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California Elections: Changing the Game

     The Republican Party is in tatters in California because it is on the politically wrong side of three issues: illegal immigration (Meg Whitman’s treatment of her maid struck a chord and helped sink the ticket); abortion (Carly Fiorina would have been the first pro-life state election winner in ages); and environmental protection (the public prefers solar panels to oil drilling and the nation’s toughest air cleanliness laws to manufacturing jobs and modest utility costs.)  That’s the reality. To the rest of the country the sad state of California’s Republicans matters because California reliably provides 55 Democratic electoral college votes, 34 Democratic Representatives, two Democratic Senators, and a big drag on the national economy. What to do, beyond yelling at each other?  

    If you can’t win with reasonably good candidates and plenty of money, perhaps you can change the game. Three wonkish changes are afoot:

    1. Redistricting. (Effective in 2012) In 2008 and 2010 the voters passed propositions that create an independent commission (rather than the legislature) to redraw the boundaries of state legislative and Congressional districts. The hope is that with less gerrymandering to protect incumbents we will get more competitive districts where the candidates will be pushed more to the center and will respond more to the voters and less to special interests such as the public employee unions and the Sierra Club. (For those who need a hero, both initiatives were sponsored by Charles Munger, the Stanford experimental physicist son of the Berkshire Hathaway Vice Chair.)

    2. Open Primaries.(Effective in 2012) In 2010 the voters approved Proposition 14 which makes general elections for Congress, state legislatures, and statewide offices a run-off between the two top vote getters in the primary, regardless of party. In many areas that will mean two Democrats; in some two Republicans. As elections become between liberals and conservatives rather than party standard-bearers all voters become relevant. Even San Francisco’s 20% Republican voters can be enough to sway a primary between ultra-liberal and moderately-liberal Democrats. While the state functionaries of all parties hate it, open primaries will make minority voters relevant.

    3. Ranked Choice Voting. Over the past decade several Bay area cities (San Francisco, Berkeley, Oakland, San Leandro) have adopted “instant runoff” ranked choice voting for non-partisan local offices. Voters pick first, second, and third choice candidates; if no candidate gets a majority the bottom candidate is eliminated and their votes are distributed to those voters’ second choice; the process is repeated up the chain until somebody gets a majority. The cost of a run-off election is avoided, but a new dynamic exists in which candidates can cooperate in an “Anybody but Smith” campaign, as was done in Oakland and San Francisco where well known, well financed machine politicians lost to relative unknowns. This is a wild card which could cut either way, but if it helps a moderate to slip through occasionally it is a step forward.

    California’s traditional system has had both parties nominate their most extreme (and special interest-beholden) candidates with the Democratic extremists beating the Republican extremists in the general election.  Check in in a couple of years to see if anything has changed.

For the entire post see www.RightinSanFrancisco.com.

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