An idea for saving the Arizona legislature.

I've worked on election campaigns in three states (Arizona, Louisiana, and Michigan) , which I now feel qualifies me to pretend that I'm qualified to diagnose and correct any and all problems with the various states electoral systems. Keeping that in mind, I now feel obligated to pronounce: Arizona needs a jungle primary.

I got this idea after reading an article about Arizona's state legislature in the Phoenix New Times. Long story shortened: Not enough moderates and independents vote in Arizona's primaries, so moderate Republican candidates are getting squeezed out and replaced by wingnuts who win in general elections just because Arizona leans red. The end result is a wingnut legislature that can't get anything significant done because it's too busy panicking about the gay agenda to actually work with the governor. (Based on my experiences in Arizona, I think the New Times underemphasized one contributing problem: Arizona's primary elections are in September, so campaigning for it doesn't start until August, when many casual voters assume commercials will be for the November elections.)

Lousiana on the other hand, uses a system (called the "jungle primary", I take it, because only the strong survive) that struck me as completely insane until today. That state combines the primary with the general election -- both parties can run multiple candidates for each office. If any candidate gets more than 50% of the vote, s/he automatically wins. If nobody breaks 50%, the top two vote-getters participate in a run-off election in December. (I volunteered during one of those run-off elections last month, which is the only reason I know this stuff.) I'm thinking that if Arizona used a system like Louisiana's for its state legislature elections, the moderate Republicans would win more often (either in the November election or the December runoff).

Will it ever happen? Probably not. Arizona tried runoff elections once in 1992 and nobody liked the result. That, however, was actually a three-vote cycle (a regular primary, the general election, and a run-off election, which even I agree is too much. Louisiana's system, I think, could work better in getting some moderates (and maybe even some Democrats) into the state legislature.

Posted at 11:40:04 PM EST on 20 January 2005 from Trenton, MI