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Prop. 14 Debate: Good Arguments on Both Sides

Saturday, June 5th, 2010

Calbuzz is of two minds about Proposition 14 on Tuesday’s ballot.

On the one hand, we think anything both major political parties are dead set against must be touching on something important. And we can see how it would be that if candidates had to appeal to voters of all stripes — not just Democrats and Republicans — it’s possible that more centrist, moderate, reasonable legislators might get elected who would be prepared to compromise in Sacramento to get something done, fercrineoutloud.

On the other hand, there’s a pretty sound argument that parties ought to be able to pick their own representatives and that taking away that right cuts parties off at the knees at a time when parties are bringing people into the political process who might otherwise have no clue for whom to vote. We’ve already approved a new, non-partisan system for creating legislative boundaries. Let’s give that a chance to work before trying to fix electoral outcomes by tinkering with the electoral system.

Here are a pair of arguments on Proposition 14, from the great political writer and author Lou Cannon and from Thomas G. Del Beccaro, vice chair of the California Republican Party.

Yes: Candidates Will Have to Appeal to Independents

Saturday, June 5th, 2010

By Lou Cannon
Special to Calbuzz

California’s political system is broken. Hamstrung by unbending partisanship and the requirement of a two-thirds vote to pass a budget or a tax increase, a dysfunctional Legislature has persistently failed to deal with the state’s pressing problems or its debilitating structural deficit.

Reformers have responded with grandiose proposals for change, such as a constitutional convention, which have come to naught. Since the Legislature and the major political parties resist any and all reforms, Californians who want to take back their state have no choice except to make a series of incremental changes through the initiative process.

The first useful step in this process came in 2008, when voters approved Proposition 11, which will take redistricting out of the hands of the legislators and vest it in a citizen’s commission. The new districts will be drawn after this year’s census for the 2012 election. The next step is to pass Proposition 14, opening up elections so that the top two candidates in the primary, regardless of party, would advance to the general election. This provision would apply to most state and federal elective offices but not to presidential primaries.

Proposition 11 and Proposition 14 are best understood as companion pieces. Proposition 11 was needed because legislators protect their careers at the expense of the rest of us by gerrymandering their districts to protect themselves and their parties. The cozy, one-sided districts they created assured that there would be no competition in the general election. This effectively disenfranchised independents (known as “declines-to-state” in California), most of whom do not participate in the primaries. It also tended to drive both major parties to extremes.

Liberals have a disproportionate advantage in the Democratic primaries, conservatives an even more decisive edge in most GOP primaries. Moderates in either party who might appeal to independents in the general election had so little chance in the primaries that most of them chose not to run. As a result, many Democratic officeholders tend to be reflexively liberal—or at least in thrall to the public employee unions who finance them. Many Republicans, on the other hand, are rigid conservatives who stand ready to block even the most reasonable budget if it contains a whiff of a tax hike.

For the past decade, budget compromises have occurred only when a GOP legislator broke with his party on tax issues. The occasional courageous Republican who did so incurred the wrath of his party and often the loss of his job.

Anyone old enough (as I am) to remember the creativity of the California legislature in the mid-20th Century, when it was acclaimed as the best in the nation, can’t help being appalled by the present collection of ideologues and party hacks. Proposition 14 could change this by greatly increasing the number of independent-minded moderates in the candidate pool. Every voter would receive the same ballot, putting independents on an equal footing with party regulars.

Such a ballot might also encourage the parties to forth candidates of broad appeal to assure themselves a spot on the November ballot. There is, of course, no special virtue to being a moderate. On any given issue moderates can be as wrong (or right) as liberals or conservatives. But Proposition 14 would level the playing field. Polls show that some 40 percent of the voters consider themselves to be moderates, and they are conspicuously underrepresented in Sacramento. Proposition 14 is an incremental reform that would give sensible centrists a chance.

Lou Cannon of Santa Barbara is the foremost biographer of Ronald Reagan in the world, and a former political writer for the Washington Post and the San Jose Mercury News.

No: Preserve Voters’ Choices, Boost Participation

Saturday, June 5th, 2010

By Thomas G. Del Beccaro
Special to Calbuzz

Proposition 14 demonstrates the dangers of good intentions.

