Plans by Republicans to craft their own alternative to an open primary initiative blew apart late Friday as some party members balked. Matthew Benson, press aide to Gov. Jan Brewer, said his boss believes there is a key weakness in the proposal submitted Thursday to go on the November ballot: It would allow candidates to run for office without disclosing their party affiliation. Benson said letting people hide their true party affiliation would allow candidates to “game” the system. He said that could give a leg up to Democrats in heavily Republican areas like Mesa — and vice versa in Tucson — as many voters cast their ballots based largely on a candidate’s party. So Brewer was prepared to call a special session for this week to offer an alternative to the initiative, one that kept the essence of the “open primary” but with the disclosure requirement. But Sen. Frank Antenori, R-Tucson, said that was not the deal sought by many fellow GOP lawmakers. So they refused to go along, leaving the Brewer-preferred modification without the votes.
The fight is over an initiative to create a system where all candidates run against each other in an open primary. Then, the top two finishers would face off in the general election, regardless of party affiliation. Backers say that requiring all candidates to appeal to all voters will mean they have to have broad appeal rather than simply catering to those who tend to vote in party primaries.
The alternative Brewer favored would keep that “top two” system, but with the added requirement of candidates listing party affiliation. But she needed the support of the Republican-controlled Legislature to put that on the ballot, alongside the initiative.
Antenori, however, said that wasn’t the deal Senate Republicans wanted. He said if the Legislature were going to offer an alternate, it should be vastly different than the initiative.