Oh look, they’re blaming Clean Elections again

Fresh on the heels of the SB1062 veto, and with national columnists hungry to meet deadlines with something “insightful” about Arizona, the Chamber of Commerce crowd is really pushing the “Clean Elections done it!” myth hard.

Here’s New York Times liberal Gail Collins repeating the narrative:

“I remember having a meeting with some folks I’d call country-club Republicans, and listening to them bemoan the fact that they have no more influence because of the Clean Elections law,” said Rodolfo Espino, a professor at Arizona State University.

We will come to a screeching halt here and re-examine that thought.

Yes! Part of the super-weirdness of Arizona politics appears to be the result of the state’s 1998 public financing law, which provided tons of matching funds to unwealthy-but-energetic candidates from the social right at the expense of the pragmatic upper class. The Supreme Court took the teeth out of the law in 2011, but, by then, the traditional Republican elite had lost its place at the head of the political table.


As I’ve patiently explained, lo these many times, this story is complete bullshit. The so-called Country Club Republicans gravitate to this explanation because it absolves them of their own considerable complicity, going back decades, in driving the GOP far to the looney tune fringes. Anyone trying to sell you the idea that a 1998 public financing law has more to do with the hard right turn in our state than any number of other national and local factors has an agenda, of which you can easily guess. It’s especially bullshit in the context of SB1062 when, as this spectacular debunking by David Donnelly of Public Campaign explains:

The three main sponsors of SB 1062—Sens. Nancy Barto, Steve Yarbrough, and Bob Worsley—DID NOT PARTICIPATE in Clean Elections in 2012. In fact, the state’s leading business group, the Arizona Chamber of Commerce and Industry, endorsed all three in their last election.

Ninety-two percent of Republicans in the legislature voted for the bill. Nearly eighty percent of those lawmakers DID NOT PARTICIPATE in the Clean Elections system.

In fact, all of the Democrats that voted against the bill are supportive of, or have used, the Clean Elections system.

Governor Jan Brewer, who vetoed the measure, actually DID PARTICIPATE in the Clean Elections program. (It’s also worth noting that Gov. Brewer’s predecessor, former Department of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, used Clean Elections for both of her gubernatorial races. In my opinion, she’s the antithesis of extreme.).

National columnists should stick to writing about what they know, which is typically New York or DC, if their idea of writing about one of us flyover states is to talk to one person in it, who passes along an anecdote from a group of self-interested businessmen. Gail Collins then adds ignorant insult to injury in the next passage after the one I quoted:

I know, I know. Many of us would like to empower the grass-roots with public campaign financing. Don’t give up. Just remember to make sure that the roots in your neighborhood have a more expansive vision than the ones that popped up in the Grand Canyon State.

Jesus. Snotty, condescending drivel like that really brings out the (liberal version of a) bitter clinger in me. And it’s wrong, besides. You can’t just say, “I’m for public financing in general but not for Arizona because you guys are a bunch of goobers.” It doesn’t work that way. Opponents to Arizona Clean Elections took it all the way to the Supreme Court, attempting to get the program declared entirely unconstitutional. They succeeded in gutting it but the court left the bones of the program in place. If Arizona’s program goes down entirely, they all do.

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