It will be Democrat vs. Democrat in many California elections if the “open primary” initiative is enacted by voters, a new study says.
The measure, Proposition 14 on the June ballot, is being pushed by Gov. Schwarzenegger as a means of ending partisan bickering and political gridlock in Sacramento.
Flickr photo by Denise Cross
As the theory goes, the Legislature doesn’t address the state’s critical problems because it’s made up of ideologues of the far left and ultra-right who were elected to safe seats in gerrymandered districts.
The measure would ban partisan primaries, allowing voters to cast their ballots for either Democrats or Republicans, in effect, making the primary a mirror of the general election. In the end, more moderate, compromise-oriented lawmakers will win office, advocates say.
The Center for Governmental Studies says the measure’s passage would likely mean that more than 30 percent of the time, general elections in California congressional, state Senate and Assembly races will pit two Democrats against one another. Republican contenders will have been driven out in the primary, the CGS study says. That’s because Democrats have a big registration advantage over Republicans in so many districts in the Golden State.
“Under Prop. 14, voters in many cases will have a choice between two members of the same party – most likely Democrats – in November general elections,” said Bob Stern, president of Los Angeles-based CGS. Registration disparities are so pronounced that redistricting – de-gerrymandering, as it were – won’t have much effect, he said in a statement.
The open primary measure also will drive up campaign spending, the study says. That’s because candidates will have to mount competitive efforts both in the primary and the general election. Today, many candidates get only token opposition in their party’s primary.
The new system will return California’s system of elections to something similar to the one in effect for the first half of the 20th century. Under a system modified in 1954 and finally abolished in 1959, candidates were allowed to “cross file” in the partisan primaries of the day.
A Republican could run in both the GOP and the Democratic primaries, and vice versa, as the late Joseph P. Harris wrote in his 1961 book, “California Politics.” If a candidate managed to win both parties’ primaries, he ran unopposed in the general election.
As Harris wrote, cross-filing allowed the GOP to dominate the state’s politics for decades even though Republican voters were outnumbered by Democrats. The great Earl Warren, the very model of a moderate centrist governor, was a product of the system – a Republican, he routinely also ran in Democratic primaries. But so did one of the most partisan politicians California ever produced – Richard Nixon.
In his congressional and U.S. Senate campaigns, Nixon not only cross-filed, but sought to conceal that he was a Republican from Democrats, signing targeted campaign mail, “Dear Fellow Democrat.”