Pragmatic voters not bound by party labels or bumpersticker ideology sent word that they have grown impatient with empty talk and finger-pointing, and are prepared to let loose their wrath on politicians who cannot deliver results, according to political insiders and politicians who survived the ire of the electorate last week.
On the surface, Arizonans seem to have delivered a mixed message.
They want to make life tougher for illegal immigrants by cutting off state-paid perks and privileges. Proof of that came through a series of ballot propositions passed by 2-1 margins Tuesday. Yet the two congressional candidates who took the hardest of the hardline approaches on immigration were defeated, according to the latest tallies.
Voters rejected government meddling by defeating a ballot proposition that would have banned same-sex marriages in the state’s constitution, but then approved more government intervention in private business with bans on smoking in bars and restaurants and the creation of a state minimum wage.
Democratic incumbents Gov. Janet Napolitano and Attorney General Terry Goddard were re-elected by wide margins. But so were Republican Sen. Jon Kyl and most Republican incumbents holding statewide offices.
It all makes perfect sense, said Bob Grossfeld, a political and media consultant who tends to work for Democratic candidates and causes.
Voters want results, not talk, he said.
“There is absolute consistency,” Grossfeld said. “It’s much more the new political alignment, which is just not right-left-center. It’s more driven by results. The ideology behind the results is far less significant now to most voters, especially those under 35. The labeling that is convenient for us has little meaning for most voters. What you find is that they are very, very results oriented.”
The best example of that is the strength of the immigration initiatives and the ill-fated campaigns of incumbent Rep. J.D. Hayworth, R-Ariz., and Republican congressional candidate Randy Graf.
Graf was defeated outright in his bid for the Tucson-based 8th Congressional District seat vacated by Rep. Jim Kolbe, R-Ariz.
Though Hayworth has not conceded defeat, tallies so far show him losing to Democrat Harry Mitchell in the 5th Congressional District.
Hayworth was among the national leaders in Congress of the “enforcement first” approach to immigration.
That means shutting down the flow of people coming across the border before there is any talk of more comprehensive changes that would create a path to legalization for those already in the country illegally.
Graf also took the hard-line approach in his district, which covers much of the state’s border with Mexico.
But the lopsided support of the initiatives to clamp down on illegal immigration did not seem to help either candidate.
There were other dynamics at play in partisan races, particularly the national surge of discontent with Republican policies that swept Democrats across the country into office.
But Hayworth also suffered from the fact that all he was able to deliver on the immigration issue was talk, said state Sen. Dean Martin, R-Phoenix. Martin, elected state treasurer Tuesday, authored the referendum that became Proposition 300, which curbs some state benefits for illegal immigrants.
“The voters were very clear that they want something done on immigration, not just talked about,” Martin said. “J.D. got caught up with the fact that although he was talking strong on immigration, he was part of a Congress that didn’t.”
Support for the bordercontrol initiatives clearly cut across party lines, passing by more than 70 percent.
But Democrats like Napolitano, Mitchell and Gabrielle Giffords, who defeated Graf, were effective in convincing voters that they also want to curb the influx of illegal immigrants, effectively neutralizing immigration as a decisive campaign issue, Martin said.
Rep. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., who had no Democratic opponent and was easily re-elected, agreed voters sent a message they are tired of politicians who are long on talk and short on action.
Flake supports a broader approach to illegal immigration, and favors legislation to create a guest worker program that also has the backing of President Bush and Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz.
After six years of Republican control of the presidency and both houses of Congress, no meaningful immigration reform legislation was passed, aside from a last-minute bill to build a border fence.
Voters in Arizona and nationally sent a message that they want results, which should boost efforts for comprehensive immigration reform, Flake said.
“We are slow to move and that really hurt us,” Flake said of his fellow congressional Republicans. “We know it’s got to be solved. We shouldn’t have to put our fingers in the air to say people are frustrated.”
Beyond the immigration issue, voters showed they were thoughtfully picking and choosing their way through the ballot as they decided partisan races and propositions, said Bruce Merrill, a longtime Valley pollster and communications professor at Arizona State University.
One example is the vote on Proposition 107, which would put a provision in the state’s constitution to recognize only marriages between a man and a woman.
Polling shows about 65 percent of Arizonans support that notion, which is already in state statutes.
However, a second provision in the initiative would prohibit the state and local governments from providing benefits such as health care coverage to unmarried couples regardless of their sexuality.
That is opposed by more than 70 percent of Arizonans, according to polls cited by Merrill.
Though ballots are still being counted, the marriage initiative seems headed for failure.
Another example of voter astuteness involved the competing initiatives to ban smoking in public places, Merrill said.
Proposition 201, backed by health advocacy groups, bans smoking in all bars and restaurants and was passed.
The competing initiative, heavily financed by the tobacco industry, would have exempted bars and was rejected.
“Voters aren’t as stupid as a lot of times the pundits think they are,” Merrill said. “Given information, they make decisions. It tells us that people are capable of processing information. They are not just blindly driven by negative advertising.”