State Representative Drew John (R-Safford) plans to introduce legislation that would double the term-length of members of the Arizona legislature to four years.
House Concurrent Resolution 2006 is a proposal to amend Article IV of the Arizona Constitution to extend the terms of office for members of the Arizona legislature to four years from the current two years. The provisions of the bill would go into effect after the 2022 elections, thereby aligning the election of legislators with the gubernatorial election.
The bill would maintain the current eight-year term limit for House and Senate members, which John views as vitally important.
“I didn’t want to mess with term limits. I want to make that really clear; I did not want to mess with term limits,” said John
Rep. John hopes his bill will make the legislative process run more smoothly and ultimately to ensure better legislation.
The purpose of HCR 2006 is to extend the terms of legislators in order to allow members more time to craft legislation between elections. It ensures that members of the legislature have enough time to fully implement the legislation that they propose and pass.
In the same vein, John believes that electing legislators at the same time and for the same term length as the governor will lead to better policy outcomes. Even if the governor and the majority of the legislature are opposite parties, then, John says, “at least they have four years to get to know each other, to understand each other, get some things done and work together for four years.”
While this could be true, the cost of the legislative improvements would come at the expense of voter participation.
…but at what cost?
Voter turnout fluctuates significantly in Arizona during presidential and mid-term elections. In the past ten election cycles, turnout during presidential elections has always been higher than 70 percent. In 2016, turnout was 74.17 percent.
However, during mid-term and gubernatorial elections, voter turnout has fluctuated between 45.82 and 60.47 percent. When Governor Doug Ducey was first elected in 2014, voter turnout was 47.52 percent, the second-lowest voter turnout rate during a gubernatorial election in 40 years.
Although Rep. John acknowledged that voter turnout was generally lower in mid-term elections, he feels that the advantages of electing legislators at the same time as the governor outweigh the disadvantages of lower turnout.
One advantage that John hopes would result from longer terms would be that the voters might “pay more attention to their vote.”
“I’m another benefit from this is that the voters out there will say, ‘Okay this guy’s going to be in there for four years, this person’s going to be in there for four years, maybe I’d better make sure that he’s or she’s the person I want.'”
“You never know,” Rep. John added, “but I’m hoping that would be a benefit of it.”
Given the general trend in recent decades, it is likely that even if HCR 2006 became law voter turnout in mid-term elections will remain significantly lower than during presidential election cycles.
There is a solution to the turn out issue…
One potential solution to this problem would be to stagger elections either across districts or within districts so that some members are elected during presidential elections when voter turnout is higher.
Staggering elections across districts means that voters in half of the legislative districts would elect their legislators during presidential election years and the other half would elect their legislators during gubernatorial election years.
Staggering elections within districts would mean that voters would elect one or two of their three legislators every two years. For example, state senators and state representatives could be elected separately or state representatives could be elected individually every two years instead of simultaneously.
…but it was left out of the bill
Rep. John initially wanted to include staggering, although he didn’t say how he would have liked the elections to be staggered. Ultimately though he chose not to include such a provision in his bill for two related reasons.
First, maintaining the current system gives members of one chamber the ability to run for the other chamber without creating a vacant seat, a situation that John and leadership in the state legislature want to avoid.
A vacancy in the state legislature is filled by the county board of supervisors. Rep. John, a former Graham County supervisor, says that he’s always had a problem with appointments since “it takes the replacement out of the voters’ hands.”
The second reason that John ultimately didn’t include staggered elections in his bill was to ensure that the terms of the Arizona legislators match that of the governor. This is also the reason why HCR 2006 would not go into effect until after the 2022 elections.
Rep. John believes that many issues arise when legislators and the governor are not elected at the same time, especially if their terms are the same length as they would be under his bill.
He worries that a period of “stagnancy” would be created by staggering elections or by not aligning the elections of legislators and the governor, especially the governor belongs to a different party than the party that controls the legislature.
“It just makes more sense to be with the governor than it doesn’t,” said John.
As an amendment to the state constitution, the voters will have the final say on HCR 2006 if it passes the legislature. This seems doubly appropriate for a bill by Drew John who puts a lot of faith in the voters and our democracy.
“I’m a big fan of the voting public,” said Rep. John. “I trust them.”