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Vacancy-filling proposal would chuck county supervisors

Filling legislative vacancies, which now ends up in the hands of boards of county supervisors, would become totally the responsibility of political party operatives if a bill proposed by Rep. David Gowan, R-Sierra Vista, becomes law.

HB2484 also would add to the number of party precinct committeemen voting to fill seats in legislative districts that include more than one county.

Under the current law, when there is a legislative vacancy in a district that includes portions of more than one county, supervisors and precinct committeemen in the county in which the departed lawmaker lived control the appointment of the replacement.

For instance, in 2010, Rep. Ted Vogt, a Republican from Legislative District 30, which includes parts of Pima, Cochise and Santa Cruz counties, filled the seat vacated by Rep. Frank Antenori, a Republican.

Antenori was moving to the Senate to fill the seat of former Sen. Jonathan Paton, who had left to run for a seat in the U.S. House.

Because Antenori was from Pima County, only Republican precinct committeemen from Pima County were called upon to nominate his replacement. They had to nominate three Republicans as possible replacements, and all three had to come from Pima County. Vogt lives in Pima County.

But if Gowan’s bill, which Vogt is co-sponsoring, had been law when the vacancy occurred, all precinct committeemen from District 30 would have taken part in nominating a replacement, and they could have chosen any Republican from LD30, not just one from Pima County.

Also, under current law, the Pima County Board of Supervisors had the final say in the appointment, and the supervisors chose Vogt.

But if Gowan gets his way, county boards of supervisors will have no role in choosing a replacement. As introduced, the bill gives precinct committeemen the sole authority in selecting a replacement, and limits supervisors to merely rubber-stamping that appointment. But to prevent county supervisors from holding up replacements by not confirming them, Gowan plans to amend his bill to completely cut supervisors out of the process.

Although precinct committeemen are elected, only registered Republicans vote for the Republican committeemen, and only registered Democrats vote for Democratic committeemen.

By contrast, all voters, regardless of party registration, may vote in county supervisor elections.

Todd Madeksza, director of legislative affairs for the County Supervisors Association of Arizona, said it’s fine to want more precinct committeemen in on the process. But he says that cutting out the boards of supervisors is a mistake.

“A two-step process is more beneficial to the voters and the district,” Madeksza said. “I understand their concerns and that people aren’t happy about all the decisions supervisors make, but it’s an added step that brings a degree of contemplation to what is really an important choice at the state level.”

Vogt said the bill is very much aimed at districts similar to District 30, which both he and Gowan represent.

“The system works fairly well, and I don’t think there are any problems where legislative districts are completely inside counties,” Vogt said. “But in larger rural districts that stretch across multiple counties, all committee-member voices should be heard too.”

Gowan said his bill represents the best way to include as many voices as possible in the process.

“The precinct committeemen are already duly elected, and they’ll have the ability to choose the person to take that vacancy,” he said. “It’s no diss to the supervisors. It’s creating more power for the precinct committeemen, who are the closest to the people.”

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