By Christopher Herring
During a contentious debate, the Arizona Republican Party’s executive committee rejected a proposal to close future primaries to independents.
Although there are good faith arguments in favor of limiting participation to Republicans only, the perception, and most importantly, the financial cost, outweighed any potential benefits.
In 1998, voters approved a measure that allowed independents to vote in the primary of any recognized party. Now part of the Arizona Constitution, the law initially conceived by a Republican controlled legislature, would likely be defended by the Arizona’s Attorney General’s office, greatly increasing the financial cost and risk to an already budget strapped political cycle where every dollar counts.
A significant obstacle to the party is the notion that Republicans support the rule of law and the Arizona Constitution. Suing the state to not administer its constitution isn’t the best headline for the party. Another significant challenge would be that the state party would have to show a severe burden is caused by independents voting in Republican primaries. Specifically that independents voting changed the ideological outcomes of elections in a manner significant enough to overturn the will of the voters to keep the primary open. In the most recent elections, independents have not voted in high numbers in party primaries and the case can be made that Arizona Republicans are more conservative than they have ever been on fiscal and social issues. Proving a severe burden would be a large task for the party’s attorneys.
In fact, every scenario discussed to close the primaries were fraught with risk. Whether it was a lawsuit, assuming the financial obligation of administering the entire primary, or funding a lawsuit to close the primary, the cost would be shouldered by all Republicans with no guarantee of success and a likelihood of failure.
The singular criticism surrounding the partially open primary is the moderating effect it creates on Republican elections. Although independents are growing in America and in Arizona, Republicans continue to enjoy a significant voter registration advantage over the Democratic Party and continue to hold onto every major statewide elected office. Judging by the lack of moderate or liberal Republicans holding statewide offices, it is difficult to prove that the small number of independents are gaming the Republican primary.
If there is a real fear in closing the primary outside of costs, it is alienating Arizona’s right leaning independents. In fact, as independents continue to grow, the Republicans cannot simply ignore their growing influence but must be continually active in persuading them that their principles are aligned with traditional party beliefs. Many independents describe themselves as conservatives but simply don’t want the label of Republican.
The state executive committee made the right call to not divert resources away from the continued march of winning elections and enacting conservative policies by embarking on long and expensive lawsuits with no guarantee of success. Arizona’s Republican Party consists of a diverse group of voters, fighting for conservative principles that make our lives better every day. The Party, under the leadership of Robert Graham, should continue to focus on what it is doing well, winning short term victories and building long term relationships to enhance the Republican brand in Arizona.
Christopher Herring is the President of the Maricopa County Young Republican Professionals and member of the Arizona Republican Party Executive Committee.