That’s the message we’re hearing from the Open Government initiative supporters.
These folks believe Independents will have greater opportunities to win elections while extremists, those leading by ideology instead of policy, will be forced to moderate in order to appeal to the general population versus their party’s base.
In a ‘top two’ primary, everyone, regardless of party affiliation, receives the same ballot and the top two vote getters advance to the general election. This could result in two Republicans competing in a general election or one Democrat and one Independent and so forth.
While the concept sounds great, I’ve been hesitant to support it. Remember, term limits sounded great too. As did Clean Elections.
But term limits forced good politicians; those with a real grasp of public policy, out of office and contributed to the loss of institutional memory.
Clean Elections is something I still support but because the Supreme Court essentially gutted the law, Clean Elections doesn’t have the teeth to make much of a difference anymore.
So I’ve waffled on the initiative, not sure which way I’d vote. But this week I’ve had to ask why, if this isn’t a good proposal, are extremist politicians lined up in opposition to it?
First, Governor Brewer considered calling a special election to reword the initiative in hopes of confusing voters and having both initiatives go down in flames. But many in her party didn’t want to simply confuse voters, they wanted something to ensure that the heart of a top-two system never took hold and political parties could maintain their control.
Then, Maricopa County Attorney Bill Montgomery became the face and prominent supporter of the opposition, Save Our Vote Committee. Montgomery, famous for his undying support of Joe Arpaio and his “Put up or shut up” comment to the Department of Justice, vows defeat of the initiative, and if it isn’t defeated, says he’ll take it to court to kill it.
That begs the question, “Why?” What are Montgomery and Brewer and other Tea Party politicians so afraid of?
Right now, neither party has come out in support of Open Government, which actually gives the initiative credibility. If the parties feel a top-two primary will give more power to independents and moderates and therefore encourage more voter participation, I say go for it.
Are there potential downsides to the initiative? Yes.
Some have said this will force the parties to decide which candidate or candidates they will support in advance of a primary. But let’s be realistic, this already happens. The party cannot tell a candidate not to run, but the party can and does try to persuade candidates to reconsider.
Some critics of the initiative have said they believe parties will put up sham candidates to dilute the vote and ensure the real candidate wins. Again, this already happens. Remember Olivia Cortes?
The fact is the Open Government initiative is not and cannot be a panacea. So long as money plays a deciding factor in elections and so long as Citizens United is upheld, nothing will dramatically change the face of politics as we know it. But if a top-two primary succeeds in encouraging more independents and moderates to vote in elections, why wouldn’t we want to switch to this system?
Taking away partisan primaries eliminates the need for candidates to cater to one set of beliefs in the primary and a different set of beliefs in a general election. No, Open Government will not force politicians to put policy before ideology, but it does make it more difficult for politicians to win on ideology alone.
Our current primary system presents an unfair burden to Independents, a third of Arizona’s registered voters. A top-two system will help level the playing field and give more voters an opportunity to vote for candidates representative of their beliefs. And in the end, isn’t that what we want in a democracy?