A bit funny the temporal proximity of the Supreme Court’s ruling on corporate money and our own state’s ruling on Clean Elections, isn’t it?

I had a conversation with a Republican legislator a while back about Clean Elections. In addition to the standard issue conservative arguments against the system, he also brought up the trope that has caught fire over the last year or so, that Clean Elections has radicalized “both parties” in the Legislature.

I don’t entirely buy the argument that the Democratic caucus is “radicalized,” and even if you want to argue that it has, the ideological changes in the caucus are not due to Clean Elections. If you were to come up with some political spectrum and assign an “average liberalism” number, it has probably moved a bit more to the left, but this is due more to the lack of conservative “Pinto Democrat” legislators than anything else. The areas that elect Democrats now elected like-minded Democrats 20 and 30 years ago. Are Democrats Chad Campbell (Phoenix) or Steve Farley (Tucson) appreciably more liberal (to say nothing of radical) than former legislators Peter Goudinoff (Tucson) or Renz Jennings (Phoenix)?

I think the argument is stronger that the Republican caucus has “radicalized,” but I don’t think it is entirely the fault of Clean Elections. This legislator argued that the reason why members who are more conservative get elected is because advantages from business organization money are wiped out by the Clean Elections system, and that with the level playing field, a candidate with the support of grassroots organizations win. He calls this a flaw; I call it a feature.

So, now with the “matching money” out, business organizations can weigh in, in a Republican primary, and crowd out the bomb throwers. Sounds good, if it actually happens. The pre-Clean Elections days featured folks like Jean McGrath (Glendale), Gail Griffin (Sierra Vista) and Dan Schottel (Tucson), who got elected with the support of these same business organizations and would fit comfortably in today’s Republican caucus.

Years ago, a columnist wrote a bit on Barbara Blewster, a legislator from Yavapai County who was famous for controversial comments directed at her African American, Native American and Jewish colleagues.  The guy actually called PACs that contributed to her campaign. Only a few wanted to take responsibility for putting this woman in office. The opthamologists said that they supported her because she was for regulating the optometrists. Decision making like this leaves me doubtful that a sudden infusion of cash into Republican primaries from otherwise responsible business groups will give us a more reasonable Legislature.

And one more thing: commentators note that the Republican conference in the U.S. House is more conservative than it used to be, and that it is hard to get nominated as a moderate. Tell me, how many of them are elected with public money?


Ted Prezelski writes a political blog, Rum, Romanisn and Rebellion at www.rumromanismrebellion.net. The name comes from the 1884 presidential election when Rev. Dr. Samuel Burchard blasted Democrats and those who would cross party lines to support Democratic Grover Cleveland, saying “We are Republicans, and don’t propose to leave our party and identify ourselves with the party whose antecedents have been rum, Romanism, and rebellion.”

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