Arizona to vote on a series of ballot measures

Arizona to vote on a series of ballot measures

Arizona to vote on a series of ballot measures

Arizonans may have the chance in November to make what could be a momentous change in state policy.

A new initiative introduced Wednesday would eliminate partisan primaries. That would mean all candidates from all parties would compete against each other in an attempt to win a spot on the general election ballot, and all voters of any affiliation would be able to choose.

And with only the top vote-getters advancing to the general election, that could mean all candidates could end up being Democrats, Republicans or even unaffiliated with either major party.

The change is aimed at doing away with the current system, in which one party or the other has an insurmountable advantage in more than two-thirds of legislative districts. That means whoever wins the primary — often someone who appeals to the most radical elements of their party — will be almost certain to win in November.

But the proposal, known as Make Elections Fair Again, would affect more than just congressional races. It would also cover federal and state offices.

And it would overturn the current system in Tucson, the only city in the state that has partisan local elections.

Also in the works for a November vote is a plan for an immediate $2-an-hour increase in the minimum wage over the next two years, which would be on top of the current requirement for annual inflationary increases.

That could raise the minimum wage to $18 by 2026.

But it is the way elections are run that could revolutionize Arizona politics for decades to come.

“The Make Elections Fair initiative eliminates voter and candidate discrimination based on party affiliation,” said Sarah Smallhouse, a major donor to the measure. The Tucson native is president of the Thomas R. Brown Foundation, named for her father, who was a founder of the now-defunct Burr-Brown Corp.

This goes to the essence of current law.

Consider a legislative district spanning south Tucson and surrounding areas, where Democrats outnumber Republicans and have little chance of being elected.

This means that Democratic candidates must appeal only to issues that Democrats care about, and whoever Democrats choose in the primaries is virtually certain to win in November.

In fact, Republicans are so discouraged about their chances in the 20th District that they aren’t even offering a challenger to incumbent Sen. Sally Ann Gonzales. The same is true in the House of Representatives, where Democrats Alma Hernandez and Betty Villegas are running unopposed for the two House seats.

Smallhouse said an open, nonpartisan primary gives all candidates an equal opportunity.

“It allows voters to choose freely,” he said.

This isn’t just a Democratic proposal. It also has the backing of Republican Beau Lane, who unsuccessfully tried to be the Republican nominee for secretary of state in 2022. He lost in an all-Republican primary to Mark Finchem.

But when it came time for the general election, Finchem lost to Democrat Adrian Fontes by more than 120,000 votes.

Lane said this is representative of what happens across the state, where candidates are nominated in partisan primaries “where less than 20% of voters participate.” Lane, a self-described “Reagan Republican” who said he is loyal to his party, said open primaries will create an opportunity for more Republicans to win in the general election by nominating candidates in primaries who have broader appeal.

“I think it’s become clear that … at the state level, our party is running candidates who can’t win and who can’t attract enough independents to win an election,” he said. “This will certainly alleviate that situation and allow other candidates to rise to the top.”

That, however, does not guarantee that Republicans like Lane will make it to the general election.

The initiative leaves it up to the Legislature to decide how many advance from the primary to the general election. It could be two Democrats, two Republicans or even two from minor or unaffiliated parties.

But the measure says lawmakers are free to allow up to five candidates to advance to the general election. In that case, it calls for the use of a “ranked-choice” system in which people mark their first, second, third and subsequent choices, with ballots being counted successively until someone gets 50% of the vote.

Voters will have the opportunity not only to approve or reject this initiative, but also to end the idea of ​​open primaries forever.

Republican lawmakers put their own proposed constitutional measure on the November ballot that would guarantee the right of each political party to nominate a candidate, with the guarantee that each party would have the right to place at least one person for each open seat on the general election ballot.

If both measures are approved, the one with the most votes wins.

Also introduced Wednesday night was a measure for what would be a third voter effort to raise the minimum wage.

Before 2006, employers had to pay workers just $5.15 an hour, the same as the federal minimum wage. A ballot measure that year raised it to $6.75, with annual inflationary increases.

By 2016, the state minimum wage had risen to $8.05. Voters again voted to gradually raise it to $12 an hour in 2020, again with future increases tied to inflation.

Currently, the wage is $14.35 an hour; the federal minimum is only $7.25.

Another inflationary increase, for an amount yet to be determined, will automatically come into effect on January 1.

The Fair Wage Act would increase that figure by $1 on that date, with another $1 increase on January 1, 2026, also above the regular increase for inflation.

That could easily raise the minimum wage to $18 at that time.

What’s particularly alarming for restaurant owners is that the initiative would eliminate their ability to pay them $3 less per hour if their tips bring them to the minimum. That would mean restaurants would have to pay that $18, regardless of how much the workers take home in tips.

They convinced lawmakers to put a constitutional measure on the ballot.

I wouldn’t repeal the proposed increases in the minimum wage, but I would say they could pay workers 25% less than that if their take-home pay, with tips, reached $20 an hour.

Steve Chucri, president and CEO of the Arizona Restaurant Association, said he is convinced that most servers would earn that $20 minimum in tips. And given a minimum wage of $18, that would mean restaurants would have to cover only $13.50.

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