Why Have A Primary At All?

By Sam Stone

Does the Arizona Democratic Party even believe in Democracy? By all appearances, the answer is definitively “no”. On Friday, the Arizona Daily Star reported that the Arizona Democratic Party had denied voter lists to two challengers, Amanda Aguirre and Manny Arreguin, facing off against incumbent Rep. Raul Grijalva. Why?

The decision to deny the two challengers access to voter databases, which are normally available to candidates as a matter of routine, was apparently made by current Democrat State party Executive Director Luis Heredia who said that the two challengers weren’t “Democrat enough”.

Unfortunately, Heredia was merely continuing a recent trend here in Arizona. First, Pima Democrat officials helped pave the way for Ron Barber to run unopposed in the CD8 special election. Then Arizona Democratic Party officials – with the assistance of the White House – managed to push respected former Arizona Democratic Party Chairman Don Bivens out of the race to replace Sen. Jon Kyl, clearing the field in favor of former U.S. Surgeon General Richard Carmona.

Carmona, for those who aren’t aware, became a Democrat for the first time in November after he was personally asked to run for the Senate by President Obama. So, to be clear, Amanda Aguirre who spent eight years representing her party in the State Legislature and is a lifelong Democrat isn’t “Democrat enough”. But a lifelong registered Independent who served in George W. Bush’s administration is?

It’s like the Arizona Democratic Party is trying to pull the old Jedi Mind-Trick on their own primary voters: “These are not the candidates you are looking for. You will vote for who we tell you. Go along. Go Along.”

Barber, Carmona and Grijalva would have been good bets to win their primaries without Party interference anyway. After all, Barber has the support of former Rep. Gabrielle Giffords and an emotional story to tell. The national resources and backing Carmona has received would likely have been far too much for Bivens to overcome. And the odds of someone besting Raul Grijalva in a primary? Don’t make me laugh.

But that’s not the point. For years, primaries were often decided in the “smoky back rooms” where politico bosses selected winners and losers to meet their personal or organizational agendas. But by the 1970s, the back rooms largely gave way to the public, media-driven primary showcase we have today. Is it perfect? No. Is it perfectly transparent? Not really. But as we saw recently with longtime Sen. Richard Lugar’s defeat in the Indiana primary, it is indeed voter-driven.

Republican Party leadership, if given the choice, would have chosen to retain Lugar. But that wasn’t up to them. Voters in Indiana had a choice, and they chose to throw away an almost guaranteed victory in November in favor of a challenger who more closely represented their views. But here in Arizona, the Arizona Democratic Party seems to have lit up a few new cigars, denying voters the chance to choose their own representation in favor of candidates the local politico bosses have selected for them.

Not Democrat enough? That’s why we have primaries.

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Sam Stone is a Republican political strategist from Tucson. And he wishes that one of his friends from the other side of the aisle had stepped up to write this piece.