Thomas Elias: Tail wags dog again, as election season begins in earnest
There has been a lot of loud talk and hyperbole during the preliminaries to next year’s presidential election. But with the political season now on in earnest, it’s fast becoming clear that for the 11th consecutive presidential election, the tail will be wagging the dog.
It is partly because of laziness and selfishness by California legislators that this state will again have little or no voice in the choosing of either party’s candidate for president or vice president. Yet, the next president’s actions will be crucial for California in areas from oil drilling to abortion to the choice of new Supreme Court justices who will rule for many years on the legality of this state’s ballot initiatives and other laws.
Plus,when the primary season ends, with the nominees chosen, once again California won’t matter. That’s because this state is taken for granted by Democrats and essentially forfeited by Republicans. California has not gone Republican in a presidential election since 1988, when George H.W. Bush succeeded by using his reputation here as Ronald Reagan’s sidekick. Of course, some Californians will have a voice. Those will be the very rich. And they may be heard louder than anyone else, anywhere, or so the most recent official political donation numbers suggest.
As of the last reporting date, the Federal Elections Commission reported, Californians had contributed $12.8 million to the flood of candidates traversing the state during spring and summer. Those California bucks accounted for 16 percent of all donations, compared with New York and Texas at 13 percent each. None of the three states will have a primary that matters, nor will any of them be seriously contested a year from November.
Those numbers, of course, represent only dollars given directly to candidates, not funds raised by supposedly independent political action committees that often end up spending far more than the candidates.
The most popular candidate, by far, among California moneybags has been Hillary Rodham Clinton, former first lady, New York senator and secretary of state. She had pocketed more than $8 million in direct donations, almost two out of every three dollars raised here. That’s still only about one-sixth of her total haul.
Others doing well here included Republican Florida Sen. Marco Rubio and former GOP Texas Gov. Rick Perry, now a dropout, both of whom netted about 22 percent of their funds here.
The many millions raised here have little to do with ordinary Californians or their concerns. But if candidates were forced to campaign here, rather than spending the vast majority of their time in far less populous places like Iowa and New Hampshire, they would have to deal with what matters here. The fact they don’t is the fault of legislators, who fear a very early California primary election because it would force them to alter their schedules, declare for office months earlier than today’s mid-March deadline and begin raising money early. That happened to them several times during the 1990s and 2000s, when California held primaries in February and March. No, the state never voted first; rules of both major parties forbid that. But it did have major influence. In 2008, for example, Clinton’s California win extended her campaign three months longer than it otherwise would have gone.
But California lawmakers couldn’t be bothered this year. They threw in the towel two years ago on making any effort to hold the state’s primary earlier than June. The last time a primary staged that late had any influence was in 1972, when Democrat George McGovern used a California win to snare his party’s nomination. But there were fewer than one-third as many primaries and caucuses then as now, most states’ national convention delegations controlled by party bosses. The latest figures show the three most influential early states are not even among the top 20 in providing money to candidates. Rather, it is largely be California money that funds the efforts by the candidates in those places. So tell your local assembly member or state senator. Only they can fix this, and right now they have no incentive at all to empower their constituents.
Thomas Elias is author. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.
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