Posted by Caitlin Kelly on July 02, 2015 at 3:27 PM
Campaign director speaks at Estrella Rotary Club meeting; wants issue on 2016 ballot
Open primaries were the topic of conversation at the Estrella Rotary Club’s monthly meeting June 16 at Estrella Mountain Community College in Avondale.
Patrick McWhortor, campaign director for Open Primaries, was the guest speaker.
Open Primaries seeks to change Arizona’s election system to an open, nonpartisan primary, and is aiming to put the issue back on the ballot in 2016, even after voters rejected the idea in 2012.
“When talking about this issue, we go back to tradition — consent of the government — which is what our founders set up,” McWhortor said. “When you open up your faucet and the water comes out, it doesn’t matter whether someone was Republican or Democrat when they decided how that water would come out of your faucet. You don’t ask whether it’s red or blue, do you? That’s what we get when we have people who are working hard for our best interest as a state.”
McWhortor said 42 percent of voters on a national scale are considered Independents — voters not registered with a political party — and 35 percent of registered voters in Arizona are Independents.
“That is the largest block of voters we have in Arizona,” he said. “That’s more than Republicans and more than Democrats.”
Under current Arizona law, the primary is considered semi-closed, which means unaffiliated voters may choose which party’s primary they will vote in, but voters registered with a party can only vote in their party’s primary.
Former Phoenix Mayor Paul Johnson is leading the open primary measure, a decision he said he made after being disillusioned with both political parties and their excessive need for power, when he ran for governor in 1998.
“While Independents were given the opportunity to vote in primary elections by the late ’90s, in order to get a ballot, they had to choose either Democrat or Republican,” Johnson said in a news release. “This, unfortunately, still happens today, and discourages participation.”
In a news release, Johnson said the idea of focusing on such narrow — often extreme — groups to get a ballot for a primary election never sat right with him.
“Within a day of choosing an affiliation, my life changed dramatically,” he said.
McWhortor said that in today’s political system, elected Republican and Democratic officials face punishment through censuring if they attempt to make compromises and work across the political aisles to solve issues.
“That is exactly what happened to Sen. John McCain because he had worked with Democrats in the U.S. Senate to try to pass immigration reform legislation,” he said. “Members of their own party who disapprove consider that being not partisan enough and organize opponents who are more loyal to their view of the party to run against the incumbents in the primary election.”
At the end of the day, Open Primaries wants elected officials making compromises, McWhortor said.
“For some reason in our political system today, the word compromises has become a dirty word. The writing of our constitution came about through compromise,” he said. “Right now, we’re just looking for people to get behind this idea and become part of this movement,” he said.
What Open Primaries is proposing is for every voter to be able to vote in every election and get the same ballot as all other voters in the primary election, McWhortor said.
Open Primaries has become a nationwide movement, and award-winning filmmaker Jeff Reichert is documenting the campaign with the goal of developing a full-length film and distributing it worldwide.
“We know that people are moving away from being members of political parties, and yet when it comes to the system itself, they are trying to become more powerful by locking out Independents or nonpartisan people in the process,” McWhortor said.
McWhortor said Open Primaries is aiming to put the issue back on the ballot in 2016, after it failed to pass in 2012.
To learn more about the movement, or to sign up, visit openprimariesaz.org or call 623-455-6076.