An effort to give rural areas more control over filling vacancies in the Arizona Legislature was stymied by a House panel after lawmakers raised concerns that it would create more problems than it would solve.
The House Judiciary Committee voted 4-4 on Feb. 11 to kill H2533, which would have allowed precinct committeemen from all counties in a legislative district to vote for people to replace state lawmakers who resign before the end of their term or if they leave office for other reasons.
Right now, three nominees are chosen by the precinct committeemen who represent the county in which the outgoing lawmaker resided. The county board of supervisors then appoints a new lawmaker from among the three nominees.
Rep. David Gowan, a Republican from Sierra Vista, said existing law leaves rural counties without a voice. He pointed to his district as an example: When Sen. Jonathan Paton resigns to run for Congress – he has said he’ll do so this year – three possible replacements will be chosen by precinct committeemen in Paton’s home county, Pima County. The problem is that Legislative District 30 includes parts of Pima, Cochise and Santa Cruz counties.
“At this point, Cochise and Santa Cruz have no voice, period,” Gowan said during the committee hearing.
Under Gowan’s bill, county supervisors would have retained the authority to choose the new lawmaker. But precinct committeemen from all counties in a particular legislative district would have been allowed to choose the three nominees to be considered by the county supervisors.
Opponents of Gowan’s bill said letting the nominees come from any county in the legislative district would put boards of supervisors in awkward positions, and possibly force them to choose a known – but unliked – candidate from their county in favor of someone from an outside county.
“I don’t see a county board of supervisors being open to the idea of picking someone from another county,” said Rep. Kyrsten Sinema, a Phoenix Democrat. “I think, at best, you’d have a system that would be ineffective.”
Rep. Bill Konopnicki, a Safford Republican, said the bill would create insurmountable political problems. Knopnicki’s district includes parts of seven counties and covers about a third of the state of Arizona. The district grappled with this problem in 2008 when then Sen. Jake Flake died, as six of the counties were left on the sidelines during the replacement process.
“He’s put his finger on a major problem,” Konopnicki said of Gowan’s bill. “But it creates five other problems. It’s not ready for prime time.”
He also criticized Gowan for not seeking input from rural counties, boards of supervisors or political parties before drafting the legislation.
“You can’t just come in here and make a major change without looking at the consequences,” he said. “The key part is the people who lived this weren’t involved in it.”