Recall revisions fail to gain Senate support
PHOENIX -- A plan to revamp the state's recall laws for all future elections fell apart as some Republican senators broke party ranks.
On an 18-10 vote the Senate killed a House-passed measure, which would have required both a primary and a general election in the event of a recall. Foes said they saw no reason to alter a system that has been in place since the early days of Arizona statehood.
And its fate may have been sealed by a late alteration that created an even more convoluted system where a recalled official actually could be defeated in his or her own partisan primary and yet still be on the general election ballot.
Current law allows the recall of any elected official once there are petitions with the equivalent of 25 percent of the people who voted in the last election. At that point the recalled official faces off against all contenders who gather sufficient nominating signatures, regardless of party.
Some Republican lawmakers said that's not fair because it allows Democrats and independents to align with disaffected Republicans to remove an incumbent in a heavily Republican district.
That's pretty much what happened in 2011 when foes of Senate President Russell Pearce forced a recall and lined up fellow Republican Jerry Lewis to run against him in what turned out to be a two-way race, resulting in a Lewis victory.
Pearce supporters contend that he would have won a Republican-only primary against Lewis. And the chances of a Democrat winning in the general election in that Mesa district would have been slim.
So led by Rep. Steve Smith, R-Maricopa, they crafted the dual-election plan.
But Sen. Rich Crandall, R-Mesa, said he sees no need for such a radical change.
"I'm very comfortable right now with the way recalls are structured in the state of Arizona,' he said. And Crandall pointed out that recalls are rare, with none ever against a statewide elected official and Pearce as the only legislator ever to face such a special election.
"I think a couple of times out of 100 years is not enough to force us to completely rewrite the book on recalls,' he said.
Sen. Michele Reagan, R-Scottsdale, said what sealed her opposition was the alteration to guarantee the recalled official would have a slot on the general election ballot, even if he or she was rejected in the primary.
That change was pushed by Sen. Steve Yarbrough, R-Chandler. He pointed out that the Arizona Constitution mandates that any official who is recalled is entitled to a spot on the general election ballot.
"It didn't logistically make any sense how that would work,' Reagan said of that change.
Thursday's vote is more than a rebuff of Pearce supporters.
HB 2282 was structured to be retroactive to the beginning of the year. That was specifically designed to have it apply to the current bid to boot Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio.
Here, like in the case of Pearce, the sheriff's supporters believe he could easily survive a Republican primary. And given the GOP voter-registration edge in Maricopa County, he would have an advantage in any general election.
Thursday's vote may not be the last word.
There is strong sentiment among some elements of the GOP that they need to make changes now to prevent a repeat of what happened to Pearce as well as to aid Arpaio.
Senate rules allow any measure to be reconsidered. But with defecting Republicans and solid opposition of Democrats, it is questionable whether supporters could get the necessary votes.
That GOP opposition also includes Sen. Bob Worsley, R-Mesa, who has more than a passing interest in the whole issue.
Pearce sought to regain his seat last year.
But his race was not against Lewis who found himself in a Democrat-leaning district after the decennial redistricting. Instead, those who did not want Pearce drafted Worsley, the founder of SkyMall, the ubiquitous in flight shopping magazine.
Worsley defeated Pearce in the GOP primary and easily won over a Democratic challenger.
"I was not involved in that recall but I got involved in politics because of that recall,' he said. "I just think we got the right answer.'