At a recent Republican Party barbeque in Mohave County, former Republican Sen. Ron Gould, a staunch conservative from Lake Havasu City, signed the petition backed by Democrats to challenge a controversial elections-related law at the ballot next year.
So how did this happen?
Gould said the portion of the bill he opposes discriminates against third-party candidates and would restrict their ability to get on the ballot. The measure would increase the number of petition signatures that Libertarian and Green Party candidates would need to qualify for the ballot.
“I think that what the Legislature did to Libertarians and Greens was unfair,” Gould said. “They essentially set a number (of signatures) for ballot access in the primary that is higher than the number of members in that party. It’s rather tough for them to get on the ballot.”
Critics of the law have been gathering signatures to refer it to the 2014 ballot and allow voters the opportunity to strike down the various elections changes.
The effort to refer the law to the ballot is being pushed by Democrats – who strongly oppose the provisions dealing with early ballots – and third party groups, which oppose the law because of the more stringent requirements for third party candidates to make it on the ballot.
The law, which was approved as HB2305, was supported by all but a handful of Republicans in the Legislature. Gould, who served in the Senate from 2005 until running an unsuccessful congressional campaign in 2012, functioned as the Senate GOP’s firebrand conservative – often parting ways with his party on constitutional and budgeting issues.
Gould called the third party signature portion of the bill “pure party politics” based on the unfounded notion that Libertarian candidates draw votes away from Republican candidates.
That view of the impact of Libertarians was espoused by Rep. J.D. Mesnard of Chandler on the House floor during the final hours of the legislative session, when lawmakers were voting on the measure.
“I believe that if you look at the last election, there was at least one, probably two congressional seats that may have gone in a different direction … if this requirement had been there,” Mesnard said.
Gould said that’s a pretty common view among elected Republican state lawmakers.
“When I was in the Legislature these people were thinking that we’re losing elections because of the votes that go to Libertarian candidates, and a lot of time the math works. But just because the Republican lost by 1 percent, and a Libertarian candidate in the race took 1 percent of the vote, doesn’t mean that if the Libertarian wasn’t there those votes would have gone to Republicans. A lot of the bills that come out of the Legislature are made to benefit members of the Legislature,” he said.
He supported several other provisions of the bill, which would allow county recorders to drop people from the Permanent Early Voter List if they did not use their early ballot in two consecutive election cycles and would outlaw the practice of volunteers picking up early ballots from voters and delivering them to elections officials. But Gould also had grievances with the way the bill was passed at the last moment as a hodgepodge of ideas.
“I’ve always thought they should adjourn sooner, nothing good happens after the budget,” he said.
But Gould said although he signed the referendum against the election law changes, he won’t be stumping for that effort. He is heading up a separate referendum against the Legislature’s decision to expand Medicaid coverage to people at or below 133 percent of the federal poverty level.
“I’m focused on my own referendum,” he said.