Hoping to avoid another ouster of one of their own, Republican legislators on Thursday voted to change the rules for recall elections.

The measure approved by the House Judiciary Committee would require there be both a primary as well as a general election once a public official is recalled. Now, there is a single winner-take-all election.

That distinction is important.

That would mean only Republicans get to vote in the first step of the process in a recall of a GOP lawmaker. Whoever survives that partisan primary would face off against the Democrat and any others in the general election -- assuming there is anyone else running in what might be a largely one-party district.

Rep. Steve Smith, R-Maricopa, sponsor of HB 2282, made no secret of his interest: He was a supporter of Senate President Russell Pearce, the Mesa Republican who was ousted in a 2011 recall. And Smith said he believes recall organizers took advantage of what he said is a "loophole'' in recall laws.

"I think we're starting to see a usurpation of our election system,'' he said.

Pearce had to face off against fellow Mesa Republican Jerry Lewis.

There is some speculation that Pearce might have won a head-to-head between the two in a race where only Republicans could vote. Pearce had won every previous primary and then rolled over any Democrat contender in the heavily Republican district.

But the single election allowed all of the district's registered voters to cast ballots, allowing Lewis, considered the more politically moderate of the pair, to rely on votes from Democrats and push him to victory.

Redistricting put Pearce and Lewis into separate districts. And in last year's GOP primary, with only Republicans voting, Bob Worsley defeated Pearce's effort to reclaim his Senate seat.

Rep. Martin Quezada, D-Phoenix, questioned the need to alter the law. He pointed out that in the entire history of Arizona there has been only a single recall election against a state official: Pearce. But Rep. John Allen, R-Scottsdale, said that was all the proof he needed.

"It doesn't have to happen 20 times before I learn my lesson,'' he said. "It seemed unfair to the people who were participating in that election and it should be fixed.''

Quezada said he believes the change would disenfranchise voters.

He pointed out that recall petitions can be signed by any resident of a district and not just those of the same political party. Quezada said having a primary in a largely one-party district would essentially make the views of those not of that party irrelevant, as the general election outcome might be predetermined.

But Rep. Eddie Farnsworth, R-Gilbert, said there still would be a general election, allowing ouster if enough voters were upset with the incumbent's performance.

The 5-2 party line vote sends the measure to the full House.

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