bill
The Democrats say they weren’t consulted and weren’t allowed to participate. I would remind you and them that, from 2004 to 2008, state general-fund spending rose from about $6 billion per year to more than $10 billion per year. Those budgets were signed by former Gov. Janet Napolitano and passed with the unanimous support of every Democrat and a handful of Republicans.
Democrats who dramatically increased public spending now refuse to permit voters an opportunity to sustain those programs. They think voters will focus on Republican infighting and claim that Democrats weren’t consulted.
Unfortunately for the Democrats, the strategy might actually work. They could inherit a giant mess in 2010 and will have to fix the problem.
So next fall when you want to “throw the bums out,” look at the far right (two Republican senators) and all of the Democrats who refused to permit the public to vote on a temporary sales-tax hike. Then throw the bums out!
Chuck Coughlin is president of Highground Inc., an Arizona political consulting firm. He has worked for then-Congressman John McCain, former Attorney General Grant Woods, former Gov. Fife Symington and most recently Gov. Jan Brewer, as transition team director.