A new state law signed Thursday by Gov. Janet Napolitano has moved municipal elections for three large East Valley cities from March and May to September and November.
In 2008, Scottsdale, Mesa and Chandler will join Phoenix and Tucson in holding city elections in the fall, at the same time as partisan balloting for federal, state and county offices.
SB1041’s obvious intent is to consolidate elections on fewer dates, something voters often say they prefer. What the law also might do is foster the idea that so-called nonpartisan city elections are that in name only.
Does partisanship stir debates? Yes, plenty, and often pretty loud ones. But nonpartisanship, which has such a noble ring to it, can be anything but beneficial because it ignores political realities. Another good reason: Nonpartisan rule can suffocate local politics.
In 1948, a group of stalwarts, including a young businessman named Barry Goldwater, was elected to Phoenix’s City Council on a reform platform. Phoenix was quite a corrupt, rollicking place in those days. Organized as the Charter Government Committee, they won and cleaned up the town.
What resulted was oneparty rule for 28 years. The nonpartisan committee’s hand-picked — and all male — candidates always won the mayor’s seat until Margaret Hance broke the lock in 1976.
Another argument for change is that Arizona majorcity leaders’ party affiliations are largely no secret.
For years, Tucson has had candidates list their political party affiliations on its municipal ballot. The city is known as the state’s largest Democratic stronghold — nonetheless, Tucson’s current mayor is a Republican, Bob Walkup.
And it’s widely known in conservative, “nonpartisan” Scottsdale that Mayor Mary Manross is a Democrat — everywhere but on the ballot, that is.
With her emphasis on maintaining her city’s tip-top bond rating and strong support for more regulation of cabarets, virtually none of Manross’ critics ever assert she is a liberal. Just the opposite, in fact.
Despite being a member of a political party that is in the minority among Scottsdale residents, Manross has been able to win two terms as mayor, just as Walkup has in Tucson. The only difference is that in Tucson, Walkup’s affiliation is not an elephant in the parlor that voters are simply asked to ignore.
Federal, state and county offices are all filled with partynamed candidates. With Chandler, Mesa and Scottsdale candidates on the same ballot, the idea of city candidates also identified that way will be more easily acceptable.
It would give voters more information about candidates’ political philosophies — to use, or not, as they decide.