Crossposted from DemocraticDiva.com
On Monday evening a Dem consultant and I got into a lengthy argument on Twitter with Chris Herstam, a former GOP legislator and current lobbyist, over the Top Two Primary proposal. Herstam was a big supporter of the measure that failed in 2012 and appears to be taking an active role in crafting and selling the “new and improved” one. Herstam is well known in Arizona political circles as a very nice guy and he has made it clear publicly that he is appalled by the hard right direction the Republicans have taken in the past several years. He seems to have a good faith belief that changing the primary system to give non-affiliated voters easier access to it will lead to more of the kind of centrists he prefers getting elected in Republican dominated districts.
After much back and forth on Twitter, it looked as though Herstam decided to delete all his tweets for some reason. I’m not sure why because he hadn’t said anything embarrassing or offensive and he was capably getting out the talking points. Herstam’s tweets were all saved in my phone, though, and one statement he made piqued my interest:
Chris Herstam (@chrisherstam) tweeted at 7:16 PM on Mon, Nov 23, 2015: @DonnaDiva @XXXXXX. Polling demonstrated that citizens preferred some guidance via registered status.Of course Sen Begay screws that up.
Fascinating. Recall how when former Phoenix Mayor Paul Johnson and his Open Primaries group announced they were going to try their initiative again one the key changes they proposed was eliminating party labels on the ballot. They were calling it “Open Nonpartisan Primaries” back then and Johnson wanted you to think that if, say, John McCain and David Schweikert were facing off on the same general election ballot they would somehow not both be Republicans because they didn’t have labels by their names:
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.
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.”
But scratch all that, if we’re to go by what Chris Herstam says. It seems that voters do want party labels after all, despite the insistence of many of them that they hate parties and shun labels.
The other part of Herstam’s statement – the part about Senator Carlyle Begay of LD7, who announced his change of registration from Democrat to Republican on Monday – bears paying attention to as well. A lot of Democrats cried foul and even legally challenged Begay being appointed to the seat, which had been vacated by Jack Jackson, Jr. in 2013. It was well known that Begay had lived in Gilbert for years and he was believed to be working closely with Andy Biggs. Running as a Democrat, Begay won the seat in 2014 and hopes his incumbent status will get him reelected next year. We’ll see about that but it’s important to note that Begay is not the first time that right wingers in Arizona have recruited a sham candidate to mislead voters and siphon off Democratic votes.
The “jungle primary” is rife with opportunities for these dirty tricks. When I pointed that out to Herstam on Twitter, his response was to deflect that Democrats had run Libertarian candidates too. Okay, maybe they have (and not with any success that I’m aware) but this change to the primary is based on the belief (expressed to me by many Top Two supporters including Herstam) that heavily Republican-dominated districts will elect more moderate Republicans. That result is dependent upon a few highly questionable assumptions – that Democrats will cheerfully agree to step aside and not run their own candidates, that they will agreeably get out the vote for the “moderate” Republican among the Dem voter base (even if said Republican is an anti-choicer with an A rating from the NRA), and that no right wing operatives will derail the effort with fake Democratic candidates.
But at least they’ll have the labels now.