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Prop. 14: For or Against the Establishment?

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Proposition 14, which will replace the current party primary system with a system where the top two winners of either party in the initial primary will go on to compete in the general election, seems likely to pass with strong support from voters annoyed with the political status quo. But will they get what they want from it?


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Our governor and lieutenant governor are both for it; in fact, Lt. Gov. Abel Maldonado is largely responsible for it being on the ballot, as the L.A. Weekly explains:

Last year, state Sen. Abel Maldonado, a moderate Republican from Santa Maria who's now lieutenant governor, created a firestorm by jumping the political aisle to vote for higher taxes and casting the crucial "yes" vote for an overdue state budget backed by the Democrats.

Maldonado exacted a high price from Democrats for agreeing to betray the antitax GOP: He forced Democratic leaders, who have squelched many efforts to bring the open primary system to California, to reluctantly agree to put the question before voters in June. They did, and they are now hotly opposing the measure.

Maldonado and Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger are arguing that Prop. 14 will help bring "reasonable, open-minded, pragmatic" lawmakers to the state capital, where hard-core partisan politics reigns and, Maldonado says, too often causes Democratic and Republican legislators to "do what's right for our party, not what's right for California."

The Weekly goes on to list some of the forces on opposite sides of the Prop 14 debate, and why:

Prop. 14 is backed by the Los Angeles Times and The Sacramento Bee, the California Chamber of Commerce, the California Police Chiefs Association and the California chapter of the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP), among others.....

Opposing Prop. 14 are both Democratic and Republican party leaders, the Green Party, the ACLU of Southern California, the California Labor Federation and the California Teachers Association, among others. These groups think Prop. 14 is an awful idea for a host of reasons.

"It's the political cleansing of candidates," charges Christina Tobin, chair of the "No on 14" campaign. She fears that if voters are allowed to cross party lines during the primary, they'll place candidates on the November ballot who stand for nothing and cater to the middle-of-the-road vote. And she argues that third-party candidates, such as the Libertarian and Green parties, will face nearly impossible obstacles.

George Skelton at he L.A. Times seems to think there's no good reason to oppose risking a tiny number of primary voters defining the shape of the general election, and possibly giving partisans of parties large and small no one to vote for in November: Here's his pro-14 take:

The goal is to force candidates to appeal to a wider range of voters than just the ideologues in their own party. Hopefully some pragmatic moderates would be elected, particularly to the Legislature, which is now polarized by partisanship. At the least, primary voters would be given a wider selection of candidates.

Power would be taken from the party pooh-bahs and given to the public. That's one reason they fear it.

Politicians also complain that in some heavily Democratic or Republican districts, they might be required to run against a fellow party member in November, meaning real competition. That may be inconvenient for them. But it's a better deal for voters, providing them with a more meaningful choice of candidates.

Not obvious why he thinks a choice between two Republicans or two Democrats in November is "more meaningful." The anti-14 website Freeandequal.org gives some reasons voters might not get more real choice via the proposition, as expressed by third party guy Ralph Nader. He says Prop 14:

*Restricts voter choice by making it more difficult for a small or minor party to reach the general election ballot in November

*Unfairly favors the two candidates who secure the most votes when most of the electorate is not engaged or participating in the electoral process

*Stifles debate on a broad range of issues when most of the electorate is participating in the elections because candidates representing alternative platforms are shut out from the November ballot....

*Will operate to favor big money, celebrity or major party insiders, which may reflect why an abundance of commercial interests support Prop 14

*Has historically reduced participation in the general election by non two-party candidates and enshrined incumbents in the two states with similar systems, Louisiana and Washington...

Image taken by Flickr user Mr. Bill. It was used under user Creative Commons license.

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