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What the Devil won't tell you

How the GOP can lose the City Council forever

Republican opposition to hybrid elections proposal silly, self-defeating

Tucson Republicans are flirting with frightening self-defeatism that is as hilarious as it is completely befuddling.

They seem to be mistaking "taxation without representation is tyranny" with "for the love of God, don't put us in charge, ever." But Blake, that's a non sequitur because it doesn't follow.

Well, welcome to logic brought to you by the local Republican Party, who are refusing a gift that seems to be coming their way from a citizens committee recommending changes to the City Charter and our municipal elections that would take effect in 2019.

For Republicans, it's Christmas in March and they are confusing it with Lent.

The city must change how it elects the Council members after a federal appeals court declared unconstitutional the current hybrid system that pits ward-only primary winners against each other in a city-wide general election.

Ward-only elections are probably for the best because they bring more people to the table and that's what a lawmaking body does in this country. The drawback is how they can balkanize a community into tribal outposts — and in the city of Tucson remove the threat of voter scrutiny, because all six wards are safe from serious general election challenges.

This month, the Citizens Charter Review Committee recommended that the City Council send to voters a plan to replace the current election model with a ward-only plan that also adds two city-wide at-large seats. It's a hedge against parochialism and it gives the general election higher stakes. Great news for the Republicans.

Under it, they would get two nearly guaranteed seats on the East Side. They would get a shot to win city-wide. They've won those races multiple times this century and the mayor was a Republican up until 2011.

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What a gift horse is clippity-clopping up to Republicans. 

Might as well shoot it. 

The GOP here has felt so aggrieved by recent shutouts in city-wide elections that they have been willing to surrender ever gaining control of the Council in exchange for a ward-only system that all but guarantees them a permanent minority. Now within their grasp is a chance to get those two seats on the Council without losing their shot at control.

Republicans will be dancing badly down Speedway in a frightening display of The Cabbage Patch and The Sprinkler, right? Wrong. They're threatening to oppose the plan.

Ward-only (only) is what Republican want. But here's what it would mean: The Republicans would be very likely to win two seats representing Tucson's East Side wards. There'd be no path to three. Today, the party needs four votes to control the Council. If they think they are so screwed by the prospect of wooing the city-wide electorate that they must sue in court to have the system thrown out, how do they think it gets easier taking down Democrats ward-by-ward without those East Side voters bolstering their prospects? So why give up on city-wide?

I get it, but ... 

I don't typically favor conservatism, but I understand it.

I understand that they feel so vexed by the current system that they are willing to trade their prospects for winning and effective control of city government to secure two safe seats. I don't get why in the name of Bob Walkup they would refuse those safe seats plus two city-wide at-large seats that would give them permanent representation and a shot at someday winning a majority.

I understand the notion of deregulation and how it frees business to grow and make more money.

I get the whole thing about gun rights and how they involve making all people, in theory, equal.

I get the idea that taxes are theft and that compelling an unwilling citizen to fork over their hard-earned cash under threat of imprisonment is nothing more than subjugation.

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I get the idea that a human life begins at 46 chromosomes and therefore is a life society must protect.

I even get "voter fraud" and whirring fear of it that helps Republicans at the polls. It's pure bunk, but I get the theory and the inevitable practical advantage.

I don't have to agree with any of these arguments to understand them. I can follow arguments that make no logical sense but work politically. But I don't think I've ever seen a party so defy logic for the purposes of a self-inflicted wound. And I've paid a lot of attention to both local political parties, for years.

So we move onto the emerging talking points, which call the hybrid system 1) "too complicated" and 2) some sort of cynical attempt by Democrats to dilute Republican prospects.

Complexity of a four-item list

Complicated? No, Cox's Theorem on probability is complicated.

P(A and B) = g(P(A), P(P/A) is an associative binary operation that reduces my brain to liquid and for the life of me, I can't figure out the complexity Cox wants to reduce. Hey, at least it doesn't involve fields.

Here's what's not complicated: You get one council member from your ward, two representing the whole city and a mayor. Ooooh, the algorithms. I'm trying to figure out if I should carry the five or conjugate the verb. So the runner advances at his own risk and the first mate takes command, so long as the booty is equally divided?

Seriously, do they think the whole city has Alzheimer's and we'll need to staff up polling places with nurses talking loudly so we can hear? "No Mr. Morlock! You've already voted for Rothschild ... YES, you can have pudding as soon as you figure out what 'at-large' means!"

