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.
The half-dozen will fight tooth and nail. The winner, perhaps the most
conservative of the group, will in November face ... nobody.
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
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
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.