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Tempe senator ‘flabbergasted’ by charter change resolution

Posted 3/9/23

Sen. Mitzi Epstein of Tempe slammed a vote this week that proposes asking voters to wipe out the ability of cities to have their own charters.

While Tempe would not be affected by the resolution, …

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Tempe senator ‘flabbergasted’ by charter change resolution


Sen. Mitzi Epstein of Tempe slammed a vote this week that proposes asking voters to wipe out the ability of cities to have their own charters.

While Tempe would not be affected by the resolution, Epstein, a Democrat, said the proposal “seems disrespectful to our democratic republic.”

State senators voted this week to ask the charter question of voters after its sponsor vowed to narrow it to affect only Tucson and Phoenix and possibly Mesa.

As approved, SCR 1023 would repeal a provision of the Arizona Constitution that dates to territorial days that permits city voters to establish home rule. That enables them to make their own rules on matters of local concerns such as how the local government is set up and how and when to run elections.

Republicans Ken Bennett and T.J. Shope said Tuesday they were supporting it because Sen. Justine Wadsack, R-Tucson, promised to have it altered when it now goes to the House so it would affect only communities larger than 500,000.

Both said they would not have voted for the measure if it undermined the charters that now exist in Prescott and Casa Grande in their home legislative districts.

That logic angered Epstein, the Senate’s minority leader.

"What I'm hearing so far is, 'Well, as long as it doesn't happen to my city then I'll let this bad idea happen to somebody else's city,' '' said Epstein, whose home city Tempe has a charter and would get to keep it if Wadsack later narrows the scope.

"That's flabbergasting,'' she said. "It seems disrespectful to our democratic republic. It seems disrespectful to the idea that everybody deserves a voice.''

Shope acknowledged that his affirmative vote for SCR 1023 was based on Wadsack's vow the bill would be amended so it didn't affect any communities of fewer than 500,000 people - meaning none of his legislative district.

And he told Capitol Media Services he's OK with making that distinction based on population.

"I've done it before,'' Shope said, calling smaller and larger cities "different animals.''

"To compare Tucson or Phoenix to a Casa Grande or a Florence or what-have-you that I represent, they're not even in the same stratosphere,'' he said. "There does have to be some wiggle room in state law to recognize that they're not the same.''

Bennett also told Capitol Media Services he's "not really comfortable'' with the idea of removing the right to have a charter from all cities. That, he said, is why he voted against the measure last week when it first came up.

But all that changed on Tuesday with Wadsack's commitment to add limiting language.

"I've been promised by the sponsor that that will be added in the House,'' Bennett said in casting the deciding 16th vote in the 30-member Senate.

Even with that, however, Bennett said he's still ill at ease with the whole concept.

"I'm still struggling with doing to three of the 19 charter cities what I'm protecting the other 16 from,'' he said.

Tuesday's vote is not the last word - and not only because SCR 1023 needs House approval and, presumably the amendment that Wadsack promised would be added.

That's because it seeks to amend the state constitution. And that can be done only if voters in 2024 ratify the change she is pushing.

The measure actually is one of two being pushed by Wadsack, a first-term lawmaker, who has repeatedly said she is unhappy with one particular power that her home community has exercised by virtue of its charter status: how it conducts elections.

State law requires that city councils be chosen either through at-large elections, where everyone in the community gets to vote for all candidates, or through a district system with council members chosen by voters living in that part of the city.

Tucson has a hybrid, with candidates nominated in each of the six districts but having to stand for election on a city-wide basis. That guarantees at least one council members from each district.

But what it also has meant more often than not is that Republicans nominated from their own home districts cannot survive a citywide election what with Democrats outnumbering registered Republicans by a two-to-one margin.

We’d like to invite our readers to submit their civil comments, pro or con, on this issue. Email AZOpinions@iniusa.org.