A Few Observations on California

Carol Platt Liebau
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Posted: Jun 09, 2010 4:10 PM
Having spent yesterday traveling to San Jose and then attending Tom Campbell's concession before returning to LA this morning, I had plenty of time to track the results of California's elections.  Here are a few observations:

First, I've never been a fan of "bean counting" -- but those who have long castigated Republicans for insufficient "diversity" should note that the GOP's statewide nominees are two women (Whitman and Fiorina), a Latino (Abel Maldonado/Lieutenant Governor) and an African-American (Damon Dunn/Secretary of State). 

And while it's all to the good that Californians defeated an initiative that would have permitted public funding of campaigns, unfortunately, Californians approved an "open primary" initiative.  Under it, all primaries will be "open" (in other words, Republicans can vote for Democrats and vice-versa) -- and the top two vote getters will go head to head in a run-off, regardless of party affiliation.

I'm not a big fan of third parties, so from my perspective, the problem with the open primary isn't the (undoubted) damage it will do to third parties.  Rather, the disadvantages of the new system are that it allows political adversaries to work mischief by helping to select candidates for the party they oppose; even worse, it would permit two Democrats or two Republicans to run against each other.

In theory, that system would, perhaps, work to elect more centrists (as the more ideologically "extreme" candidate would cede the opposition and the middle to the other candidate).  But in a state as large and liberal as California, where lots of money is needed to fund a viable campaign, what's more likely to happen is the absence of choice in statewide candidates for those who don't believe in Democrat/union big government.  Here, the unions are so powerful that they may well be able to hand-pick two candidate, fund them, and ensure that they effectively "control" whoever wins.

In addition, especially in state Senate and assembly districts, it means more -- not less -- political polarization.  California is so heavily gerrymandered that one is likely to see Democrat-Democrat races in San Francisco-area districts, and Republican-Republican races in places like Orange County.  There, the more likely outcome will be that the more ideologically "extreme" candidate wins -- hardly a recipe for more effective bipartisan cooperation in Sacramento.

Finally, elections are supposed to be about exposing voters to a marketplace of ideas so that they may make a meaningful choice.  A system that creates one huge open field and then allows two candidates from the same party to advance to the general election fails to fulfill that objective.

There are some serious constitutional problems, I believe, with the new open primary law.  Let's hope it never goes into effect.