No. of Recommendations: 4

For three decades, I have observed an increasing disconnect between the Arizona Legislature and popular sentiment in the state. Senate Bill 1062 is but the most recent example, and it has solidified a public perception of Arizona as a deeply conservative state.

Extreme conservatism is not reflective of public attitudes in the state. Over the strenuous objections of the Legislature, the voters of Arizona have passed in initiatives in the past several years mandating:

-- Several tax increases.

-- Medical marijuana.

-- Increased education funding.

-- Expanded health care for the poor.

-- The Independent Redistricting Commission.

-- One of the most progressive public funding “Clean Elections” regimes in the country, among other things.

On almost any issue polled, the disposition of the state is only slightly right-of-center centrist. Voters here as elsewhere would like to see their tax dollars spent carefully and wisely. But when directed to clear-priority areas, Arizonans are willing to endorse and pay for public spending. And their social views are moderate to libertarian.

On the other hand, the Arizona Legislature has embraced a radical social and economic conservatism that is not reflective of public attitudes in the state. How could this be? The answer is clearly rooted in the electoral rules of the game, which have made our Legislature one of the most conservative in the nation.

But don’t we all elect them?

In reality, we don’t.


While Republicans have a guaranteed lock on 17 seats in the Senate, perhaps democracy operates in the 17 primary elections where these candidates are selected? (Democrats rarely matter: Almost all decisions are made in the Republican caucus. Democrats literally don’t even get into the room where decisions are made.)

How much democracy is there in these 17 crucial primary elections? In 2012, 13 of the 17 Republican senators from these districts ran unopposed. In a 14th seat, the sole opponent withdrew before Election Day. Only three districts had primary challengers.

So, how many votes did it take to determine the outcomes in all 17 districts? The 13 unopposed candidates required only a single vote. To win all 17 districts, a total of 35,500 votes were required, barely more than 1 percent of the 3,244,793 voters registered in Arizona as of January. The Legislature reflects the views of these 35,500 voters, not the 3,209,293 whose votes have no impact on the composition of the Legislature.

And who are these 35,500 Republican primary voters?

As every student of politics knows, these constitute the most extreme faction within the Republican Party.
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