PHOENIX - Hoping to avoid another ouster of one of their own, Republican legislators on Thursday voted to change the rules for recall elections.
The measure approved by the House Judiciary Committee would require there be both a primary as well as a general election, once a public official is recalled. The law now provides for a single winner-take-all election.
That distinction is important because it would mean only Republicans get to vote in the first step of the process, if a GOP lawmaker is being recalled. Whoever survives that partisan primary would face off against the Democrat and any others in the general election - assuming there is anyone else running in what might be a largely one-party district.
Rep. Steve Smith, R-Maricopa, sponsor of HB 2282, made no secret of his interest: He was a supporter of former Senate president Russell Pearce, the Mesa Republican who was ousted in a 2011 recall. Smith said he believes recall organizers took advantage of what he said is a "loophole" in recall laws.
"I think we're starting to see a usurpation of our election system," he said.
Pearce had to face off against fellow Mesa Republican Jerry Lewis.
There is some speculation Pearce might have won a head-to-head contest between the two, in a race where only Republicans could vote.
Until that election, Pearce had won every previous primary and then rolled over any Democrat contender in the heavily Republican district. But the single election format allowed Lewis, considered the more politically moderate of the pair, to capitalize on votes from Democrats.
That theory took a bit of a hit, however, in the 2012 GOP primary, in which Republican Bob Worsley defeated Pearce's effort to reclaim his Senate seat.
Rep. Martin Quezada, D-Phoenix, questioned the need to alter the law. He pointed out that in the entire history of Arizona there has been only a single recall election against a state official: Pearce. But Rep. John Allen, R-Scottsdale, said that was all the proof he needed.
"It doesn't have to happen 20 times before I learn my lesson," he said. "It seemed unfair to the people who were participating in that election and it should be fixed."
Quezada said he believes the change would disenfranchise voters.
He pointed out that recall petitions can be signed by any resident of a district and not just those of the same political party. Quezada said having a primary in a largely one-party district would essentially make the views of those not of that party irrelevant,.
But Rep. Eddie Farnsworth, R-Gilbert, said there still would be a general election, allowing ouster if enough voters were upset with the incumbent's performance.
The 5-2 party-line vote sends the measure to the full House.