Arizona’s Unelected Clean Elections Commission Votes to Oust Another Elected Official

Late last week, we learned from the Arizona Republic that the Arizona Citizens Clean Elections Commission did indeed vote 4-1 last Friday “to oust” Rep. Doug Quelland (R-10th Dist.) “from the state House of Representatives and to levy $45,500 in fines for violating the state’s public-finance laws, which regulate campaign expenditures” for those candidates who accept taxpayer financing of their campaigns.

Here at CCP we’ve posted more than once on the Quelland quagmire.  Three weeks ago, CCP President Sean Parnell lamented the fact that, “[u]ltimately, an appointed commission will have the authority to decide whether Doug Quelland is suited to sit in the Arizona legislature.  I always thought that responsibility rested with voters, but I guess under so-called clean elections programs that’s not the case.”

Then, a week later, Parnell pointed out the apparent irony of the situation in which Quelland found himself.  Another Republic story noted that Quelland had previously “championed” the “clean elections” program — “an interesting (amusing?) twist to the story,” Parnell observed, since it now looked quite likely that the state legislator would become the second Arizona official to be removed from his elected position by the sword of the unelected commission he had “championed.”

Parnell further explained that, given Quelland’s prior “championing” of Arizona’s unelected and undemocratic elections police (er, Commission), “it’s hard to feel much sympathy for … Doug Quelland,” despite the fact that “it’s still extremely troubling that the Clean Elections Commission appears ready to remove an elected official from office, rather than letting voters decide who will represent them.”

Well, that is now the result that appears to have come to pass should Quelland’s vowed appeal and continued negotiations fail to keep him in his elected state legislative seat.  But that doesn’t mean this nightmare is over yet, or that questions resulting from his removal make any more sense than an unelected commission having the power to remove an elected legislator.

The very last sentence of the latest Republic story reporting the Commission’s removal decision states that, “[i]f Quelland has to forfeit his office, the Maricopa County Board of Supervisors would select another Republican to replace him.”  This is apparently because Arizona’s “Clean” Elections law operates on the theory that the voters would have elected another candidate belonging to the same political party as the deposed winner if the race had been run suitably “clean.”  And, while that conclusion could be correct, it also could be wrong.

After all, voters cast their ballots for individual candidates, and often split their votes between not only the two major political parties (Republicans and Democrats), but also smaller parties like the Libertarians and the Greens, not to mention independents.

In other words, after the Commission found that Quelland’s election was not “clean” enough, there is really no way for anyone to know who the voters would have chosen had there been a so-called “clean” election in the view of the Commission.  Thus, it’s far from clear how the replacement legislator really should be picked — without having another election!

This, of course, is one of our principal points about why the penalty of removal from elected office, especially when imposed by an unelected campaign finance commission, is both misguided and undemocratic.  We’ll have to wait and see how the Quelland quagmire continues to play out because, so far, Arizona’s laws and election commission haven’t “cleaned” any of this up yet — no matter what name they use to label themselves.