Send in the Clowns

Don't bother, they're here. After a decade of voter-mandated reform, the Arizona Legislature is as out of touch as ever

"Nobody pays any attention to data."

Sometimes, reformers act too quickly. Arizona voters learned that firsthand in the 1980s after putting Evan Mecham into the governor's office with less than a plurality. "People just got so upset," Hauser recalls. "They amended the Constitution to require that no one be elected to an executive office with less than 50 percent of the vote."

Our legislators aren't crying on the inside, but maybe we should be.
Joe Forkan
Our legislators aren't crying on the inside, but maybe we should be.
On opening day of the legislative session, lawmakers 
listen to Governor Janet Napolitano.
Peter Scanlon
On opening day of the legislative session, lawmakers listen to Governor Janet Napolitano.

Seemed like a good idea at the time, but voters found out otherwise a few years later, when neither Fife Symington nor Terry Goddard got a majority of votes for governor. Symington won the runoff election, but finished with fewer votes than he'd gotten in November.

"They were having a gubernatorial runoff election when the legislative session was getting under way," Hauser recalls. "It was chaos. The voters said, 'This is really stupid. Why did we do that?' So, the very next election, they repealed it. That's typical.

"We get a little carried away with reforms."

But if history is any guide, progressives will keep putting reforms before a willing electorate. Suggestions for what's next range from the bizarre to the basic.

Mark Osterloh, a Tucson ophthalmologist who ran a quixotic campaign for governor in 2002 -- with 31,400 votes, he finished third in the four-way Democratic primary -- says he has a plan that would dramatically increase voter turnout. If the state held a lottery and awarded $1 million to one lucky voter in each election year, folks would flock to the ballot box, he says.

Maybe so. But the idea of luring voters to the polls like so many gamblers has about as much chance of becoming law as Osterloh has of reaching the governor's office.

More realistic is a plan by Rick Murphy, a Bullhead City radio-station magnate whose unsuccessful campaign last fall against U.S. Representative Trent Franks convinced him the election system needs an overhaul.

Murphy outspent Franks by about two-to-one but still got killed in the September primary. "I had so many people say to me two weeks before the November election, 'Rick, I'm there for you. I'm going to be voting for you,'" Murphy recalls. "And I said, 'You're a little late.' People don't get it. They don't, for some reason, feel that the primary is that important."

Murphy is bankrolling an initiative that would do away with polling places in favor of mail-only elections, with ballots automatically mailed to every registered voter. Besides increasing turnout and establishing a paper trail for each vote cast, Murphy says the state would save millions of dollars in election costs. He sounds every bit the progressive.

"The more people who vote, the more it dilutes special interests and allows the populace to have their way," he says.

Opponents are sure to argue that voting by mail is a recipe for election fraud. Grossfeld, the Democratic strategist, predicts there will be an effort to curb the practice. "I'll tell you right now, the next wave of reforms is going to be aimed, I suspect, at what people will find wrong, whether there is anything or not, about vote by mail," he says.

Murphy expects to hear opposition. But he's prepared. That's why he's calling his initiative committee Your Right to Vote.

"Somebody's going to have to stand up and say, 'I oppose Your Right to Vote,'" he says with a laugh.

E-mail, or call 602-407-1715.

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