But I wanna vote for Jed Bartlett!

Sigh ... no this isn't complicated.

The same Americans who would find themselves perplexed by the intricacies of hybrid wizardry today, seem to grasp the concept of a House of Representatives chosen community-by-community and two senators elected by the state as a whole. They don't suffer a brain freeze in the voting booth when the names Martha McSally and Jeff Flake stare back at them.

It's hardly complicated and in no way baffling. Even for a talking point, the argument falls short as substantively hollow.

How to dilute a void

Now let's go to the other ridiculous argument: Adding two at-large seats is just a Democratic ploy to dilute the Republican voices in Tucson. Never mind that a Democratic council, which Republicans have conceded they can't beat under the current rules, is openly discussing changing those rules to all but guarantee their political opposition seats on the Council.

Diluting? Something must exist before it's diluted. You have nothing now. The court ruling essentially calls for city-wide elections across the board — a never-ending hell of Republicans' self-fulfilling prophecy. The city has appealed the ruling made by a three-judge panel, asking for a re-hearing before the entire 11-member 9th Circuit Court of Appeals. They just might rule that our current system could remain in place.

Let's drill down further. Do Republicans understand that losing a vote 5-2 is not appreciably different than losing a vote 7-2? Do they understand there's no playoff spot on the line they can secure by losing by three votes instead of five? I'm not so sure. So I'll point it out. Losing 7-2 doesn't affect your tournament seeding.

Here's a bit of reality in the form of opportunity. Those four Democrats elected from overwhelmingly partisan wards are going to be to-the-bone liberal because the only threat to their seats will come from the Left. The Democrats elected city-wide will have to pay lip service to conservative interests. That would be an opportunity to peel off the at-large members and suddenly, the opposition to the majority is "bipartisan," which plays a lot better than predictable party-line votes.

Let's move on to how this would actually work and the baffling opposition.

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The city Democratic establishment could easily impose a ward-only election and rule Tucson forever with four iron fists. Democrats hold a two-to-one edge or better in four city wards and in Wards 1 and 3 the advantage is more like four to one. Republicans have not won one of these wards in a contested election in forever. Wards 2 and 4 reliably vote Republican. Four Democrats. Two Republicans. Forever.

Insider Dems will point out with a wry smile that just moving a handful of precincts would move Ward 2 into their column, as well. It won't be many years before it's time to redraw the political map again.

Show me a swing ward. Show me a ward more winnable than the city-wide electorate Republicans have given up on.

Perhaps, just perhaps, party leaders are making the rookie mistake of seeing how in Wards 5 and 6 independents plus Republicans edge out Democrats by small margins. As any political pro would tell them, independent voters cast ballots like their neighbors. It's why Republicans have failed time and time again to make a dent in these wards and only win because they run up the score on the East Side (see Kozachik, Steve).

Wards 5 and 6 have voter registration numbers less conducive to Republican victory than Grijalva's congressional district. Both have two-to-one Democratic edges but Congressional District 3 has a much larger proportion of independents. The Cook Political Index, which rates each district by competitiveness, labels Grijalva's district as "D+8." Only two districts in all the country rated that safe have elected a candidate from the other party.

But again, Republicans are asking for ward-only because they confess they can't bridge a less partisan divide.

Spotlight not the wheel

I assume Republicans believe their prescriptions for what ails Tucson would improve our favorite pueblo's fortunes. I assume the goal would be one day to run the city to that end. Right? Maybe? Perhaps?

So why do Republicans seek a permanent minority? The answer brings us to "who benefits?"

To win political office while serving an electorate that votes for the other party requires dulling sharp edges and running a campaign that promises pragmatism over party. Partisan purity quickly undermines that end.

Does moderation and accommodation describe the modern Republican Party? Ask Brian Miller. Ask Steve Kozachik. Ask Toni Hellon. Ask Pete Hershberger. Each were run off or beaten in primaries.

I can appreciate an Ally Miller as a voice for fellow travelers. Ally Miller can't win a Democratic district. Raul Grijalva couldn't beat McSally. Former national Republican Party chairman Haley Barbour used to argue that a moderate Republican from Vermont tips the scales to the right more than a liberal Democrat. Pima County Chairwoman Judi White used to say. "I want to win as many races as Republicans can."

