/ Modified jul 6, 2012 5:09 p.m.

AZ Week: Open Primary Blowback

Legislators talk special session for alternative; supporters stand firm


One day after a citizens' initiative was filed to amend Arizona's constitution to allow nonpartisan primary elections, legislators said they might try countering it with their own ballot measure.

The initiative filing was Thursday. Talk of a special legislative session emerged Friday, although there had been discussion of some kind of measure during the regular session that adjourned in May.

A special session, which could come next week, didn't surprise members of the Open Government Committee, a coalition that collected more than 365,000 signatures to qualify the measure for the ballot.

Former Republican state Sen. Carolyn Allen of Scottsdale and former GOP state Rep. Bill Konopnicki of Safford, both supporters of the open primary, wrote an open letter Friday to all legislators.

“We can certainly understand why some politicians are concerned and even frighten by the prospects of a more open election process,” the letter said. “However, we cannot stand idly by and accept any attempt by those elected officials who oppose the Open Elections/Open Government initiative and use their office and public funds to protect and advance their own personal interest.”

The Open Government Act, as the group calls it, would allow a primary election in which all voters could cast ballots for any candidate, regardless of political affiliation. The top two vote getters, regardless of party, would face off in the general election.

Legislators earlier this year had discussed the possibility of a counter measure that would allow for the open primary but would place the top vote getter of each political party on the general election ballot.

Appearing on Arizona Week Friday, a Tucson member of the Open Government Committee said he expected strong opposition.

"I think the opposition could come both from the Republicans and the Democrats," said Ted Hinderaker, a Tucson lawyer. "There's very likely to be a special session on Monday called by the governor. The likely result of that could be that there's another ballot measure put on the November ballot to confuse the voters."

Hinderaker, who said he has been a registered Republican all his adult life, said the party's candidates often don't represent his point of view and that both Democratic and Republican candidates more often come from the extremes of their parties.

"The rationale is voters are fed up with the hyper-partisanship both in Washington and in Phoenix," he said. "We did some polling at the beginning of this process and found that the No. 1 thing voters were upset at in the political process was that their elected officials were not able to work together.

"Ninety-three percent said they wanted their elected officials to work together," Hinderaker said. "Seventy-nine percent said they were concerned about extremism that has crept into the process."

He said extremism in both parties' primary processes has come from a minimal number of voters taking part. Independents, who make up one-third of registered voters in Arizona, for the most part don't take part in primaries and thus aren't part of the process, he said.

Hinderaker pointed out that the Open Government Act is backed by a coalition of people from across the political spectrum and all parties, and includes a large number of businesspeople who are fed up with the process.

Among those he named as supporters from Tucson are Bruce Beach, CEO of Beach Fleischman & Co. accountancy firm; former University of Arizona President John Schaefer and his wife Helen Schaefer; former automobile dealer Buck O'Rielly; and Cox Communications Vice President Lisa Lovallo.

Phoenix area supporters identified by Hinderaker include former Mayor Paul Johnson; former PetSmart executive chairman Phil Francis; and Bill Post, former CEO of Pinnacle West, holding company for the utility Arizona Public Service.

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