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Primary will decide nearly a third of the Legislature

Once the Aug. 28 primary results are tallied, 29 of Arizona’s 90 legislative races will be decided.

Nine Senate candidates already have a guaranteed seat because nobody is challenging them. Two more Senate seats and 18 House seats will be won after the primary because only candidates from one party are competing, so whoever wins the primary can start measuring their legislative office drapes.

Sen. Andy Biggs, a Gilbert Republican, is one of those who will win re- election just because he gathered signatures and filed his candidacy paperwork.

Biggs said he thinks a couple factors play into the reason nobody is challenging him.

“I think there’s a real dislike of politics, and so the number of people who want to get involved, get engaged, take a position, go down to the Capitol and get beat up, it dwindles,” Biggs said.

On the other hand, some people couLD focus on things that have been accomplished, like a balanced budget and a revenue surplus, Biggs said, so it might make sense to send leaders back to the Legislature who helped get those things done.

Sen. Linda Lopez, a Tucson Democrat, is another candidate who doesn’t have to worry about losing either a primary or general election. She hasn’t been challenged since she moved from the House to the Senate in 2008.

Lopez said she was somewhat surprised that nobody from the new parts of her recently redrawn southern Arizona district challenged her, at least in the primary.

But Lopez prides herself on good constituent outreach, and said that a potential challenger may have realized how good a job she’s done.

“I’m not sure. Maybe they researched me and think I’m doing a good job,” Lopez said.

Sen. Michele Reagan, a Scottsdale Republican, will also return to the Senate without any opposition. The strong Republican registration advantage is one reason, but the community knows her.

“I’m a known quantity,” Reagan said. “I’ve represented this district for 10 years.”

Sen. Steve Gallardo, D-Phoenix, also gets a free pass back to the Senate this year, as he did in 2010. He chalks it up to deep ties to his west Phoenix district.

“I was born and raised out here in District 29. I played on the playgrounds out here as a kid. My family is here,” Gallardo said.

Reagan, Lopez, Gallardo and Biggs agree that the Senate candidates who can already count on a victory have something in common: Regardless of their political persuasion, each has a reputation for being reflective of their district.

“I think they’re all well-known within their districts, and they’re all known for representing the interests of the people in their districts,” Lopez said.

Reagan commented, “It’s a pretty diverse group of individuals. I might be worried if it was all from one party, or if it was all from one area.”

But districts with unopposed candidates or where only one party is vying over a seat also share another trait. Their voter registration numbers lean heavily toward one party.

Biggs recalled his 2008 House race when Glenn Ray, a Democrat who put significant time and energy into his campaign, was beaten by a Republican who didn’t show up to many debates.

“He turned to me before the last debate and said, ‘I’ve been out knocking on doors, I’ve done mailers, I’ve been coming to the debates.

If I get beat by someone who doesn’t even show up to the debate – that shows a Democrat can’t win in this district,’” Biggs said. “I turned to him and said, ‘A Democrat cannot win in this district.’”

The fact that competition diminishes in strongly partisan districts leads the more cynical political cognoscenti to repeat what has become near dogma in Arizona: that the Arizona Independent Redistricting Commission is to blame.

Chris Baker, a GOP consultant working for two Republican congressional candidates, points his finger at the recent redistricting process for the increased number of races decided by primaries. In 2010, only 20 seats were decided by the primary. In 2008, only 14. This year it’s 29.

“These are all new lines,” Baker said. “This is when… candidates shouLD be swarming for these seats because the advantages of incumbency are at minimum, diminished, and in some cases, completely gone, and yet the uncontested seats went up — not down.”

Baker said the Arizona Independent Redistricting Commission packed Republican districts with GOP voters in an attempt to give Democrats some advantage in other areas.

Bruce Merrill, senior research fellow at the Morrison Institute for Public Policy at Arizona State University, said the heavy partisan leanings in most legislative districts are to blame for the number of seats where only one party runs candidates.

“If a district leans more than about 55 percent one way, a candidate from the other party has almost no chance to win,” Merrill said. “And incumbents win about 90 to 95 percent of the time.”

Armed with that knowledge, it makes sense for potential challengers to shy away from races where the other party has a 20- to 40-point advantage, which is the case in most of the single-party election districts.

And Merrill thinks those do a disservice to Arizona’s voters.

Because more ideologically driven voters participate in primaries, more ideologically rigid candidates win and dictate state politics, Merrill said. His research shows that 65 to 70 percent of average voters don’t support the more controversial and extreme bills at the Legislature.

Merrill goes as far as to say that even though candidates from both parties might be running in most districts, about 70 percent of all races are determined in the primary because of the partisan leanings.

Only two legislative districts, LD9 and LD10, have less than a 10 percentage point difference between the number of registered Republicans and Democrats.

Merrill’s solution, which became a rallying cry for a contingent of redistricting activists, is more competitive districts. Districts drawn without giving a clear advantage to one party encourage a greater diversity of political persuasions among candidates, Merrill said.

Merrill said he also supports the proposed ballot initiative aimed at creating a “top two” primary system, wherein the top vote getters from any party, rather than the top vote getters from each party, advance to the general election. That wouLD lead to more diverse political participation, he said.

Constantin Querard, a Republican consultant, also surmised that redistricting contributed to the increase in uncontested seats, but for logistical reasons.

“There was so much uncertainty about maps and districts, and who lives where and who’s going to run where,” he said.

Querard said that uncertainty most likely “froze out” potential candidates who weren’t sure where they wouLD end up and who they might be running against.

He also offered another theory: The bad economy might have dissuaded others from spending their money to run for political office.

It’s also tougher to get others to contribute in a down economy, Querard said.

Seats decided by primary

HOUSE

LD1

Fann, Karen
Klein, Lori
Tobin, Andy

LD4

Escamilla, Juan Carlos J.C.
Fernandez, Charlene R.
Otondo, Lisa

LD7

Hale, Albert
Peshlakai, Jamescita
Stago, Phil

LD12

Chesley, Larry “Lucky”
Farnsworth, Eddie
Petersen, Warren

LD13

Jones, Russ
Mitchell, Darin
Montenegro, Steve

LD19

Cardenas, Mark A.
Contreras, Lupe Chavira
Kilgore, Bryan
Sierra, Lorenzo

LD22

Dubreil, Jeanette
Livingston, David
Lovas, Phil

LD23

Kavanagh, John
Petersen, Jennifer
Ugenti, Michelle

LD30

Larkin, Jonathan
McCune Davis, Debbie
Snitz, Mike

SENATE

LD3

Cajero Bedford, Olivia
Garcia, Maria

LD30

Meza, Robert
Teran, Raquel

UNOPPOSED SENATE CANDIDATES

LD1 Pierce, Steve
LD2 Lopez, Linda
LD4 Pancrazi, Lynne*
LD7 Jackson, Jack
LD12 Biggs, Andy
LD19 Tovar, Anna
LD22 Burges, Judy
LD23 Reagan, Michele
LD29 Gallardo, Steve
* Lynne Pancrazi is challenged by a Republican write-in candidate

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