Jonathan Paton, who will be a Republican member of the state Senate when the Legislature convenes in three weeks, has what may be a good idea.
He wants to change the way citizens of Tucson elect their City Council members.
And while that may be a good idea, it is not Paton’s decision to make – at least, not as a member of the Legislature.
Paton is a local resident and in that capacity, he has the same rights as other Tucsonans to start a petition drive to change the city’s elections procedures.
But as a legislator, we invite him to butt out.
In the 2009 legislative session, which begins Jan. 12, Paton plans to introduce a bill that would mandate nonpartisan municipal elections – a change that would apply only to Tucson. If the change were in effect, Tucsonans would not elect Democrats or Republicans – just council members.
Tucson voters have consistently rejected nonpartisan elections, most recently in 1993.
Paton also wants the Legislature to abolish the Tucson-only process in which council candidates are nominated within their wards in the general election, then elected in a citywide election. It is a process Tucson has found adequate since 1929. A city initiative drive to change that failed in 2007.
Tucson is out of step with every other Arizona city. Nogales and South Tucson were the other two partisan election holdouts, but voters in both cites switched to nonpartisan elections in recent years.
That’s how it should be done. Incorporated cities should be allowed wide operational latitude based on what their citizens want.
It would be different if Tucson were doing something illegal or that impacted other cities. But how Tucsonans choose to elect council members is of no consequence to anyone other than Tucsonans.
There are arguments on both sides of both changes proposed by Paton.
Ward-only elections may make council members too provincial. But they also don’t give voice to a political party strong in a single ward, but outnumbered citywide.
Nonpartisan elections make sense because most municipal issues – picking up trash, patching streets, running police and fire departments – don’t have Democratic or Republican sides. But fewer voters are drawn to cast ballots in nonpartisan elections.
However, all of that should be hashed out and debated by city residents – not by state legislators, whose job is to deal with matters affecting the entire state, not residents of a single city.
We thank Sen.-elect Paton for his concern for the well-being of Tucson’s election process. But let us decide how we want to elect our council members.