Beard: Republican candidates' suit a chance to fix Tucson elections
GOP chairman on Burkholder & Lawton's lawsuit
Last Tuesday the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the City of Tucson uses unconstitutional procedures to elect its leaders. Last Friday, Kelly Lawton and Margaret Burkholder filed suit. They want to prevent the swearing-in of the "winners" pending a court decision.
Arizona election law and the City Charter are very specific in how an election is to be conducted and the final results are to be determined. The period to challenge the election and the results is clearly spelled out in law and judges rarely intervene after that period is ended. The problem in this case is that the appeals court made a ruling in the middle of the process. Neither state law nor the charter appear to have a way of clearly finalizing the election given the ruling. How do you solve the problem created by that ruling before the election is closed? In short what is the remedy spelled out in law on how to proceed when the rules themselves are no longer constitutional?
The city has a real predicament that needs to be solved now. They've proceeded in determining the "winners" using rules that are unconstitutional — are they inviting multiple suits about the legitimacy of the "winners"? Should they have set aside part of the results pending a court determination? Should they have set aside all the results and call for a new election? If so under what rules? The current rules are unconstitutional. How do you govern a city that spends a billion plus of taxpayer dollars when two or even four of its governing body are in office using unconstitutional procedures?
The naysayers like to point out that Kelly and Margaret are simply whining about losing the race in this election. The critics like to point out that the 9th Circuit decision was only a 2-1 decision or that they simply told the district judge to go back and find a remedy. At what point do the critics acknowledge that there is a problem and the lawsuit will force an answer now rather than wait months and ensnarl the city in endless litigation? Without this suit now the questions will only grow about the legitimacy of the "winners."
On Tuesday the Council certified Paul Cunningham and Shirley Scott the "winners." How do you do that when the rules determining that are unconstitutional? When the Supreme Court makes a 5-4 decision about a matter of law it is sometimes dismissed as a split decision but it is still the law of the land. In this case we have an appeals court decision that says the rules of this election are unconstitutional. Can the city move forward with two members voting on spending tax dollars that are awarded those seats under unconstitutional means?
Tucson deserves better of itself and its leaders. The appeals court ruling gives the city a chance to get things right. The ruling gives us all an opportunity to have the rights of the majority and the minority full protection under the law. Let's hope that the city makes the right decision on this one. All our futures depend on having legitimate leaders making the right call. Can we afford anything less?
Bill Beard is the chairman of the Pima County Republican Party.