Brian Hamilton: Top-two primary puts power with people, not party
June 5, 2018
So the pundits are calling California's top-two primary system the "Jungle Primary?"
Please. I'll call the top-two primary ahead of its time, and hopefully another example of "As California goes, so goes the nation."
But apparently neither party is pleased with how the top-two has played out since being approved by voters in 2010.
So what? I mean, isn't that the point?
That's what proponents of Proposition 14 argued anyway, that the Golden State needed to break the grip of political partisanship to actually get some governing done. And to do that, the open primary sends the top two vote getters on to November, regardless of party affiliation.
"The Legislature, whose members were all elected under the current rules, repeatedly fails to pass the state budget on time, or close the state's gaping $20-plus billion fiscal deficit," they stated in the 2010 voter guide. "Our state government is broken. But the politicians would rather stick to their rigid partisan positions and appease the special interests than work together to solve California's problems."
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It should be shocking to no one that the Democratic and Republican powers-that-be aren't exactly fans, as the top-two does what it was designed to do: pull power away from the parties. The primary process has been pulled into the spotlight of national stage in recent weeks, as pundits point to California as a key battleground for the U.S. House of Representatives, with several seats said to be up for grabs that are currently filled by Republicans.
Democrats are saying they could fall victim to "too much enthusiasm" in those races with too many of their own candidates on the ballot, and therefore potentially spreading their votes too thin to win those congressional contests. Of course, the Republicans also don't like the thought of being shut out of statewide contest for the November general election, as could be the case in the governor race with Democrats Gavin Newsom and Antonio Villaraigosa finishing atop a crowded field of candidates.
After all, that's what happened with the California Senate seat vacated by Barbara Boxer, as Kamala Harris held off fellow Democrat Loretta Sanchez in November 2016 without a GOP candidate in sight. And now, at least with the House races, the shoe could be on the other foot with a pair of Republicans possibly emerging from the primary.
It seems the open primary presents problems for both parties. And that's a good thing.
A pox on both their houses, I say, as they're responsible for the sad state of our politics. They're the ones who have turned the political differences of Americans into this "us vs. them" blood sport, basing support for actual ideas largely upon which team came up with the concept.
Compromise is, of course, a dirty word among party loyalists who promise to "primary" centrists out of the way if they dare cross the aisle to actually get things done. Rather than solving problems, after raising and spending the obscene amounts of money to put their candidate in office, they'd rather reserve the right to kick issues down the road and return to the tired old "left vs. right" arguments to rally their base to the polls for the next election cycle.
It's way past time for change in this way of thinking. Both parties regularly provide plenty of reason not to trust their process. Look no further than the 2016 election with the Democratic Party's rigging its system for Hillary Clinton over Bernie Sanders and the Republican Party essentially selling out to ride the tide of Trump supporters into the White House.
Let's hope, as we see with voter registration, that Americans are wising up.
According to Gallup, in 2016, 42 percent of Americans identified as independent, compared with 29 percent who said they are Democrats and 26 percent who say they are Republicans.
In California, as the Mercury News reported, there are now more "no-party preference" voters in the Golden State than registered GOP voters.
"Political Data Inc., which compiles figures from county election offices, reported this week that 4.84 million of California's 19 million voters declared they had no party preference while 4.77 million had registered as Republican at the close of registration for the June 5 primary," the Mercury News reported. "Democratic party registration ticked up to 8.44 million, while voters registering with other parties totaled just under 1 million."
In Nevada County, 36.3 percent of voters were registered as Democrats in advance of Tuesday's primary, with 33.9 percent registering as Republicans. There are 23.3 percent "no party preference" voters registered countywide. In the March 2000 primary election, 50.2 percent of votes cast were by Republicans, while 33.6 percent were Democrats and just 10.1 percent were "nonpartisan" voters.
The trend is shifting away from the "two-party" power structure of our past, as fewer voters are willing to "pick a team," let alone "pull the lever" with straight-ticket voting — an excuse for thinking, or at least actually considering candidates beyond the "D" or "R" that follows their name.
So while the Democrats and Republicans wring their hands over California's top-two primary system, it seems to be actually doing what it was intended to do: putting the power of our vote back with the people instead of party.
Contact Editor Brian Hamilton at firstname.lastname@example.org or 530-477-4249.