Although proponents claim it will increase voter participation and bring a new class of politicians to Sacramento, in the two states where Prop. 14’s Top Two format has been tried, incumbency rates have gone up, voter participation has gone down and third party candidates have disappeared.

Under Prop. 14, there is a large open primary in June and then only the top two finishers square off in the fall. There are no write-ins and often just two Democrats or two Republicans on the ballot in the fall.  There are two key problems with the system:

Higher Incumbency Rates. Prop 14’s Top Two system exists in Louisiana and Washington State.  In 35 years in Louisiana, no incumbent lost in the primary until two faced off because of redistricting.  Washington saw only one lose out of 139 races – a higher rate of incumbency than in California.  Plain and simple, Prop. 14 results in more incumbents winning – not a new  class of legislators as the proponents claim.

Prop. 14 favors incumbents because the nature of the mass open primary results in a very expensive primary (candidates have to reach the entire voter spectrum) and then a general election.  Also, candidates cannot put an (R) or a (D) by their name on the ballot.  Combined, such rules favor the rich and famous  – i.e. very often incumbents.

Lower Voter Participation.   Prop. 14 proponents claim it will lead to higher voter participation rates.  That too is fantasy, not fact: Top Two systems lower voter participation.  In Washington, voter participation dropped from 45+% in 2004 (pre-Top Two) to 42+% in 2008 (post Top Two).  What is remarkable about that drop is that 2008 was the Obama election year when Democrat participation was boosted.  Why did it drop?  Because Top Two systems reduce voter choice.

In California, voter choice and participation will drop because (1) studies show that up to 30% of the races will feature two Democrats in the fall election or just two Republicans, and (2) 3rd party participation will plummet  — effectively disenfranchising 4.5% of California voters.  So, in the SF/Bay Area, there will be no Republicans on the ballot for Assembly or Senate – and no Democrats in the Central Valley.  Without a real choice, history shows voters stay home.

In sum, Prop. 14 has worse than failed in Washington and Louisiana.  Why adopt a system we know doesn’t work?  Vote No on 14.

Thomas G. Del Beccaro is vice chair of the California Republican Party, author of The New Conservative Paradigm and publisher of www.politicalvanguard.com

Field Poll: Right-Wingers Helping eMeg Crush Poiz

Friday, June 4th, 2010

The Field Poll released today further demonstrates how Meg Whitman put herself in position to claim the Republican nomination for governor on Tuesday: By making herself more popular than Steve Poizner among the strong conservatives and Tea Party enthusiasts he aggressively courted – key players in the GOP nominating process but marginal, perhaps even detrimental to her in the general election.

Whitman enters the final weekend before Tuesday’s vote with a commanding 51-25% lead over Poizner, according to the non-partisan Field Poll. Poizner has cut Whitman’s lead to 26% compared to 49% in March (63-14%) to. But that’s still a landslide win for Whitman, who will, compared to Poizner, have spent three times the money to win twice the vote.

What may be worrisome for Team eMeg is that in the process of trashing Poizner – and Calbuzz really does not get why Whitman went up at the end with a new shoot-the-lifeboats ad against Poizner – Whitman’s unfavorable rating among Republicans rose 8 percentage points, although she does end the primary campaign with positive marks – 62-24% – at least among the GOP.

Unlike the PPIC poll released last week, the Field Poll did not immediately release all of its data, including the candidates’ favorability ratings across party lines which – as Calbuzz noted the other day – suggest that Whitman is on her way to winning the nomination at the cost of making herself unacceptable to independents, moderates and other swing voters.

Meanwhile, Capitol Weekly and Probolsky Research  released a tracking poll showing Whitman leading Poizner 54-24% and former Hewlett Packard CEO Carly Fiorina leading former Congressman Tom Campbell 40-25% in the GOP contest for U.S. Senate.

Virtually every poll in the last week or so has found that while Poizner may have gotten close to Whitman in the middle of May, he failed to close the gap and she poured enough money into television and other campaign media to pull away from him.

The Field Poll, for example, showed that Poizner drove up Whitman’s negative ratings among Republican voters, from 16% in March to 24% by the end of May. And Poizner even increased his own favorable rating by a whopping 20 points – from 20% in March to 40% by early June.

But Poizner’s unfavorable rating also inched up – to 39% from 34% in March. In other words, of the eight in 10 GOP voters who have any opinion about him, about half view him favorably and half unfavorably. Having one’s own party split 50-50 on whether they even like you, does not a candidate make.

