Through the Distinguished Speakers Series and Issues & Answers Forums, the Sandra Day O'Connor Institute brings prominent national and local experts, researchers and lawmakers to discuss current and critical issues facing our state and nation. The Issues & Answers Forum facilitates civil, fact-based discussions for a better informed citizenry.

Past Distinguished Speakers Include:


Past Issues & Answers Events:

The Sandra Day O’Connor Institute collaborated with NPR local affiliate KJZZ to present our “Issues & Answers Forum” at the Arizona Historical Society Steele Auditorium June 3, 2014. A full house heard topics discussed that included the upcoming elections and issues that will impact voters.

Panelists included:
Chris Herstam, head of Government Relations for Lewis, Roca & Rothgerber, a former Legislator, gubernatorial Chief of Staff and Board of Regents President

Joe Kanefield, Elections Attorney at Ballard Spahr and former State Election Director and In-House Legal Counsel for the State of Arizona

Karen Osborne, Maricopa County Director of Elections and former Assistant Arizona Secretary of State

Tom Ryan, Attorney, “Dark Money” Opponent, and President-Elect of the Arizona Trial Lawyers Association

Moderator for the Forum was Steve Goldstein of KJZZ, who included several questions from the audience.

Among the more controversial issues covered was the so-called “Dark Money” and the U.S. Supreme Court's lift on federal spending limits, as well as the Arizona Supreme Court's opinion that could diminish the role of the Arizona's Clean Elections Law in campaigns. The importance of the Primary Election, low voter turn-out, and the growing number of registered Independents also sparked lively yet respectful discussion.

Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, along with a 50-student delegation from the Junior State of America, whose purpose is to strengthen American democracy by educating and preparing high school students for life-long involvement and responsible leadership in a democratic society, were also in attendance.

"Open Primaries"

• National speakers from California and other states who have already adopted Open
Primaries will discuss the ‘Pro’s and Con’s’ – benefits and consequences.
• Burton Barr Library
• Presented by the O’Connor Institute Public Policy Committee

On Wednesday, May 9, 2012, the O'Connor Institute partnered with the Morrison Institute for Public Policy on the first "Issues & Answers Forum" on open primary elections at Burton Barr Library in Phoenix.  Sue Clark Johnson, then,O'Connor Institute Board Chair of the Policy Committee, organized the panel discussion, which featured Steve Peace, architect of the successful California initiative; Richard Winger, a founder of Coalition on Free and Open Elections and publisher of Ballot Access News and Arizona leaders representing both sides of the issue, Grady Gammage, Jr., one of the Arizona initiative's authors, and Alan Maguire, of The Maguire Company, an independent management analysis and public policy consulting firm specializing in economic forecasting.

The Arizona Republic published an editorial which highlighted the forum, “Open primaries have been touted as a game-changer for Arizona politics. They have also been dubbed the latest fad from those who like to engineer political outcomes.”  The editorial goes one to say “Some say this "top two" system would result in general-election candidates who have broader appeal. Under the current system, partisan primaries have low turnout and those who do show up tend to be on the extreme edges of their respective parties. Moderate candidates usually get eliminated at the primary level.

Others suggest that the top-two system could further limit choices by producing general-election races between two members of the same party. Concerns have also been raised that this system could weaken political parties.” To read the article, click here

Supporters are gathering signatures for a November 2012 ballot initiative that poses to replace partisan primaries with an open primary in which all candidates would run and all registered voters could vote, regardless of party.  The top two vote getters would advance to the general election. 

More than 200 joined the lively discussion moderated by Michael Grant and opened by Justice O’Connor.  Morrison Institute completed a background research paper on the topic, "The Nonpartisan Primary: Is it a Game Changer?" by Senior Fellow David R. Berman, which can be accessed here.