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Brewer support for local control could be obstacle to consolidated elections

A strong advocate for local control, Gov. Jan Brewer is considered a possible opponent to legislation next year that would consolidate city and state elections. Supporters of the proposal say special interests, including unions, have too much influence in local elections, but the cities say they want to keep the focus on local issues. (AP Photo/The Arizona Republic, Michael Schennum)

RELATED: Proposal would consolidate municipal and state elections

Given the Legislature’s recent propensity to override local control on city issues, a proposal to consolidate municipal elections likely has enough support to reach Gov. Jan Brewer’s desk. But if the governor’s attitude toward local control is any guide, it may not get as much support on the Ninth Floor.

While Brewer, a former Maricopa County supervisor, signed bills forcing Tucson to change its partisan election system, exempting some commercially leased property from municipal sales taxes and forcing cities to ask voters for any sales tax hike on rental properties, she drew the line on SB1322 earlier this year, which would have required Phoenix and Tucson to open some city services to bids from private companies.

In her veto letter of the bill, Brewer said the issue should be left to the voters of Phoenix and Tucson.

“I am becoming increasingly concerned that many bills introduced this session micromanage decisions best made at the local level,” Brewer wrote. “What happened to the conservative belief that the most effective, responsible and responsive government is government closest to the people?”

Ken Strobeck, executive director of the League of Arizona Cities and Towns, said his organization couldn’t have said it better. Brewer “hasn’t done absolutely everything we’ve asked for,” he said, but overall she has been very positive for cities. Strobeck cited Brewer’s vetoes of SB1322 and a firearms omnibus bill that would have forced cities to allow guns in public buildings, as well as her work on a deal to limit impact fees on developers.

“Governor Brewer has been a tremendous asset for cities and towns,” he said.

Brewer served on the Maricopa County Board of Supervisors for six years before her 2002 election as secretary of state. Paul Senseman, who served as Brewer’s communications director for two years, said that experience colors her view of local control issues.

“I’ve heard her on more than one occasion speak to the effect that the government that governs least and closest to the people governs best,” Senseman said. “She has a strong commitment to local government and local control.”

Lobbyist Chuck Coughlin, an adviser to the governor, said it’s not clear to him whether Brewer would support the consolidated elections proposal if it came to her desk.

While she was secretary of state, Brewer supported a change that required cities of more than 175,000 to move to an August-November election schedule, and has supported election consolidation to save money. But she’s also sensitive to cities’ desires to keep their elections nonpartisan and ensure that municipal issues are the focus of the election.

But regardless of Brewer’s position on the election proposal, Coughlin — whose firm, HighGround, lobbies for the League of Arizona Cities and Towns — said cities should view Brewer as an ally.

“I would think the mayors and the cities would call her a friend of the cities, given the current disposition of the Legislature,” he said. “She has … stood sometimes very lonely in the doorway of state mandates on cities and towns, and also stood there to defend state and local revenues.”

But Brewer’s past statements on local control may not necessarily be a death knell for the consolidated elections proposal. Americans For Prosperity-Arizona Executive Director Tom Jenney, who plans to push the elections proposal in the 2012 legislative session, said politicians have a tendency to invoke local control when they oppose an issue for other reasons. Though Brewer opposed SB1322, Jenney said the governor was more than willing to override local control on illegal immigration issues when she signed SB1070 last year.

“I don’t want to speculate on how Governor Brewer is going to deal with this issue. But I will point out that the phrase ‘local control’ tends to be an article of convenience for most state politicians,” Jenney said. “People at the state level of government tend to respect local control when they feel like it and they override local control when they feel like it.”

By the Numbers

State elections Primary General

2002                   25.3          56.3
2004                   24.7          77.1
2006                   23.1          60.5
2008                   22.8         77.7
2010                   30.1          55.7

Phoenix elections       Primary Runoff

2001                                  16.2       18.1
2003                                 21.1        N/A
2005                                 11.8        N/A
2007                                 18.7       23.1
2009                                 15.5        25.3

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