California primary works if you’re a rooted politician


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Governor Gavin Newsom issues a statement to the media shortly after statewide polls close, with early results giving him a clear lead and the Associated Press calling the recall election in his favor, Tuesday, Sept. 14 2021, at California Democratic Party Headquarters in Sacramento.

Governor Gavin Newsom issues a statement to the media shortly after statewide polls close, with early results giving him a clear lead and the Associated Press calling the recall election in his favor, Tuesday, Sept. 14 2021, at California Democratic Party Headquarters in Sacramento.

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Seldom have so few people voted so much for so little as in the last primary elections in California. The state perfects democracy in form rather than substance, cursing the small subset of voters who reliably engage in its elections to a pantomime of often unnecessary participation.

California ostensibly invites voters of all political affiliations to weigh in on a wide range of offices – twice in the case of this year’s bizarre US Senate election – and an even wider range of voting issues. In recent years, the state has added unique, panpartisan primary and universal access to mail-in voting to long-standing democratic innovations such as recalls and initiatives, which have only proliferated since their introduction in the Progressive era. Yet Tuesday’s primary did not embody any of the goals of such reforms.

Even before the vote, California’s last poorly attended “top two” primary promised no contest for its two top jobs, governor and U.S. senator. The results so far point to clashes in the fall between the powerful Democratic incumbents and likely sacrificial Republicans.

Governor Gavin Newsom was attracting more than triple the votes of his closest rival, Republican State Senator Brian Dahle of Lassen County, who has not been vaccinated against COVID, will not recognize the legitimate election of the President Joe Biden and argues that California is not it’s hard sufficient on the homeless. US Senator Alex Padilla, who was elevated to his seat by Newsom, was enjoying an equally lopsided display against Mark Meuser, a Republican lawyer who has filed numerous lawsuits against Newsom’s administration over pandemic precautions. , defended Donald Trump against adult film star Stormy Daniels and lost resoundingly to Padilla before.

The sometimes besieged governor and a senator who owes him his office are therefore both heading for re-election. The same goes for some of their fellow Democrats. They include another Newsom appointee, Secretary of State Shirley Weber and State Treasurer Fiona Ma, who seems to easily endure the consternation that exists over her accommodation costs and the harassment lawsuit of a subordinate.

Even some of the races that seemed more competitive before the primary could end up being less so. Take Ricardo Lara (please). The scandal-scarred insurance commissioner drew a vigorous challenge from fellow Democrat, Congressman Marc Levine, but could get the gift of a Republican punching bag in the fall. With about half the votes counted, Levine trailed Republican Robert Howell, a small Silicon Valley electronics company owner, and narrowly led another Republican, Eternal also led by Greg Conlon.

The open race for controller brought together several veteran Democrats as well as Hoover Institution fellow Lanhee Chen, this year’s standard-bearer for the tireless optimists who are still awaiting the re-emergence of that legendary creature, the sensible and politically viable California Republican. But given that Chen didn’t quite get 40% of the vote last week, he could face the same bleak outlook as other Republicans running statewide in the fall. His most likely opponent is Equalization Board Chairwoman Malia Cohen, the establishment-backed Democrat who leads the rest of the pack. State Sen. Steve Glazer — like Levine, a Bay Area Democrat with a proven ability to challenge his party — trailed in fourth place on Thursday, making a competitive race between Democrats unlikely.

And the election was certainly no match for Sacramento County District Attorney Anne Marie Schubert, a no-party candidate for state attorney general. She failed to become the second statewide candidate to survive a top-two primary without a D or R next to her name. With less than 8% of the vote last week, Schubert was in a tighter race with the Green Party pick than with any of the top contenders. That means Democratic Attorney General Rob Bonta, another Newsom appointee who has yet to be elected to his position, will also have to deal with a Republican who has never been elected to anything.

The first two primaries admirably attempt to solve serious problems in a single-party dominated state, allowing for broader participation and, at least in theory, more competitive general elections than traditional partisan primaries would allow. Finding ways to challenge elected Democrats becomes more urgent as California Republicans waste any chance to do so by failing to reject the neo-fascism of the National Party. The appalling state of the state’s GOP was exemplified by last year’s abuse of an outmoded California reform, the recall, which served to vividly demonstrate the party’s impotence. just nine months ago and helped rush the governor into another term.

But the top two is a crude instrument that largely fails to overcome voters’ partisan reflexes, which are particularly strong when faced with making decisions about the kind of mysteries that occupy the lower portions of California ballots. Additionally, winnowing overcrowded fields to binary contests in a single pass can yield odd results. A crush of majority party candidates can fragment the vote, favoring a minority party with no hope of success in the fall. California’s nearly non-existent hurdles to voter qualification exacerbate the problem, flooding the ballots with unserious candidates.

A combination of reasonable ballot thresholds and runoff requirements could help. Preferential voting, which allows voters to indicate their first, second and next preferences for office, could facilitate a series of “snapshot” ballots based on a single election. This would ensure competition for broad support rather than relatively small pluralities of a splintered electorate.

But fixing the primary — along with California’s callbacks, initiatives and other bizarre misadventures in electoral reform — depends heavily on the Democrats in power. And they are unlikely to be motivated by the irrelevant opposition or the last uninspiring, uncontested election.

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Josh Gohlke is an associate California opinion editor for McClatchy and The Sacramento Bee. He was previously an associate opinion editor for the Philadelphia Inquirer and the San Francisco Chronicle.

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