Top Two Primary is back, with twice the magical thinking.

votePhoto: Arizona Capitol Times

As promised, the brain trust of Arizona centrist business establishment types (country club Republicans and corporate Dems) that failed to pass Prop 121 in 2012 plan to return with a slightly altered version of it in 2016.

Former Phoenix Mayor Paul Johnson, who led the campaign for Proposition 121 and is spearheading the 2016 measure, said organizers of the proposed Open Nonpartisan Primary Election plan on doing things a bit differently this time around.

“We get we lost last time,” Johnson said. “You don’t have to remind me of that. I get that one. So you have to look at why did I lose and what assets are out there that I can utilize to try to expand it.

Top Two primaries (also known as open or jungle primaries) are based on the surreal premise that having only the top two vote getters in the primary (regardless of party affiliation) advance to the general will improve government by enabling more “moderate” (read: business-friendly) candidates to defeat partisan ideologues. It seems reasonable if you don’t think about it for more than thirty seconds (and proponents are dearly hoping you won’t) but, alas, a cursory examination of the wildly optimistic promises of this scheme reveals its implausibility as a statewide solution for Arizona’s political dysfunction.

As I and others have explained before, Top Two only “works” in the way its designers intend if a whole bunch of variables fall neatly into place. Take the example of a Republican-dominated district that regularly elects radical reactionary conservatives like, say, Russell Pearce or Sylvia Allen. Under a Top Two primary, the Chamber of Commerce could recruit a less obstreperous Republican who perhaps holds a socially liberal view or two to run and garner enough moderate Republican, non-party designated (NPD), and Democratic votes to overcome the conservative votes that the right winger would undoubtedly get.

Is this possible? Of course. The difficulty is that it requires that no Democrat enter the race, and that includes sham Democrats recruited by right wing operatives to dilute the moderate Republican candidate’s primary vote total. If the moderate does manage to secure one of the two coveted spots for the general election, then it is imperative to get the votes of the moderate Republicans, left-leaning NPDs, and Democrats for that Chamber-anointed Republican. That would necessitate a lot of personal outreach to those general election voters, who tend not to be as versed in local politics as their primary voting counterparts. Who will do that work? Some of it can be done by paid canvassers but it’s not likely that the effort would succeed without considerable support from Democratic PCs and volunteers willing to knock on doors – in both the primary and general election seasons in 100 + degree temperatures – for a candidate who may hold views those activists find objectionable.

Ultimately, Top Two provides a specific, high-maintenance, and luck-dependent path to the centrist Nirvana that its proponents promise. Sometimes the stars align and it does work, as with the 2011 recall of Russell Pearce. There are, however, an infinite number of other, unintended paths that could unfold. And that is leaving aside the ability that right wing candidates currently have merely to make a phone call to Americans for Prosperity or any number of national conservative big funders for a few hundred thou or a million or so to drop in their races. The Top Two people appear to be oblivious to how elections have changed since Citizens United and related court decisions. It’s understandable, since many of them were big ballers in Arizona until only few years ago, that it is tough for them to accept that they are no longer as influential as they used to be in state elections but that does not confer an obligation upon others to embrace their magical thinking-based grasp at relevancy.

If you had any doubt that Top Two proponents are delusional, consider Paul Johnson’s defense of the new iteration of the proposition:

First of all, the language will be different. Johnson said organizers aren’t entirely sure what the language will look like, but it may end up being quite similar, though not identical to Proposition 121. Organizers don’t expect to complete the language until this summer. But the current draft makes one notable change. Candidates’ party affiliation won’t be listed on the ballot under the proposed open primary system.

The change may seem small, but Johnson said it’s quite significant. Opponents of Proposition 121 criticized the 2012 measure because it could have led to situations where two members of the same political party face off against each other in the general election.

“That’s a big change. That was one of the very big issues that the other side used against us in the last campaign,” Johnson said. “Their TV ads said this could result in two Democrats ending up on the ballot and you really wouldn’t have a choice. That’s a big difference.”

No one ceases being a Republican or Democrat (or whatever party) simply because no letter appears by their name on the ballot! I’m honestly not sure what planet these Top Two people live on, let alone what country or state.

3 responses to “Top Two Primary is back, with twice the magical thinking.

  1. This is a bad idea that needs to be defeated as soon as possible.

  2. I wish these folks would put their money behind ranked choice or instant runout voting.

    • I think you mean the instant run-off method of voting. Yes those would be ideal, but that is why the big money people will never go for them.

      Top two is just another way to game the system. A person can lie about their positions, and claim non-partisanship, the Republicans will tightly control who enters the election, while Democrats will have to several of their own p,us whatever sham candidates the Republicans want to put in to split the vote. Partisan primaries are not perfect but they give clear distinctions between the candidates, which is why the groups pushing top two want to get away from them. It is just another way to muddy the water.