The Daily Agenda: Save the Rinos!
Open primaries could get them off the endangered species list ... The laws of supply and demand, voucher edition ... And gosh, that line is familiar.
The Make Elections Fair Arizona Act could dramatically alter Arizona’s politics forever.
The much-hyped citizen initiative, which officially kicked off yesterday, would eliminate partisan primaries and instead institute an open primary election system in an effort to weed out the hyperpartisan weirdos who dominate Arizona’s political landscape, especially in the Republican Party, where the measure could bring about profound change.
Take it from supporter and donor Beau Lane, a business-backed Republican candidate for secretary of state who lost the GOP nomination last year to election-conspiracy spreader Mark Finchem.1
“I firmly believe that this Make Elections Fair initiative will strengthen my party, will strengthen the Republican Party,” he said, later adding if the initiative had been in place during the last election, “I guarantee you that in the gubernatorial race, Karrin Taylor Robson would have been the nominee for the Republican Party, and she’d be the governor right now. I think that’s pretty obvious.”
That’s exactly what many Democrats fear.
For generations, Arizona has been a center-right state with a pronounced independent streak. Long-term demographic changes are steadily pushing the state purpler. But the Republican Party’s America First revolution has helped rapidly accelerate that shift in recent years.
Democrats have Republican primary voters to thank, in large part, for turning Arizona blue. By consistently nominating only the strictest adherents to the MAGA movement, Republican voters have effectively handed the state’s highest office over to Democrats.
Knocking Kari Lake out in a primary wouldn’t benefit Democrats like Gov. Katie Hobbs. It would most directly benefit moderate Republicans like Robson. We’ve heard Democrats refer to the Make Elections Fair Act as the “Save Doug Ducey Act” because it’s the only way that a moderate Republican like him could get elected in Arizona nowadays.
Of course, some of the initiative’s biggest supporters are Democrats, including legendary figures like Terry Goddard and Paul Johnson who often harken back to their days as mayors of Phoenix, back when government and politics actually worked.
They argue that the initiative will also make Democratic candidates stronger by forcing them to reach out to a larger portion of the electorate — like the duo had to do in their nonpartisan city races.
But why should Democrats support an initiative that would have meant the election of a moderate Republican as governor?
“Here’s my answer. Truly, it wouldn’t have been the exact same Karrin Taylor Robson because she wouldn’t have been listening to a different group of people,” Johnson told us at a press conference announcing the launch. “When you run in a primary where everyone gets the chance to vote for you, you can’t help but begin to listen to them.”
Anyway, the initiative’s main selling points aren’t necessarily aimed at hard-core Democrats.
Independents make up the largest portion of Arizona’s electorate. But they rarely vote in primary elections because they have to proactively ask for a ballot (and many don’t even know they can do that). And no independent has ever won major political office in Arizona in part because it requires way more signatures to qualify for the ballot as an independent. The initiative would change all that.
And more generally, the initiative will improve civic life by forcing candidates to talk about real issues like education and economic development, rather than bathrooms and stolen elections, supporters like longtime political consultant Chuck Coughlin say. That will improve the quality of candidates willing to run and the quality of the politicians who can actually win.
“Ever since Jan (Brewer) left, I’ve gone through cycle and cycle where people tell me they want to run for office. And I say ‘You can’t — you’re going to lose,’” he said.
Coughlin, who worked for Brewer, felt “immense pride” when she bucked her party to increase the sales tax to bail Arizona out of an economic recession and when she expanded Medicaid coverage under Obamacare.2 But that kind of spine is rare in today’s Republican Party.
And it’s not just a Republican problem, Coughlin says. Many centrist Democratic incumbents have been pushed out of office in recent years by left-wing challengers.
But whether voters will back an open primary measure is still an open question.
This isn’t the first time Coughlin has attempted some version of the initiative. But this time is different, he says, because the business donor class is behind it and donations are rolling in. Already, they’ve secured $5.5 million for the effort, mostly from a handful of major donors in the business community.
Coughlin cut his teeth in GOP politics back when the Chamber of Commerce crowd ran the party, but he became an independent after Donald Trump’s election. Party leaders everywhere oppose the initiative for obvious reasons, but the Arizona Republican Party will be its biggest opponent, he said.
He’s more hopeful that the Democratic establishment will warm up to the idea.
