How Clean Elections Helped Conservatives Increase Their Seats in the Arizona Legislature

I delivered a guest commentary on KUAT-TV’s Arizona Illustrated earlier this week talking about the influence of Clean Elections. If you don’t feel like watching it, here’s the script:

While the rest of the country was turning a darker shade of blue, a funny thing happened in Arizona: Republicans gained ground in the state legislature.

It wasn’t supposed to work out that way. The Democrats set out this year to take control of the Arizona House of Representatives. To do that, they needed to hang onto all the gains they made in 2006 and flip four seats.

The political climate could hardly have been more hospitable to Democrats. Besides the damage that the Republican Party brand has suffered in recent years, the Democrats were flush with cash, while the GOP was pretty much broke.

So the Democrats recruited some sharp candidates and spent hundreds of thousands of dollars to boost their slate. But on Election Day, they ended up losing nearly all of the races they targeted.

Down here in Southern Arizona, they weren’t able to win an upset in Legislative District 30, which includes Tucson’s east side and Green Valley. They weren’t able to gain a seat in District 26 on the northwest side. And they weren’t even able to beat Republican David Stevens in Marana’s District 25, even though Stevens wasn’t even in the country to campaign.

I’m sure there are plenty of reasons that Republicans were able to pick up seats in the House of Representatives yesterday, but here’s a major one: Clean Elections, the program that hands out public dollars to anyone who wants to run for office.

Many of the conservative Republicans who prevailed might not have even been in the race—or at least survived their primaries—if they hadn’t been funded with public dollars. It’s kind of funny that these budget hawks have finally found a constituency that they don’t mind handing out welfare to: Themselves.

But I have a sneaking suspicion that helping conservative Republicans pick off moderates in primaries and knock out Democrats in general elections was not the aim of the founders of the Clean Elections system. I guess Arizona’s latest tilt to the right is just what we call an unintended consequence of government reform.


2 Responses

  1. You seemed to have left out the small detail that in District 30 it wasn’t a clean elections candidate that beat Dalesandro.

    The Democrats and unions clearly targeted Antenori, who ran traditional. Antenori, with less than $25K was able to handle over $60K in negative mailers, radio ads and robo calls aimed directly at him by the Democratic Victory Fund and $139K in puff pieces on Dalessandro funded by the unions disguised as “Arizonans for a Healthy Economy” (yeah right).

    You also failed to mention that Dalesandro was running as a clean elections candidate, who added another $40K in taxpayer dollars to the losing battle against Antenori. Bringing the total spent by the Democrats to close to 1/4 of a million dollars. Even if you combine Antenori’s $25K with Gowans $38K ($63K total) they still were outspent almost 5 to 1.

    You definitely can’t call that “clean elections.”

    Therefore, your hypothesis does not hold water.

    Clean elections had nothing to do with Dalesandro losing in LD30.

    If anything, Antenori should get kudos because he ran traditional and beat heavily funded clean elections candidates in both the Primary and the General, both of whom were backed with thousands of dollars in independent expenditures.

    Mr. Nintzel, I know it is hard for you to accept the fact that sometimes good candidates win because of their message and not because of how much money they have, but to somehow imply that clean elections was the reason for the Democrat loss in LD30 is a bit disingenuous.

  2. You seem to have missed the part where I said: “I’m sure there are plenty of reasons that Republicans were able to pick up seats in the House of Representatives yesterday…”

    You’re right when you say there were a great many details I left out, but you have to keep in mind that this was a two-minute TV commentary, a format that doesn’t lend itself particularly well to pulling out spreadsheets full of campaign-finance data.

    I think my overall point–that Clean Elections played a major role in helping social conservatives win–holds water just fine. It’s no secret; Al Melvin said as much on Arizona Illustrated during his debate with Pete Hershberger in the primary.

    I didn’t say it was the only reason, just a particularly ironic one. The commentary wasn’t meant to be a comprehensive examination of every race. I’ll be doing that later this weekend and in next week’s TW, so check back in!

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