Future bids to oust public officials through recall could get a lot harder under the terms of legislation given preliminary approval Tuesday by the Senate.
HB 2282 would require both a partisan primary as well as a general election after foes have gathered sufficient signatures to force a recall. Now, there is a just a single vote.
But to keep the change constitutional, HB 2282 guarantees that the recalled official makes it to the general election, regardless of whether he or she actually won the party primary.
At that point, the recalled official then faces at least two foes, one from his or her own party and one from the other political party. That raises the distinct possibility that the two challengers split the anti-incumbent vote -- and the recalled official is returned to office.
And even if the incumbent wins the primary, HB 2282 also increases that person's chances of surviving a recall in a highly partisan legislative district.
Current law requires a recall election if opponents gather sufficient signatures. The burden is relatively high, equal to 25 percent of those who voted in the last election.
Once officials certify there are enough signatures, the field is wide open. Anyone who wants to challenge the incumbent simply needs to gather signatures on nominating petitions.
There has never been a successful recall against any statewide elected official or legislator -- at least not until 2011.
That year, foes of Senate President Russell Pearce not only got enough signatures, but they also lined up another Republican to run against him in the race in the heavily Republican Mesa legislative district. With just those two in the race, that allowed both Democrats and independents to join with disaffected Republicans to provide the winning margin to Jerry Lewis.
The original proposal by Rep. Steve Smith, R-Maricopa, a Pearce ally, would have simply required both a primary and a general election.
Smith said he believes Pearce would have easily defeated Lewis in a race where only Republicans could vote. And the chance of a Democrat getting elected from that district are slim, meaning Pearce would have been returned to office instead of being replaced by another Republican.
But the House-passed version of the bill had a legal problem: The Arizona Constitution spells out that the name of the official who is targeted for recall is automatically on the ballot. That could not happen if someone the recall target were defeated in a primary.
So Sen. Steve Yarbrough, R-Chandler, came up with this unusual proposal to guarantee the incumbent a slot on the general election ballot, win or lose the primary.
That means a two-way race with someone from the other party if the incumbent wins the primary, and a three-way race if the incumbent falters in the primary.
The whole change drew derision from Sen. Steve Gallardo, D-Phoenix, who pointed out that the legislation, if given final approval and signed by the governor, would be retroactive to any recall pending since the beginning of the year. Gallardo said that appears designed largely to help Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio survive an ongoing effort to gather sufficient signatures to force a recall.
Backers have until May 30 to gather 335,317 valid signatures on petitions to force a recall.