Is there any idea too dumb to pass?
GOP legislators adopt the motto of the Three Musketeers: all for one, and one for all.
Is there an idea so self-evidently dumb that if one Republican legislator wants it, not every other Republican legislator will support it? Put another way, is there any pathway, or hope, for any semblance of rational decision-making before this legislative session stumbles to what seems destined to be an inglorious close?
These ontological questions arise from the passage in the Senate of Senate Current Resolution 1023, which would refer to voters a constitutional amendment eliminating charter cities.
The sponsor is Sen. Justine Wadsack, whose beef, according to reporting by Howard Fisher of Capitol Media Services, is with the way the city of Tucson conducts its council elections. In Tucson, candidates are nominated in primary district elections, but elected in at-large general elections. Since Tucson is overwhelmingly Democratic, the system effectively blocks Republicans from having even a minority presence on the city council, which they would probably attain under a pure district system structure.
Republicans in Tucson have crabbed about this for years and the legislature has made attempts to do something about it. But Tucson’s status as a charter city has protected the system from legislative meddling.
The Arizona Constitution gives cities a mechanism to achieve a measure of self-governance by adopting a charter and becoming a charter city. Nineteen Arizona cities have done so.
The extent to which the legislature can dictate to charter cities is an incomprehensible legal thicket. In my view, the courts have overread the extent to which charter cities can tell the legislature to go pound sand. The constitutional provision permitting them says that the charters must be “consistent with, and subject to, the Constitution and the laws of the state….” To me, that makes the legislature, in creating the laws of the state, supreme.
The courts, however, haven’t seen it that way. They have found that charter cities have a sphere of self-governance into which the legislature cannot intrude. But they have utterly failed in coming up with a rule or rationale as to where legislative control ends and inviolate self-governance begins.
This is particularly true with respect to the conduct of elections. The courts upheld a state law that limited all cities, including charter cities, to holding elections on one of four legislatively designated dates. But struck down a law requiring cities, including charter cities, to hold their council elections contemporaneously with the state’s primary and general elections. Good luck finding the basis for that distinction in the constitutional provision permitting municipal charters, or, for that matter, a rationale outside the four corners of the constitutional language.
So, Wadsack proposes eliminating the charter option and any pretense of an impenetrable sphere of municipal self-governance. That could be a defensible and logically consistent position.
However, two Republicans, Ken Bennett and T.J. Shope, initially voted against SCR 1023 on the floor. They weren’t willing to see the charter cities in their districts, Prescott and Casa Grande, done away with. Wadsack vowed to get the referral amended in the House to apply only to cities with a population of more than 500,000, which would exempt the charter cities in Bennett and Shope’s districts. So, they changed their votes and passed it out of the Senate.
As Wadsack has promised to amend it, SCR 1023 would only strip charter status from Phoenix and Tucson. Mesa is on the cusp of the threshold. As a result, the proposal no longer constitutes a defensible and logically consistent position. It is a self-evidently dumb idea.
If a sphere of self-governance for cities is to be granted, the case for it increases, rather than diminishes, with size. What’s the argument that smaller cities should have a measure of self-governance but larger cities shouldn’t? What about being bigger would make a city less capable of, or entitled to, self-governance?
Bennett is a formerly sensible legislator. Shope is a potentially sensible legislator. Yet they couldn’t bring themselves to tell Wadsack a flat no. And the result is the passage, at least from the Senate, of a self-evidently dumb idea.
The unwillingness to stop the self-evidently dumb idea is particularly revealing since there is a direct way of doing what Wadsack was attempting to do indirectly with SCR 1023. She’s also the sponsor of SCR 1027, which is a proposed constitutional amendment prohibiting any city, including a charter city, from having the kind of council election system Tucson has. It has also passed the Senate.
So, even though Wadsack’s objective was advanced in another way, Bennett and Shope were still unwilling to consign the dumb idea that small cities can have charters but big cities cannot to the dumpster. It had to pass as well.
There seems to be a pact, formal or informal, that all legislative Republicans have to support the bills of all other Republicans. Republicans have only a one-vote margin in either chamber. Rather than open up the legislative process to respect the divided government voters chose, Republicans are attempting to monopolize control by adopting the motto of the Three Musketeers: all for one, and one for all.
There’s a handful of Republican legislators with the sensibility to be pained by some of the nonsense for which they are being asked to vote. So far, they are doing it anyway.
Reach Robb at email@example.com.