Legislative reform measures even playing field, speaker says

The Clean Elections and redistricting measures approved by Arizona voters will make it easier for candidates with modest means to get elected to statewide offices, a political activist said on Monday.

"Clean Elections and redistricting have changed the entire political climate," Mark Osterloh, M.D., told a luncheon gathering of the Kingman Democratic Women's Club.

"Political power and influence will be up to people like you.

You will have a level playing field."

Candidates with limited means can draw on the support of volunteers, Osterloh told a gathering of about 20 people at Calico's Restaurant.

Osterloh, a Tucson-based ophthalmologist, said he served as the primary author of the Clean Elections Act (Proposition 200) in 1998 and co-authored the redistricting measure, Proposition 106, on the November 2000 ballot.

The Clean Elections Act provides public campaign financing for candidates for statewide office, he said.

Among other things, candidates for state House and Senate seats qualify if they receive 200 $5 contributions from registered voters and gubernatorial candidates qualify if they receive $5 contributions from 4,000 registered voters.

Osterloh said the redistricting measure took the authority away from the state Legislature and placed it into the hands of a newly formed, five-member independent commission.

The commission is scheduled to submit its plan by August.

"The idea is that elections should not be bought or they not be auctioned, which they currently are," Osterloh said during an interview following his presentation.

"Up to this point, the only people who could run for office were either rich or they sold out to the lobbyists and special interests to run.

"We now have a third option, and that is where civic-minded citizens can qualify for public funding," he said.

"When they get elected, the only ones they owe favors to are the citizens of Arizona, not lobbyists.

Clean Elections and redistricting will change a serious problem."

Osterloh furnished a brochure from the Clean Elections Institute that indicated a 62 percent increase in contested primaries from 1998 to 2000.

They rose from 51 to 82.

In 1998, half of the candidates for the 30 state Senate seats ran unopposed, Osterloh said.

The former state senator who represented Mohave County before retiring in 2000, John Wettaw, R-Flagstaff, ran unopposed in 1998.

"What kind of democracy is that?" Osterloh asked rhetorically.

Osterloh said he is promoting Clean Elections throughout the state to get more candidates to run.

"We have problems with health care in this state," Osterloh said.

"We have a terrible education system that has to be addressed."

Osterloh encountered some skepticism during the meeting.

After commenting that voters need to throw the "bums" out, Democratic activist Bob Holsinger of Golden Valley retorted, "What if he is our bum?"

Holsinger, a former president for the United Rubber Workers local in Vernon, Calif., said labor unions need a lobbyist in Phoenix.

Osterloh countered that business spends seven times as much as labor in trying to influence lawmakers.

Lobbyists have too much influence in the Legislature, said Richard Glancy, chairman of the Mohave County Democratic Central Committee.

He said lobbyists write more than 80 percent of the bills introduced on the floor.

"We don't have the expertise in the Legislature," Glancy said.