The 25th Assembly District race right here in Tuolumne and Calaveras counties should be Exhibit A in the Yes on Proposition 14 campaign.
In the Republican primary, six candidates are trying to outflank each other on the right. “Conservative,” “True conservative” and “Reagan conservative,” read the signs.
That’s because, in the highly Republican 25th District, not a single Democrat was willing to be the party’s sacrificial lamb.
So all of Tuolumne County’s voters — including the 34 percent who are Democrats and the 18 percent who are nonpartisan — will mark a ballot that includes only the name of an Assembly candidate who got maybe one-third of the vote in the Republican primary.
Does that sound like democracy to you?
It didn’t to then-State Sen. Abel Maldonado, a moderate Santa Maria Republican who made the news last January by crossing the legislative aisle and joining the Democrats in approving the previously deadlocked budget. Maldonado, now lieutenant governor, made the move on one condition: That the Democrats join with him in putting Proposition 14 on the ballot.
The June 8 measure would overhaul California’s partisan primary system to create an open, or “blanket,” primary.
Instead of each party holding its own primary in June, all candidates for the contested office would appear on a single ballot. Then the top two would square off in a November runoff.
Yes, a Democrat could face another Democrat. Or two GOP candidates might vie.
Maldonado’s motive for putting 14 on the ballot? Getting more moderate, middle-of-the-road lawmakers to Sacramento. Lawmakers, he hopes, that would be better able to work together, compromise and actually accomplish something.
Deadlock and partisan gridlock, in which few members of either major party are willing to budge, is the product of the present system.
Legislative districts are now drawn up by lawmakers themselves, and the party in power calls the shots. In California, that means that well over half the Assembly, State Senate and Congressional districts are predominantly Democratic.
In those districts the real contests are in the primary, where candidates leaning to the party-line left duel. The general elections are often anti-climactic, with the Democratic winner facing either no opposition or token foes.
About a third of the districts, like our own 25th Assembly, are Republican strongholds where the reverse is true.
So how would Proposition 14 change this?
In an open primary, candidates must not only appeal to members of their own party, but to the district’s entire electorate. While Republicans may hold a plurality in the 25th AD, the support of Democrats and independents — collectively about half the voters — would become a key to victory.
The result: more moderate and less doctrinaire candidates. And winners, 14’s backers believe, who are more willing to negotiate and compromise.
The Proposition 14 system would be much like counties have used for decades to choose supervisors, sheriffs and other local office holders. Many would argue that, at least of late, it has produced more responsive and responsible officials.
That both the Democratic and Republican parties are against the proposition is no surprise. Both claim it would strip them of the power to determine how their own nominees are chosen. In a display of cooperation rarely seen in the halls of the Capitol, the two parties joined to overturn a 1996 open-primary law passed by California voters,
While 2010’s Prop. 14 may strip party insiders of clout, it would return power to middle-of-the-road voters, who have been largely disenfranchised by the existing system.
The Union Democrat joins The Los Angeles Times, The San Francisco Chronicle, The San Jose Mercury and The Sacramento Bee in urging a yes vote on Proposition 14.