California weighs ballot-reform initiative

May 31, 2010


SACRAMENTO, Calif. | Take that, political parties.

In what could be another blow to the political status quo, Californians will vote June 8 on a ballot initiative that would scrap the primary system for state and congressional elections. Instead, voters could cast ballots for any candidate regardless of party affiliation, with the top two vote-getters advancing to the general election.

The result could be two candidates from the same party or two well-funded candidates.

Proponents of Proposition 14, such as Republican Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and Lt. Gov. Abel Maldonado, argue that the change would benefit moderates, who often stumble in primaries where party activists have an oversized say in the outcome.

“When there’s an open primary, a top two, you better have three qualities: be open-minded, be reasonable and be pragmatic, because now you have to connect with all the voters,” said Mr. Maldonado, a former Republican lawmaker and rancher.

Understandably, the political parties oppose the idea, fearing a loss in clout. That’s created an odd alliance in which Republicans and Democrats have joined to try to defeat the measure. The parties argue that if their organizations are marginalized, special interests will fill the void.

“Political parties are important for three key reasons: They are broad-based, democratically governed and transparent,” said Ron Nehring, chairman of the state Republican Party. “You cannot say the same of special-interest groups.”

An anti-incumbent, anti-Washington sentiment has prevailed this election year, with several “tea party”-backed candidates knocking off those tapped by the political establishment. The California ballot initiative reflects the frustration with partisanship and the political system.

Mr. Maldonado is considered a moderate for his occasional willingness to work with Democrats, a quality that makes him vulnerable in GOP primaries. He drew the wrath of fellow Republicans last year when, as a state senator, he agreed to vote for nearly $13 billion in tax increases if lawmakers and the governor put Proposition 14 on the ballot.

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