Arizonans losing the war of Independents
EJ Montini, The Republic | azcentral.com 3:22 p.m. MST April 12, 2014
Rick Murphy would like to be Arizona's next governor, and because he is a smart, ambitious man, and a proud, successful member of the state's largest political constituency he has … no chance.
Mostly because the Republicans who control state government don't want someone like Murphy in office.
And neither do the Democrats.
For his part, Murphy would appreciate it if this situation irritated you as much as it does him.
Because it should.
"This is a dirty little secret that the parties have been hiding, but that is about to end," he told me. "Here come the party crashers."
By which he means – the Independents.
Not long ago Arizona Secretary of State Ken Bennett announced that men and women who officially register to vote as independents now make up the largest percentage of voters in the state, 34.88 percent.
That puts their number at 1.13 million.
Murphy is one of them.
He is the founder and president of Murphy Broadcasting, headquartered in Lake Havasu City. As a young man he started a radio station in Parker, and now owns five stations that serve Lake Havasu City, Bullhead City, Kingman, Parker, and Laughlin, NV.
He has this radical – apparently dangerous -- idea that an independent-minded person who is not affiliated with a major political party or beholding to the special interests who control those parties could do a lot of good for the state.
In Arizona, that's practically impossible to pull off.
Not because someone like Murphy couldn't get the votes but because he'd have a really, really hard time simply getting on the ballot.
Because Republicans and Democrats get to make the rules. And according to the rules as they've written them, Independents might as well start calling themselves Irrelevants.
Because that's what they are.
At least in terms of getting elected.
State law – written by Republicans and Democrats – now requires a Republican running for statewide office to collect at least 5,651 valid signatures to appear on the ballot. A Democrat, whose party has few members than the Republicans, needs 4,804.
An Independent like Murphy, however, is required by law to collect signatures of three percent of "other" registered voters, which now adds up to 34,028.
Just to qualify for the ballot.
"I have been wrestling with this issue," Murphy told me. "I can go ahead and buy the signatures for about $100,000 and get on the ballot, with a real long shot at winning, or just throw in the towel because it is so difficult to compete with the parties. I have not decided but will do so shortly."
Chris Herstam, a former Republican legislator who has worked to diminish the stranglehold the major parties have on the election process by way of things like an open primary calls the current system "ridiculous."
He told me, "Our political system is rigged. Even as their numbers dwindle, the two major parties refuse to change our state laws that would provide a level playing field for Independent candidates. Independents now outnumber Republicans and Democrats. Why should the two party primaries be subsidized by government taxes raised from many Arizonans who want nothing to do with party organizations? The time for a single nonpartisan open primary has come."
If that were to happen and Arizona went to nonpartisan open primaries a person like Murphy would have a fighting chance. And if independent voters banned together as a unified voting block they'd have the clout to actually make it happen.
But they won't.
Mostly because they're just so darned … independent.