Whitman, meanwhile, has cemented her impression among Republicans and by a 3-1 ratio GOP voters believe she has a better chance of defeating Jerry Brown, the certain Democratic nominee, in November.

Whitman beats Poizner 52-26% among strong conservatives compared to 49-25% among all others and she wins 55-25% among Tea Party identifiers and 48-25% among all others. In other words, Whitman has beaten Poizner at his own game – trying to be the right-wing candidate in the race.

The question now is this: Having established her bona fides with the knuckle-dragging wing of the California Republican Party, can she credibly appeal to the moderates and independents who are the key to statewide elections in California?

The Field Poll surveyed 511 likely voters May 27-June 2, including registered Republicans and non-partisans who had already cast absentee ballots. Because the Field Poll has refused to allow Calbuzz to become a paid subscriber, Calbuzz had to obtain the survey results by other means.

Press Clips: Timm Herdt throws the flag on Das Williams over-the-line move against Susan Jordan in the fiercely fought 35th Assembly District Democratic primary, where Williams’s guy totally doctors a photograph to make Jordan look bad, and then defends it as just another day at the office:

“We took our poetic license with that,” said Josh Pulliam, strategist for the Williams campaign. “It’s a physical manifestation of what she probably looked like at the location.”

OK, so Calbuzz doesn’t exactly have the high ground in complaining about photoshopped images, but seriously, a champagne flute? Next up: Das puts a turban on Susan’s head, a grenade in one hand, an AK-47 in the other and wonders what all the fuss is about.

Michael Rothfeld channels Don Meredith: “Turn out the lights, the party’s over”…Tom Friedman used to be a helluva’ reporter so it’s sad to watch him turn into a parody of himself, as he did in using the first person pronoun 13 times while declaring sovereignty for the nation of Friedlandia in his column on Israel’s Gaza flotilla attack…Best take to date on digging into Jerry Brown’s papers from his first stint as governor comes from SacBee’s  Marje Lundstrom, who teased out a terrific yarn about the political triangle of Jerry, father Pat and erstwhile chief of staff Gray Davis.

Why Newsweek is failing: 3,359 words, 7 bylines and not a single new fact…Why Newsweek is failing II: the insufferable Jon Meacham…Best evidence of why California needs a split roll property tax system comes from part-time Timesman Dan Weintraub…Nifty analysis by Robert Reich, the Barbara Boxer-sized former Secretary of Labor, shows  how America’s great new wave of entrepreneurship is really just a bunch of despairing unemployed Boomers.

Today’s sign the end of civilization is near: Who had a worse week – Kendry Morales or Jim Joyce? You be the judge.

Q&A with Mickey; Babs v Carly; Team Krusty Forming

Thursday, June 3rd, 2010

The best thing about Mickey Kaus’s hopeless bid for the U.S. Senate is that he’s the only candidate we’ve ever met who talks down expectations about his own chances. A contrarian counterintuitive (reverse those words? -ed.) Mr. Crankypants Kaus is a pioneering practitioner of online political journalism who is breaking new ground — the first Californian ever to carry the ballot designation of “blogger.” Seeing a cheap opportunity to squeeze into the footnotes of media history books, Calbuzz asked him five questions about his primary challenge to Barbara Boxer

1. What’s the over-under on your final percentage of the vote in the Dem primary?

My friend Jill Stewart of L.A. Weekly bet a friend dinner that I wouldn’t top 5%. But I don’t want to set expectations that high. I’d say anything over 3% is a startling rebuke of Barbara Boxer’s lockstep Democratic orthodoxy. Every vote for me makes that point. I don’t have to win to win.

2. What’s your beef with public employees getting good benefits and pensions?

I have no beef with good benefits and pensions. But, as Willie Brown said, the deal was always that public employees traded a bit of pay for security. Now they have the security plus more pay than the private sector. Many can retire in their 50s at more than they made working.  We need to restore a balance and not just spend more and more tax money on the same employees while cutting service to the public. Democrats are the party of government–we’re the ones who need to make it work at a price we can afford.

