Thinking about skipping Tuesday’s primary because it doesn’t matter? Waiting until November, when voting “really counts?” There’s still time to reconsider.
Arizona voters head to the polls this week to choose what most likely will be the political and ideological makeup of the Legislature, the branch of government that makes state laws and decides how tax dollars are spent.
No, candidates aren’t elected to office — that happens in November. But with an overwhelming number of legislative districts dominated by either Republicans or Democrats, winning a primary is often equal to winning the office.
That gives the little- watched primaries an enormous amount of significance.
And this year’s elections could carry even more weight, as several primary battles within both parties threaten to further polarize the Legislature and swing the state House of Representatives on issues from tax cuts to abortion. Several moderate incumbents from both parties are defending their seats against more ideological challengers.
No campaign underscores these types of battles better than Scottsdale’s District 8 Senate race, where Rep. Colette Rosati is trying to unseat Sen. Carolyn Allen.
The race highlights the tension between middle-ofthe-road Republicans and the party’s more conservative members who are trying to expand their numbers at the Capitol.
Rosati has accused Allen of being a RINO (Republican in name only). Meanwhile, Allen has fired back with accusations that Rosati is a bigot and anti-Semite.
“This is being done simply because of my views on abortion,” said Allen, who believes a woman should have a right to choose to end a pregnancy. But Rosati said the reasons run deeper than that.
She said Allen, along with other moderate Republicans such as Sen. Toni Hellon, RTucson, are not true to the party’s core principles that include lower taxes and reduced government.
At one recent candidates forum, Rosati displayed the voting records of both Allen and Hellon and derided them as “tax-and-spend liberals.”
“With Republicans like that,” she said, “who needs Democrats.”
Stan Barnes, a longtime Republican political operative and former state lawmaker, said these types of primaries in both parties could widen the ideological divide at the Legislature. And with the current Republican advantage, that could push the Legislature further to the right.
But these types of political attacks are nothing new to Arizona. Two years ago, several moderate Republicans found themselves under fire from their own party after crossing party lines to work out a budget deal with Democratic Gov. Janet Napolitano.
Several Republicans were given their walking papers, including former Republican Slade Meade, now running for state superintendent of public instruction as a Democrat against Republican Tom Horne, who used to be a Democrat.
While it’s still unknown who will win these races this year, conventional wisdom indicates that a lower voter turnout will favor the more extreme candidates on both ends of the spectrum.
Arizona State University professor Bruce Merrill said moderate voters don’t show up on primary day, and that won’t likely change this year.
Lack of interest in the Republican gubernatorial race as well as uncontested primaries for congressional seats will keep turnout low, he said.
“The older, more ideological voters tend to show up and vote regardless of what’s on the ballot,” he said.
But even if the Legislature shifts further right, not all Democrats are concerned. Bob Grossfeld, a Democratic political consultant, said it shouldn’t change the politics of the Legislature much.
“Look, how much further right can the Legislature go?” he said.
But Grossfeld noted that in a number of cases, Napolitano needed moderate Republicans to advance her agenda.
“If its wasn’t for that, we wouldn’t have reasonable funding for education, a budget surplus or all-day kindergarten,” he said.