Tuesday, September 28, 2004

It's power politics - dressed up as reform

The Orange County Register

Measure meant to promote the election of 'moderates' would limit debate, voter options

Perhaps the most troubling statewide initiative on the November ballot, Proposition 62 would throw out the current primary system by which Californians elect their leaders, and replace it with a nonpartisan primary, similar to the one that exists in only one other state: Louisiana, where politics are notoriously extreme and corrupt.

Called the Voter Choice Initiative by supporters, Prop. 62 is designed by self-styled moderates who believe that both parties offer candidates who are excessively extreme in their views. Another initiative on the ballot, Prop. 60, would stop the implementation of 62 by locking the current partisan primary system in place.

Under 62, all candidates would compete in a single primary, with the top two vote-getters - regardless of party affiliation - going to a general-election runoff.

Ironically, Prop. 62 would dramatically limit choices, because no third-party candidates would be on the final ballot unless they were among the top vote-getters. Third parties are rarely competitive in elections, but they play a valuable role by bringing important issues before the electorate. Their voice would be effectively eliminated.

Choice also would be reduced in other ways. In regions where one party dominated (Orange County or San Francisco, for example), the top two vote-getters would probably be from the same party, which would again mean no serious debate. Also, because the initiative would in essence create two general elections, it would increase the cost of running such campaigns because all candidates would have to market to the widest possible electorate during the primary - and again during the general election.

Prop. 62 was underwritten by big business interests, which have a specific political agenda - namely, the election of candidates that eschew so-called divisive issues and focus on bread-and-butter fiscal matters. That's a reasonable enough agenda, perhaps, but it's cynical and an abuse of the initiative process for wealthy interests to rewrite the election rules to achieve a particular result.

Were it to pass, we could expect unexpected consequences. The moderates behind Prop. 62 envision the election of more like-minded candidates, as members of all parties appeal to the middle in the primary and the general election. But in Louisiana, the large fields of mainstream candidates steal votes from each other, thus paving the way for the election of fringe candidates, such as when one memorable Lousiana governor's runoff pitted a crook against a former leader of the KKK.

Is this what we want in California?

The California proposal excludes presidential races and party central committee races from the nonpartisan rules. But that doesn't make Prop. 62 more acceptable.

Currently, Californians vote for members of the Legislature, state constitutional offices (governor, secretary of state, controller, etc.) and members of Congress in closed primaries. Republicans can only vote in the Republican primary. Democrats can only vote in the Democratic primary, and third-party members (Libertarians, Greens, etc.) vote in their respective third- party primaries. Primary winners face off in the general election.

In 1996, California voters had approved a "blanket" primary, in which voters from any party couldvote in any party's primary. The U.S. Supreme Court rejected that system in 2000, arguing that parties are private organizations that should be free to choose their own candidates.

So the moderates placed on the ballot Proposition 62, which gets around the Supreme Court's ruling because the primaries would be "nonpartisan." Voters should preserve political debate and choice in the election process. Vote No on Prop. 62, Yes on Prop. 60.

 

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