PHOENIX - Arizona voters rejected a change to the electoral process billed as a reform that would have scrapped partisan primaries.
Former Phoenix Mayor Paul Johnson attributed Proposition 121's loss to $600,000 in out-of-state funding funneled through Phoenix-based Americans for Responsible Leadership. The real source, though, was a Virginia-based group linked to conservative and Republican causes.
Johnson said he believed the measure would be swept along by the ever-increasing number of Arizonans who have chosen not to affiliate with either major party. He said they have been disenfranchised by the current political system, which allows each party to nominate its own candidates. The winners of each party's primary then face off in the general election.
Proposition 121 would have created a wide-open primary including all candidates from all parties, with the top two advancing to November.
Johnson, a former Democrat turned independent, said that would give more of a voice to independents, who currently outnumber Democrats.
But Maricopa County Attorney Bill Montgomery, who led the opposition, said voters did not believe the change would make things better.
He noted that Arizonans have done everything from limiting campaign donations to creating an independent redistricting commission, all in the name of making the process better or more open.
"This time around, Arizona voters said we're not going to get fooled again," he said.
Johnson, however, said it was just an example of the well-funded special interests getting their way. He cited reports that linked the ultimate source of the cash to brothers Robert and David Koch, who have bankrolled many conservative causes.
But some of Johnson's problems were closer to home.
No political party was particularly supportive, and the Republicans, who have more registered voters than anyone else, mounted an active effort to defeat it.