Elections Are Expensive. Let’s Just Not Have Them.

It was only a few weeks ago when City Councilman Kozachik announced that he was leaving the Republican Party to become a Democrat. Among the things that led to his split with the Republicans were the Legislature’s consistent attacks on local governance, in Tucson in particular. So, it may come as some surprise that, in his newsletter, the Councilman calls for the city to abide by SB 2826. Passed in 2012, this partisan attack on local control was opposed by the city and is currently being challenged in court:

One way we could save about $2M this year has to do with the State and their Consolidated Elections bill – the one that places all elections in even numbered years. They have to go back and fix the language this session since we are due to have an election this fall. There are options they can consider, some of which include having us run for 1 or 3 year terms this fall, or skipping this year’s election altogether and synchronizing us in a 2014 election. If left to me, I’d certainly opt for that. I believe people are just suffering election cycle fatigue.

Skipping this year’s election could save us $2M if we also didn’t put on the ballot three items: a request for Mayor and Council raises (being considered by the City Manager’s office,) a request for us to increase our spending limit (Home Rule,) and the Plan Tucson document that I’ve reported on before. We don’t have to have that approved until 2014. So, skipping any ballot measures this year would save funding the election, and would allow us to defer upgrading our election equipment until next year.

It’s not a structural fix, but it would help with this year’s deficit.

First, this proposal is at the very least, mildly offensive to the legislators, lobbyists and lawyers who have expended considerable sweat and toil fighting legislation like this on behalf of Tucson. While talk like this does not necessarily undermine their efforts, such mixed signals from the elected leadership of the city shows a certain lack of respect for all the work that has been done.

Second, and much more importantly, is an all to common attitude regarding elections. The relevant paragraphs are quoted in full above to show that sound bytes about “election cycle fatigue” and “skipping this year’s election” do not improve in their original context. Too frequently in this state, there are those who lament that elections are too messy and costly. Evan Mecham once famously lamented that there was “too much democracy” in the United States, and similar sentiments seem to have been somewhere behind the Southern Arizona Leadership Council’s failed 2010 effort to amend the  city charter to shift power from elected officials to unelected bureaucrats.

The argument about cost was made with SB2826 as well, though this was somewhat disingenuous. Even the Arizona Republic recognized that the motives for the bill were strictly partisan, namely having to do with the fact that both Tucson and Phoenix elected Democratic mayors in 2011. If cost were really the only issue, then replacing elections with a system of primogeniture  would save even more money, and selecting city officials through trial-by-combat would actually present opportunities for cost recovery by offering pay-per-view.

Strangely, in the Councilman’s case, it is worth pointing out that cancelling the 2013 election would save him the trouble of a reelection campaign.

As with “Paton’s Law,” the only problem that SB2826 was meant to address was that the wrong people were getting elected. And, of course, like that law, which was overturned by the State Supreme Court even as this measure was being debated in the Legislature, this one is likely to be thrown out as unconstitutional for the same reasons. This is another legacy of the Harrison Act of 1886, which was discussed in a previous post. As has been mentioned, Tucson is part of a coalition of cities who are fighting this, and hopefully the Councilman will allow them to continue to do so.

As for the Councilman, it is unclear if he really feels this way, or if he is just engaged in a bit of Swiftian thinking out loud in an effort to stimulate a discussion. It remains to be seen if this will materialize into something substantial. For the time being, the sentiment is at the very least disturbing.