THE BLOG

Politicians and Pandering: How Open Primaries will let voters get past the pandering and into the issues

05/22/2010 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

It's no secret that political insiders are opposed to open primaries. They see the idea as a threat to their power and influence over what happens in the Capitol. That's why it's no surprise to see them ramp up their calculated attacks on the open primary as voters become more aware of the idea. I expect to see more shenanigans by political bosses as Election Day draws near.

There's nothing new about politicians pandering weeks before Californians vote in the June primaries. In fact, it's all part of typical California political strategy. In the early months of each election year, candidates move to the far Left and far Right, vying for the coveted 10 percent hyper-partisan vote that will win them their party's nomination and allow them to move on to the November general election.
We see it every time a primary approaches - Democrats pander to organized labor, promising tax increases to fund more union jobs and government programs, while Republicans scream about taxes and make promises to big business that tie their hands when it comes time to deliver services that are crucial for the people of California.

Take the 2006 gubernatorial election for example. The liberal Democrat candidate, Phil Angelides promised tax increases and new government programs to win over party activist who dominate the vote in the primary so that he could move to the next round. Moderate candidate Steve Westly may have been better suited to run against Arnold Schwarzenegger in the general election but didn't have a chance to get the nod from the Party. It is unlikely Governor Schwarzenegger would have been elected but for the recall, which meant that he didn't face a primary election and therefore wasn't beholden to the extreme fringe of his party.

Routinely Republican lawmakers are coerced to pledge, during the primary campaign, that they will not raise taxes under any circumstance, in order to secure the support of the anti-tax groups, which are essential to finance and win the Republican primary election. In 2008, every GOP lawmaker except one signed the "Taxpayer Protection Pledge" effectively sabotaging budget talks and rendering those lawmakers powerless to reach any compromise that might achieve long-term solutions to benefit Californians.

And what do all the pandering and promises to the extreme wings of both parties during the primaries get Californians? The answer is elected officials who are locked into inflexible, ideological positions making it impossible for them, even before the general election campaign begins, to work towards solutions to get California back on track.

This is how we have ended up with a dysfunctional, extremely partisan Legislature, that can't reach agreement on any significant issues and therefore has an abysmal 11% approval rating.

It's time for change. It's time to elect a body of representatives that is beholden to the people of California and who will work together, not to compromise their principles, but to make principled compromises on behalf of the millions of diverse people who make up California.

An open primary system will give every Californian equal access to the same ballot and will put us on track toward restoring the faith we once had in our elected representatives.

In order to change the partisan, gridlocked culture in the Capitol, we have to change the system.

Opening our primaries to all voters will require our elected representatives to be accountable to their constituents.

Only under an open primary system will Californians ever have an opportunity to hear real debate about issues that matter to them - not just a competition between two candidates that are focused exclusively on appealing to their party's narrowest base. That's not democracy.

On June 8th, Californians will send a message that says "enough is enough" when they vote to approve Proposition 14 and get Sacramento back on track.

Jeannine English is President of AARP California and Co-Chair of Californians for an Open Primary