Update: This story includes comments from Betty Janik in response to allegations about her reasoning for switching from Republican to independent that were not included in the newspaper story published on Aug. 2 due to a technical error.
Though Scottsdale’s local elections are officially non-partisan, party politics could factor heavily into the results Tuesday, as evidenced by the slew of campaign communications that have gone out to voters from candidates – and anonymous groups – focusing on candidates’ political affiliations.
Ahead of the Aug. 4 primary, a number of candidates have brandished their own party credentials while calling into question their opponents’ bonafides.
In recent weeks, the Progress reported on several mailers and text message campaigns, including a mailer from mayoral candidate Suzanne Klapp’s campaign labeling her competition as “liberal.”
Anonymous text messages told Republican and Democratic voters Council candidate Betty Janik, an independent, is not a member of their party.
According to Maricopa County voter rolls, four of the five candidates running for mayor – Klapp, Virginia Korte, Bob Littlefield and Lisa Borowsky – are Republicans. The fifth, David Ortega, is an independent.
The candidates themselves are split as to whether their political affiliation should play a role in voters’ decision in non-partisan local races.
“We have all had a lesson in civics this summer,” said Council candidate Bill Crawford, a Republican.
“We know the importance of local elected officials,” Crawford said. “Voters need to know a candidate’s party to determine their policy positions and beliefs, especially in a state of emergency. Informed voters have a better idea of who the candidate is.”
Council candidate Michael Auerbach, who described himself as a “principled conservative,” also thought voters should look at a candidate’s party.
“It is true more than ever now that ‘all politics is local,’” Auerbach said. “In the spotlight, is the face of municipal governments across the country either being timid or pandering to the puppets for a paycheck anarchist, fascists, and far leftists…Political party affiliation defines how a candidate will make decisions.”
Ortega said he is proud to be the only independent in the mayoral race.
“As mayor I will listen to all residents regardless of party affiliation or if independent-minded like myself,” Ortega said.
Other candidates acknowledged party affiliation is important to voters but said it is not the most important factor in local elections.
“Party registration is not dispositive of one’s ability to lead our city,” mayoral candidate Lisa Borowsky said, adding that what is important about a candidate is ultimately left to voters to decide.
“I’m asked frequently about party registration, indicating it’s important to voters this election,” Borowsky said. “I’ve responded: I am a conservative, endorsed by Arizona Free Enterprise Club.”
Councilwoman Suzanne Klapp, who is also running for mayor, said she too is asked about her party by voters.
“I am occasionally asked by voters who want to know my political party affiliation, so it is important to some,” Klapp said. “I don’t mind replying when asked, but overall, I remind them that our local elections are non-partisan.”
Mayoral Candidate Bob Littlefield said he does not mind telling voters he is a Republican but said “I don’t want national politics to divert attention from important local issues.”
Korte said that while party affiliation matters, voters should also look at a candidate’s qualifications.
“Who brings a vision and a plan that will keep our taxes low and our quality of life high? Who has a strong record of service to the community?” Korte said. “Many factors should go into deciding who will lead our City.”
But some candidates took that sentiment a step further and said the issues, not party, should be all that voters consider in local elections.
“I do not believe that party is or should be a determining factor in local elections,” said Council candidate Kevin Maxwell, a registered Republican.
Maxwell said issues before the City Council like parks, roads, public safety and zoning should be non-partisan.
“The essential services of a community should not have ideologies attached to them,” Maxwell said.
Council candidate Tammy Caputi, an independent, said she agreed with the decision made by residents decades ago to make Scottsdale’s local elections non-partisan.
“What matters are a candidate’s values…Most of us share values even when we disagree on positions,” Caputi said. “Freedom, opportunity, security, fairness, equality, safety, protection; if we focus on our shared values instead of party affiliation, we can find common ground and solutions that work for everyone.”
Littlefield and Council candidate Tom Durham accused some candidates, including Maxwell and Caputi, of changing their political affiliations to better their prospects.
