Beginning in 2010, municipal elections in Tucson will be missing a bit of partisan flair, now that Gov. Jan Brewer has signed legislation that bans the use of party affiliation on ballots in local elections.
S1123, authored by Tucson Republican Sen. Jonathan Paton, applies to cities across the state. But in reality the bill affects only Tucson, the sole municipality that identifies candidates for local office by their political parties and uses what is referred to as “ward” elections.
Both practices will be gone next year. The 2009 elections to determine who will hold several seats on the Tucson City Council will operate as they have in the past because the county already has printed its ballots, Paton said.
S1123 drew support from leaders of Tucson’s business community who claimed partisan identification on ballots needlessly injects party-line politics into the otherwise mundane and administrative world of local governance.
And that’s a nice way of putting it. Paton, on the other hand, said the Tucson City Council “couldn’t become more dysfunctional,” and he holds the council largely responsible for failing to increase business opportunities in the city.
Paton heralded the bill’s signing, calling it a “great decision” that provides a “glimmer of hope for the city of Tucson.”
Members of the Tucson business community, including Tucson Chamber of Commerce Director Bob Camper, lobbied in support of Paton’s bill. The bill bans using ward elections to determine the council’s members.
For years, Tucson’s primary elections have featured City Council races in which candidates would compete only against other candidates in their ward, or district. The general elections, meanwhile, pitted all candidates against each other to compete for votes within the city at large.
This year, the Tucson City Council is dominated by Democrats, and the party’s legislative members all voted to oppose Paton’s measure when it came up for hearings in the House and Senate.
Last month, Tucson Democrat Rep. Phil Lopes blasted Paton’s legislation as an example of the state “sticking its nose into other people’s business.”
Likewise Tucson Vice-Mayor Regina Romero has defended the partisan elections and ward system employed in Tucson, and said the city’s residents, not the Legislature, should be in charge in determining how their elections operate and who they want to serve on the council.
And providing partisan affiliation on the ballot is an important element of having an informed electorate, as each party holds known “guiding principles,” she said.
“Residents want to know more about candidates, not less,” Romero said.
Romero, elected to the council in 2007, said she supports the city’s use of the ward system, which she credits for holding candidates accountable to wards and the community at large. The scenario has provided voters with greater political influence, she said.