The way Tucson elects its City Council members makes no sense and needs reforming.
But that’s not what the Republican-led state Legislature was attempting to do two years ago when it passed a law that affected only Tucson.
It was trying to get more Republicans elected in a Democratic town.
Tucson is the only city in the state that has a partisan council election. The new law changed that, striking out all the Ds, Rs. Ls. Gs or Is after candidates’ names. It also required Tucson to conduct ward-only elections.
The city sued and lost in Superior Court but last week the state Court of Appeals agreed with the city that how a charter city such as Tucson elects its council is none of the state’s business.
Bully for the Court of Appeals. But it’s a pity the court’s right because though the intent of the new law was bad, the effect would have been good.
Tucson conducts ward-only primary elections in which the political parties’ voters select their candidates for a ward seat but all of the city’s voters get to decide the ward’s winner.
It’s a mystery why the city fathers when they drafted the city charter thought this was a good way to select a council.
Tucson should have either a wide-open election in which the ward system is eliminated and every candidate (irrespective of party) jumps into the pool and the ones with the most votes win the open seats, with a runoff to decide the seats when there is no majority, which is how nearly all of the towns in the state elect their councils; or a system as the new state law proposed that is a ward-only, nonpartisan primary with a ward-only runoff election, which is how Phoenix and Mesa select their councils; or a partisan, ward-only primary and general election, which would keep Tucson unique.
Having it half ward specific and half citywide defies all logic.
Consider the case of Ward Six Councilman Steve Kozachik.
Since his election just 17 months ago he’s become the de facto mayor of Tucson. He’s the council leader, forcing it to react to whatever issues he’s advocating or opposing, he’s the council’s public face, appearing on TV and radio almost weekly, and he’s been the city’s most vocal and stalwart opponent of the Legislature’s meddling in city affairs this year.
If he chose to run for mayor this year it’s a good bet he’d wipe the floor with the current freak show list of mayoral candidates. It’s likely the only things preventing him from doing so are the state’s resign-to-run law and the fact that he has more power as a councilman than as mayor (another issue in need of reform, but that’s a different argument for another day).
Ward Six voters should be proud of their councilman. Except they didn’t elect him. The majority of Ward Six voters chose the incumbent, Nina Trasoff, by a ratio of 3 to 2.
It was mostly Eastside Republicans who wanted Republican Kozachik to represent the overwhelmingly Democratic Westside ward.
One needs to look no further than that to discover the absurdity of Tucson’s council selection process, irrespective of its fine result.
The Court of Appeals was right, it is nobody’s business but Tucson’s how it selects its council. But the Legislature was right, too. It’s time for Tucson to mind its own business and reform its elections process.