“Generally, I think a candidate’s political party is irrelevant and voters should focus on specific issues,” Durham said. “But several candidates in the City Council race have switched their affiliation in anticipation of the election.”
“To me, this indicates a lack of honesty and transparency which may carry through to their actions on the Council,” Durham added.
Littlefield also alleged Council candidates Janik and John Little and Ortega changed their party in recent years for political purposes.
Maricopa County voter records show that a number of candidates have changed their registration in recent years – including Ortega, who changed his registration from Democrat to independent in 2019.
Ortega said he changed his party after living in Washington, D.C. for a time in parts of 2017 and 2018 and witnessing the partisan gridlock in the nation’s capitol.
“One party rule usually ends badly, so I registered as independent,” Ortega said. “I do not depend on party machinery.”
According to voter rolls, Caputi and Little also changed their registration from Democrat to independent in 2018 and 2017, respectively.
In response to questions about the change, Caputi reiterated her statement that the local election should remain nonpartisan.
Little said he did so out of respect for the non-partisan system adopted by citizens in the City Charter in 1961.
“They were abundantly clear and prescient in believing divisive party politics had no place in the provision of clean water, safe streets, sanitation services, effective public safety and outstanding parks and libraries,” Little said. “My voter registration is ‘no preference’ out of respect for the wishes of the citizens who adopted the Charter sixty years ago.”
Maxwell changed his registration from independent to Republican in June 2018. He had previously registered as a Democrat from 2004 to 2014.
But he said the change was more about evolving viewpoints than political pragmatism.
“As I became more knowledgeable and involved in Scottsdale politics and the community, I found that the Republican Party aligned more with my point of view,” Maxwell said. “Thus, several years ago I re-registered as a Republican and currently serve as a Republican precinct committeeman.”
Janik changed her registration from Republican to independent in 2017.
"That is a very interesting comment," Janik said in response to Littlefield's allegation. "One usually moves to the Republican side in Scottsdale to better chances of election and yet I switched from Republican to being an independent."
Janik said she did not decide to run for office until October 2019, two years after she changed her affiliation, due to concerns about an increasing number of zoning change applications approved by the City Council.
With Scottsdale’s primary election just days away, voter participation is up compared to the last the time the city hosted a primary in 2014.
Early returns showed that 48,394 voters sent in early ballots in Scottsdale as of July 30, five days before the August 4 primary, according to the Scottsdale City Clerk’s Office.
That means the county has received approximately 43.8 percent of the 113,343 early ballots requested by Scottsdale voters, a 5.9 percent increase in the return rate over 2014, according to data on file with the city.
Early voters represent about 79 percent of all active registered voters in Scottsdale, according to the Maricopa County Recorder’s Office.
The data also showed that elderly residents are voting at a higher clip than any other age group.
According to a primary tracker from research firm Data Orbital, voters over the age of 65 accounted for around 50 percent of all returned ballots in Scottsdale as of July 30.
The next most active group, voters ages 55 to 64, made up about 20 percent of returned ballots.
Overall, Republicans accounted for 48.1 percent of returned ballots compared to Democrats at 38.6 percent and independent voters at 13.4 percent as of July 30, according to Data Orbital – not a surprising result considering Republicans make up about 42 percent of the total Scottsdale electorate.
Independents make up about 31 percent of the electorate and Democrats are about 27 percent.
But Democrats are actually returning ballots at a higher rate than Republicans or independents, according to Data Orbital.
Democrats returned 49.7 percent of requested ballots, edging out independents, who returned 48.9 percent of ballots.
Republicans had returned 42.5 percent of ballots as of July 30.
Polls will be open from 6 a.m.-7p.m. Aug.4. People in line at 7 p.m. will be permitted to cast a ballot.
It’s too late to mail in an early ballot and people can cast their ballot at any voter center, regardless of where they live, because of relaxed regulations due to the pandemic.
To find a polling place, go to recorder.maricopa.gov/pollingplace.