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Open primary propelled by 20-1 fundraising advantage

Opponents of Proposition 14, the open primary initiative on tomorrow's ballot, targeted some mail to California Democrats last week, attempting to get traction against a measure that the polls say has bipartisan support.

The mail piece is decorated with color pictures of Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, former eBay CEO Meg Whitman and state insurance commissioner Steve Poizner. There’s also a disaffected voter holding a TV remote.

“Sick of the deception?” the flyer asks. “Put the mute on corporate special interests.”

Then there’s this punchline: “Under Prop. 14, Democrats could be forced to choose between two Republican candidates during the General Election.”

It’s hypothetically possible that Prop. 14 could someday produce a November run-off between two Republicans – a weird political scenario in which a Steve Poizner and a Meg Whitman of the future would continue battling it out for another five months, while all the Democrats go home. Actually, given the big registration advantage that Democrats enjoy in present-day California, it's not likely to happen soon.

Will the opponents’ mail blitz drive home this point to turn the tide on the measure?

The recent LA Times-USC poll says Prop. 14 is favored by 60 percent of prospective voters, and proponents of the measure have a 20-1 fundraising advantage, records show.

Prop. 14 would replace today’s primary-by-party system with a single primary election open to all voters. The top two vote getters in contests for statewide offices and seats in the state Legislature would be on the ballot in November, irrespective of their political registration.

In fact, the measure would allow candidates to omit their party registration from the ballot entirely, according to the secretary of state’s analysis.

Proponents say the gridlock in Sacramento is exacerbated by doctrinaire partisanship. Moderates can’t get elected because they get wiped out in the primary by more extreme candidates, the argument goes, and so nobody compromises on anything in the Capitol. The open primary will change all that, they say.

Opponents say the measure reduces choice for voters. “Prop. 14 is backed by coporate special interests because it makes it easier to elect corporate Republican candidates like Meg Whitman and Steve Poizner,” as the flyer says.

In all, proponents have spent more than $4.6 million on the measure. It’s being bankrolled by Gov. Schwarzenegger’s political committee ($2 million) and the state Chamber of Commerce ($750,000). Other noteworthy donors include Reed Hastings, CEO of Netflix ($257,000), the state hospital association ($250,000) and the state association of health underwriters ($200,000). Among other donors are Steve Bechtel, former head of the giant construction concern ($10,000), former eBay executive and Democratic candidate for governor Steve Westly ($5,000), and the Jack in the Box hamburger chain ($2,500.)

Opponents have spent less than $250,000. Three public employees' unions have ponied up $50,000 each – the California Teachers Association, the California School Employees Association and the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees. The consumer attorneys put in $46,000.

AARP, the state realtors and the Farm Bureau support the measure, and California’s editorial writers are infatuated with it. Only the libertarian Orange County Register and the leftist San Francisco Bay Guardian are opposed, according to californiachoices.org, which tracks these matters.

Opponents of Prop. 14 don’t agree on many other things.

All the state’s political parties are unanimously against Prop. 14, as are the state’s labor unions. Also opposed are the state Council of Churches, the ACLU, the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association and the National Organization for Women. Finally, the measure is opposed by both Whitman and Poizner, a fact you wouldn’t necessarily infer from the political mail.

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daveschwab's picture
Top Two primaries don't work - at least not like Prop 14's backers claim they do. Top Two has been shown to drastically reduce voter choice and favor incumbents and well-funded candidates even more than the current system. There is zero evidence that Top Two reduces partisan gridlock; in fact, by protecting incumbents, Top Two is more likely to reinforce gridlock. All this is well known to the alliance of political insiders and corporate interests pushing Prop 14. See "The Top Five Reasons for Californians to Reject Top Two Primaries": http://www.greenchange.org/article.php?id=5776

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