At about the same time as the Make Elections Fair Arizona Act launch yesterday, the governor sent out a press release announcing she had signed a petition for an initiative to enshrine abortion rights in the Arizona Constitution.
Both initiatives will need about 400,000 valid signatures from registered voters before next July in order to qualify for the November 2024 ballot.
But perhaps not surprisingly, the governor who wouldn't be governor if the Make Elections Fair Arizona Act were in place last year has yet to lend her signature to the Make Elections Fair Arizona Act.
Voucher gougers: Some Arizona private schools have hiked their tuitions by thousands of dollars, potentially pricing out Empowerment Scholarship Account students, Neal Morton from The Hechinger Report writes. The nonprofit newsroom analyzed tuition at 55 schools and found nearly half of the schools raised tuition by 10% or more in some grades. Meanwhile, administrators at the Sunrise Academy for Students with Special Needs in Chino Valley report delays in the ESA payments that students rely on for tuition, ABC15’s Melissa Blasius reports.
Fine. we’ll stay: The U.S. Supreme Court denied Arizona Senate President Warren Petersen and Speaker of the House Ben Toma’s request to avoid depositions in a case over two voting rights laws, the Republic’s Ray Stern reports. Both lawmakers said they’ll comply with the ruling and sit for depositions after the court refused their application for an emergency stay.
Give and take: The Arizona Department of Corrections is ending its contract with a provider at a Marana prison, which means the detention center will close at the end of the year. Officials say the all-male prison rarely met capacity, and the move will save $15 million over the next two years. Meanwhile, Avondale’s City Council greenlit a $17 million police station, the Republic’s Alexandra Hardle reports. The new facility will have a detention center for arrestees facing misdemeanors with two people to a cell instead of up to 10 people per room at the current detention center.
The danger zone: In a frenzied race to remove the homeless population from “the Zone” downtown, Phoenix officials considered moving the unhoused people to a contaminated industrial site, the Republic’s Taylor Seely reports. A site assessment showed toxic levels of carcinogens, but records showed Phoenix knew about the contamination for years before the 2023 assessment. City officials said their hands were tied by a 1991 ordinance that restricts homeless shelters to industrial areas, and the site was the only one large enough, but they ended up nixing the project and opening a structured campground at another location in November.
"Imagine getting bitten by multiple venomous snakes of different varieties instead of a large bite by a single venomous snake," Arizona State University earth sciences professor Vernon Morris said of the multiple contaminants at the proposed site.
Too busy to tweet: U.S. Customs and Border Protection is shifting officers away from interior checkpoints and the Lukeville border crossing to help Border Patrol agents take people into custody, the Tucson Sentinel’s Paul Ingram reports. The Tucson Sector Border Patrol chief says they’re pausing training and physical fitness tests, and they’re so busy that they can’t even update their social media accounts anymore. He later walked back that last part somewhat.
Wenden’s wells run dry: Rural farmers and residents in Wenden, Arizona, which has a population of about 700, say their wells have been drying up since the Emirati agribusiness Al Dahra began farming alfalfa in the area, prompting concerns about the state’s groundwater pumping regulations, the Associated Press reports.
“You’re starting to see the effects of lack of regulation," La Paz County Supervisor Holly Irwin said. "Number one, we don’t know how much water we have in these aquifers, and we don’t know how much is being pumped out.”
Breaking records, still broke: Enrollment across Arizona’s three universities is at record levels, according to Arizona Board of Regents Chief Academic Officer Andrew Comrie. Most of the substantial growth came from online students, including the 25,000 enrolled in the recently acquired University of Arizona Global Campus, the Arizona Daily Sun’s Abigail Kessler reports.
Where have we heard this line before?
That slogan sounds so familiar, but we just can’t remember where from…
Was it Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp? Or from Arkansas’ Sarah Huckabee Sanders? Maybe we were thinking of Virginia’s Glenn Youngkin? Or perhaps Texas’ Greg Abbott? No, it must have been Kristi Noem of South Dakota.
Oh, that’s right! We heard it before any of them started using it.
Finchem went on to lose to Democrat Adrian Fontes, in large part because of Finchem’s fixation with stolen elections, which made him a rockstar in his own party but made him unelectable to the general population. Lane wouldn’t speculate if he would have won under the initiative’s rules.