THE BLOG
06/07/2010 02:27 pm ET Updated May 25, 2011

How I Learned to Start Worrying and Vote for Open Primaries

Two of the most prophetic statements
made in presidential farewells are Washington's warning about foreign
entanglements and
Eisenhower's
cautionary note
about the
military-industrial complex.  Evidence of the last half century
suggests--and in particular the last administration--they go hand-in-hand,
especially with the rise of Big Poli, that amalgamation of consultants,
candidates and cantered to interests that decide how elections are held
(and often won) in America.  Perhaps Ike's admonition should
be updated then to read "In the councils of government, we
must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether
sought or unsought, by the political-industrial complex.

Partisan primaries are the key and California has a chance to fight
off Big Poli with Open Primaries this Tuesday.
 

Proposition 14 is the Open Primaries
initiative on the June 8th ballot that would change the way
we vote for our elected representatives.  Some
smart people
I like
may call it outlandish
but our primaries would go from a closed partisan system to an open
nonpartisan one where Californians would vote for their top two choices--regardless
of party affiliation.  This also arrives at a time in our history
where the fastest growing "political party" in California is that of nonpartisans,
aka "Decline to State" voters. They represent 20% of the voting public.
 

Critics are worried about competition
and debate being stifled and voters supposedly being deprived of a "full
range of candidate choices."  This is a straw man that hides the real worry: the
possibility of electing more moderates who do not owe their allegiance
to the extreme elements of their party.  Big Poli and our political-industrial
complex (terms originally coined by California policy entrepreneur and
reThinkCali creator Anthony Rubenstein) rely on partisan primaries because
of the gridlock it engenders and loyalty it demands.  Gridlock
from the hyper-partisanship endemic in today's Sacramento equals more
consultants to manipulate public opinion.  Candidates know they
must pass litmus tests to become their party's standard-bearer. 
They also know that should they move away from such absolute positions,
they face recall (e.g.
Republican
state Senator Jeff Denham
)
or punishment (e.g.
former
Democratic Assemblymember Joe Canciamilla and his
"Mod Squad"
). 

The goal of Open Primaries, as George Skelton aptly puts it, is "to force candidates
to appeal to a wider range of voters than just the ideologues in their
own party
."  Even if you tend to support candidates from
your own party, how can you argue against that? Is that not part of
our DNA as Americans? When did the party's interest take become more
important than the people's interest?  Some party mandarins lament
two Republicans or two Democrats having to run against each other in
the general election.  First off, how is that any different than
the current partisan primaries?  But more importantly, when did
we become so afraid of our elections being about ideas rather than the
candidate's (D) or (R) next to his or her name?  Arguments have
also been made that open primaries would reduce the number of choices
available and decimate the chances of write-in and independent candidates. 
Really?  Please tell me how those chances are anything better than
the slim-to-none under the status quo? 
 

There are overstated concerns of a "less
representative" voting public and that wealthy candidates and incumbents
will have an unfair advantage under this "top two" system.  
But current policy
already hugely favors incumbency and deep-pocketed candidates--to say
nothing of the king-making opportunities that come to our high-propensity
voters.  It might take some time to get more folks to participate
in primaries but that is hardly an argument for why a less partisan
approach should be shelved.  Perhaps it is best to remind ourselves
of the Serenity Prayer: let us accept the things we cannot change and
have the courage to change the ones we can.
 

Some have opined that because it has
not worked elsewhere, we should not even try.  Such defeatism goes
against the can-do spirit of the Golden State. It ignores the possibility
that even a few more pragmatic lawmakers can have a big impact--especially
on matters like passing the state budget.  What is more, when taken
with redistricting reform and modifying term limits, there is even more
opportunity to have a more bipartisan, get-things-done legislature.
 

Candidates will still have every right
to list their party affiliation and all aspirants will be on the ballot;
only the two top vote-getters would move forward.  The two-party
system may be ingrained in our campaign consciousness, but it does not
have to be enshrined in our election process.  There should be
no political heresy for simply voting for the best candidate regardless
of party.  Besides, how many of you have been told to vote for
your party's nominee just because of affiliation, not on the power
of their ideas and arguments?  Maybe the phrasing should be "open
primaries might reduce the number of partisan choices," because political
parties will lose part of their ability to dictate the outcome and then
hold them accountable to extreme positions.
 

For over a century and a half, California
has been an experiment--an idea that continues to evolve and entangle
us from time to time.  But our political-industrial complex wants us to believe
that partisan primaries are the only reality before us.  We need
to see the full matrix
of what is possible.  Vote for Proposition 14 this Tuesday.