As expected, Governor Schwarzenegger today signed the legislation moving California's presidential primary forward to 5 February 2008, a move we at Courage Campaign championed. While this was hardly news, seeing the Austrian imprint makes it all official: California will have a decisive voice in who gets the nominations for president.
The move was not without controversy. Many in the blogosphere and the political soothsaying world determined that moving California's primary from June -- when it could not possibly matter at all -- to February, when it will be in the sights of every contender, would somehow eviscerate the absurd primary schedule that they think is some version of excellence. While I respect the idealists who dream of democratic perfection, we live in the world we have, not the one we wish we had. So now that Californians will have the chance to vote and be counted, what can we expect?
- Candidates will pay attention to California's issues, which are the nation's issues. Already, John McCain, John Edwards and Rudy Giuliani have spent considerable time in California and not just at fundraising events. Edwards was recently in Fresno actually talking and listening to people (just like they do in Iowa). Our issues include education, immigration, port security, the environment, agriculture, access to good jobs and the ability to own a home. It's nice that candidates have to learn about ethanol and pork subsidies in order to pass the local test in Iowa, but I'd like to hear these folks tell us how they'd deal with the diversity of seventh largest economy in the world.
- People will organize at the grassroots to support their candidates, thus increasing turn out and participation. This will build democracy. Already last week, a couple of Obama "Meet Ups" allegedly gathered five hundred people just to plan the candidate's visit for later this month. That energy can be channeled into other issues and ultimately to invigorating the California Democratic Party.
- Our leading politicians are actually courted by the candidates. This may sound cynical, but it's much better bet for California than just having the candidates suck up to the rich folks who can raise millions or write $2,300 checks. When candidates meet with politicians to ask for their support, I can promise you that some transaction occurs. And that's a good thing, because unlike the rich fundraising base that attracts candidates who then flee the state with their wealth, the politicians ask for commitments for specific projects in our state. I'd much rather have a candidate beholden to Mayor Villaraigosa or Speaker Nunez than to the fundraising elite. We elected those folks to high office; they'll extract benefits for our cities and states, not just for their pet causes.
- The absurd nature of the primary season this year that will essentially end in February may force the party pooh bahs to imagine a national primary with regional elections for the next cycle.
I see only good from this move. Our job now is to hold the candidates' feet to the fire. We at Courage Campaign have set up ATM Watch, where you can help us track the candidates and ask them the questions you want them to answer. Let's make the candidates tell us why they deserve our support, not just take the money and run.