3. As a Senator, what specific steps would you push for the government to “secure the border”? Finish the dang fence?

Yes, I’d build the actual, physical fence–not the failed “virtual” fence promoted by those who opposed a physical fence. Physical fences work. We also need a) wide adoption of a system for verifying the legal status of new hires; b) stiff sanctions against employers who skirt the law; c) a system for tracking visa overstays; d) greater avenues for legal immigration, including immigration from Mexico. And we need to stop talking about amnesty until we’re sure all these things work.

4. It is alleged you believe that the Democratic Party is in the thrall of labor unions. How do you respond?

Guilty as charged. Every reporter I’ve talked to thinks the unions basically own the state party. That’s why we don’t get Obama’s “race-to-the-top” education money — teachers’ unions block reform. It’s why pension costs are threatening to bankrupt us. It’s why we bailed out the UAW without asking much sacrifice, and why the party still pursues the doomed, unpopular, bad idea of letting unions organize a workplace without a secret ballot.

5. You bear a heavy responsibility as the first person in California history to carry the ballot label of “blogger.” Has running for office been everything you dreamed?

I’ll have a better perspective on June 9. The idea was to make a point, not have a great time. It’s been hard work with some big rewards. I’ve been treated fairly, so far, by all sorts of people I was worried would be underhanded. Every time I talk to actual voters, it’s been great — especially voters who argue back. Starting arguments is the idea. I learn every day, even from the annoying ”friends” who say “you’re doing this all wrong.” Mass rallies with thousands cheering … well, they haven’t really happened for anyone, have they? There’s a week left! I’m not peaking too soon.

These two teams just don’t like each other: With Tom Campbell’s campaign apparently collapsing near the finish line, GOP Senate front-runner Carly Fiorina decided to jump start the general election race Tuesday.

Hurricane Carly threw a quick right elbow with the e-blast release of a TV ad attacking Senator Barbara Boxer as soft on terrorism; just 57 minutes later, however, Team Babs hit back with a tough 2,082 word rapid response bashing Fiorina over a host of issues, including one of our personal favorites, Hewlett Packard’s controversial third-party sales to Iran during her tenure as CEO.

Cowardly Fiorina handlers refused to provide details of their purported ad buy, which they claimed was “significant and statewide.” The spot features Carly, full face to the camera, mocking a brief 2007 news clip of Boxer saying that climate change is “one of the very important national security issues we face.”

“Terrorism kills and Barbara Boxer’s worried about the weather?” sez Carly.

Not a bad line, but as Boxer World quickly noted, the CIA last fall set up a center to investigate the interlocking problems of global warming and political instability around the world, a concern sounded publicly by a pack of military, national security and spook types.

“Fiorina obviously isn’t aware that in October 2009, the CIA established a Center for the Study of Climate Change and National Security,” sniffed Boxer, in her tome-sized counter-punch.

Woo hoo! Only 153 days until the election!

Dudley still doomed: As for Campbell, the favored candidate of editorial boards everywhere, we forecast two weeks ago that the combination of Fiorina’s late-breaking move to the wallet, and the host of independent expenditure attacks he was enduring, would position Carly to crack it open down the stretch.

With the new L.A. Times poll showing she apparently has done just that, it looks like Campbell’s chronically anemic fund-raising has now gone on total life support, as he pulled all his final week TV ads and announced his determination to win the campaign with phone calls and email. Good luck with that.

UPDATE 6 AM Thursday: Politico says Campbell is going back on the air with an ad that makes his best argument: That only he among the GOP candidates for Senate, can actually beat Barbara Boxer. We’ll see how much money Dudley has scraped together to make the case on TV. He’d need a few million, at least, we suspect.

United Front for Brown Forming: California Working Families 2010 — the pro-Jerry Brown independent group that already includes the California Professional Firefighters, the State Building and Construction Trades Council of California, SEIU California State Council, the Professional Engineers in California Government — today is expected to announce that they’re being joined by the Democratic Governors Association and its California Accountability Project.

That puts Emily DeRose of the DGA on the field for Brown, along with CAWF’s Roger Salazar. Level the Playing Field, with the likes of Ace Smith and Chris Lehane,  also has been active in the pro-Jerry-anti-Meg universe> But it’s beginning to look like CAWF is the Big Dog.

Of course, we don’t know yet what heaters like the California Teachers Association and California Correctional Peace Officers Association plan to do in the governor’s race. If anything.