A new state law intended to streamline the election process raised concerns among city leaders who said it will bring more partisanship to local elections.
State legislators in April enacted a measure that lined up local elections with state and federal election cycles. It applies to cities with populations greater than 175,000, including Mesa, Scottsdale and Chandler.
As a result, the 2008 city elections will be postponed about six months to coincide with the presidential election, which will automatically extend the terms of some East Valley mayors and council members.
Mesa Mayor Keno Hawker, Scottsdale Mayor Mary Manross and Chandler Mayor Boyd Dunn, will serve longer terms than had been in place when they were elected.
Hawker said changing the election date to the fall from the spring undermines the electoral process.
“Don’t extend my term just because you can,” he said. “I only signed up for four years. The voters only signed me up for four years.”
Rep. Steven Yarbrough, R-Chandler, sponsored the amendment to consolidate election cycles. Yarbrough said he developed the measure in an effort to increase voter participation by holding federal, state and local elections on the same date.
“That was at the heart of my focus,” he said. “It’s about voters turning out in the democratic process.”
Typically, East Valley elections have been nonpartisan contests in which candidates debated local issues, rather than toeing party lines.
But critics of the new law say elections will likely take on a more partisan tone once they are combined.
Manross, who will be up for re-election in 2008, said she feared that party squabbles will taint future local elections.
“I was really displeased when I heard this legislation passed,” she said. “The folks who support me come from both sides of the aisle. I think partisanship could rear its ugly head, and that wouldn’t benefit any of our cities.”
Chandler Mayor Boyd Dunn, who is a partner with Yarbrough at the Chandler law office Yarbrough, Moll and Dunn, said he and the state representative never discussed the measure while it was debated by the Legislature. But Dunn said he supported the legislation.
But Mesa Mayor Keno Hawker said local issues won’t be able to compete for voter awareness due to lavish funding poured into state and federal campaigns.
“You’re going to be inundated with multimillion-dollar presidential messages,” Hawker said. “Before, you just had to get a message from a local council member or mayor.”
Arizona voters turned out in November last year to consider a lengthy ballot that included a record-setting 19 statewide initiatives. Nearly 61 percent of registered voters participated.
Many residents said they studied sample ballots prior to voting to avoid confusion at the polls. Yarbrough said that was a sign voters can adapt to the new election cycle.
Not all city leaders said they were bothered by the additional time. Chandler Vice Mayor Lowell Huggins, who will retire at the end of his term, said he was confident voters would support his additional time.
Extended office terms
Due to a recently enacted state law, the terms of some city leaders will be extended about six months due to a gap between the old election dates and the new, consolidated cycle. Primary and general elections previously held in March and May will now fall in September and November. Local officials who will stay in office longer include:
Mayor Boyd Dunn Vice Mayor Lowell Huggins Councilman Matt Orlando Councilman Martin Sepulveda
Mayor Keno Hawker Councilman Rex Griswold Councilman Tom Rawles Councilwoman Claudia Walters Councilman Mike Whalen
Mayor Mary Manross Councilwoman Betty Drake Councilman Ron McCullagh Councilman Jim Lane
SOURCE: Chandler, Mesa, and Scottsdale.