The GOP insurrection that began in 2006, from what was called "The Al Melvin Crowd" long before it was the Tea Party, seems to have fully involved the whole local Republican Party.

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Hard-ass conservatives win with the ward-only (only) outcome because they can control what kind of Republicans get on the Council. It settles the intra-party feud. Advocates for a smaller, purer party win. The Republican Party as a whole doesn't win, nor do the stakeholders they would serve.

It's the actions of a party that wants the spotlight of elected office but not the wheel, because steering requires more than bitching about how the Democrats are driving. Purity is the luxury of the minority.

But here's what a minority can do. It can scream "corrupt!" at every turn and wear down any confidence in the institution. Is that what they want? There are limits to my capacity to buy conspiracies of that nature.

It's ironic that the anti-compromise crowd calls themselves "Constitutionalists" because the U.S. Constitution was nothing but a series of compromises. Key among them was the Great Compromise. Don't remember that? It was a way to give small states weight equal to large states by creating a Senate where each state got two representatives and a House comprised of representatives serving communities of interest. One might call it a hybrid like, say, city-wide/ward-only.

I just can't believe the party would be that self-defeating. I vowed to never write this line in a column because it's proven so blindingly false over the years but here goes: "They can't be that stupid."

Thinking about what they are thinking twists me in knots and makes me want pudding.

Blake Morlock covered Arizona government and politics for 15 years, including 11 in the Tucson Citizen. He also worked on Democratic Party campaigns in the field of political communications. Now he’s telling you things that the Devil won’t.

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have your say   

3 comments on this story

Mar 30, 2016, 9:28 am
-2 +1

The addition of two “at-large” seats really does look to me like an attempt by the Dems to rig the game to keep themselves in charge. Tucson already has an “at-large” council member….the Mayor. What other reason in the world would they need more for, if not to give themselves an advantage?

Regardless of whether or not Tucson goes city-wide or ward only (BTW, I am very happy to see that they now have to choose one or the other), I would LOVE to see, and be very interested in what would happen, if all mention of political parties were removed from the ballot. How would the voters who look for the “DEM” before they look for the name react? They would curl up in the fetal position and start crying, then start spinning yarns about voter suppression.

Mar 30, 2016, 9:02 am
-0 +4

Everyone’s entitled to their opinion but you may be interested to know I’ve called out the all-Democratic City Council on politicizing zoning issues, economic development and was all up in their grills during the bus strike. I invite you to read those. The point of the column is to urge Republicans to maintain their viability.
Thanks for reading.

Mar 30, 2016, 7:03 am
-4 +1

Dear Blake,

You are so pompous writing this piece it actually immediately disqualifies you from having one ounce of common sense and objectivity. 

Believable nah, moronic yes, collusion with the Kool Aid Sheeple who vote every election season in the City because a “D” resides next to their name….....a resounding yes.

As a student of History studying objectively my entire life (with many more anos then author), with a specialty in politics, and a degree in Broadcast Journalism from a real School in NY your article is a joke.

The average Tucson voter gets and understands voting by Ward and those ramifications versus a City Wide vote. It’s your pompous, snickering; narcissism is where you go off the rails.

Calling former Mayor Bob Walkup a “Republican” is like calling Bernie Sanders a “Moderate” get real for 5 seconds.

Look around Mr. Morlock how is that former community I lived in, loved, raised a family, and volunteered for many organizations to improve the lives of others for 35 years doing????  Ask yourself how are the roads, how is the economy, how is the #5 rated poverty community in the US, that huge mountain of debt the City is in?  How are all the things that the Democrat controlled City Council are successfully executing on behalf of the “Citizens of Tucson” going?

Maybe if you actually were an objective “columnist”, or even a real “journalist” you would write about what needs to change for a better more improved “quality of life”, “economic sustainability”, “great place to live” Tucson could be if the year in year out democrats removed narcissism and their obsession with maintaining their power structure and keep those Tucsonan’s dumbed down you actually might be positively contributing to the greater good in the “Old Pueblo”.

Just remember there are still good people in Tucson who don’t buy your little vile “let’s make republicans” feel bad piece.  Keeping the “Citizenry Divided” is a whole additional topic that is probably too deep for you.

Oh you are so smart Mr. Blake…........I’m getting a thrill up my leg how much this article really helps and supports the Citizens of Tucson.

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