Once again, the People Who Know Best are concocting yet another foolish ballot initiative in California. This group in many ways is worse than the Usual Bunch of Crazies or the Well Meaning Underfunded Liberals (or Conservatives, pick one) who are the normal pushers of ill-thought out ideas that might become a (bad) law.
That’s because the People Who Know Best usually get a free pass from the news media to push whatever genius idea they come up with – which is unfortunate since usually the brilliant ideas are worse than what the Usual Bunch of Crazies push at election time.
The measure in question is an attempt to radically alter California’s primary election system. A group of People Who Know Best What’s Right For You, including former Los Angeles Mayor Richard Riordan and State Controller Steve “Boy Wonder” Westly, have come up with the latest solution in search of a problem.
In this case, self-styled “reformers” have decided that you, the California voter, aren’t voting for the right people these days, so in order to make sure you are saved from yourself, they want to eliminate party primaries and replace them with a “Top Two” system. Instead of having one candidate from each party compete in their own primary, then go head to head in the general, we’ll have just the two top voter getters regardless of party affiliation to the general election.
The promise is that we’ll have more “moderate” candidates, who might otherwise not get elected, into the state Assembly, Senate, and other offices, and these like-thinking “moderates” will bring forth a new era of decency and goodwill to office. And I believe there’s a provision somewhere in there about free ice cream for good voters who vote the way they “should,” but I can’t verify that at press time.
It all sounds wonderful – until you take a few moments to think about how patently condescending this type of “reform” really is, and also take note of the abysmal record of self-styled “moderates” and their clumsy political shenanigans that make a race for fourth-grade class president look sophisticated by comparison.
Then you realize that this has nothing to do with real “reform” – it’s about rigging the system so that real debate is squelched, and we don’t address the real reasons we have problems in California – we instead monkey around with the mechanics of elections to get results we can’t get in a fair fight. This kind of tinkering has been tried before, most recently in San Francisco by Supervisor Tom Ammiano, who spent literally years re-writing election laws to benefit his eventual run for Mayor – and we all know how successful that was.
As I’ve stated before people should be offended on general principal that somehow the People Who Know Best would presume to decide what kinds of people should and should not serve in office. It’s at best a Stalinist/Statist view that the government should be in the business of running “fixed” elections (instead of “fair” elections) which ensure that nothing “bad” happens. The loaded terminology in a debate like this alone should tick off any sane or rational voter.
The idea that people in say, Orange County, who might have decided to send a more conservative member to the state Senate or Assembly are somehow the “problem,” and that their choice should be rigged out of existence for the sake of “moderates” (whatever the hell that is!) is patently wrong. Period. Why does everyone have to vote for someone the “moderates” put their stamp of approval on?
If people in a certain area really believe in such a candidate’s platform and elect them in a fair election, that person should serve and the people’s views represented. If said elected official does not do a good job, the people can vote for someone else. Swap out “Orange County” and “conservative” for “Bay Area” and “liberal” and the same argument applies. This is “equal opportunity” interference for good people in all jurisidictions.
A joker like Steve Westly has no business telling anyone what is “right” and “wrong” about anything – he’s a pompous political hack who had to spend millions to barely even win his own election in 2002 – this despite his “moderate” background. Why, oh, why, couldn’t Tom McClintock have won that race and put Westly back in some corporate boardroom where he belongs?
There is a legitimate gripe that many state Legislative districts are drawn to benefit the people who sit in the Legislature at the time they are drawn up. There are in fact many districts where one party has such a lopsided advantage, the “election” in an open seat is decided in the primary of the dominant party – not exactly an open system to be sure. However, the cure for gerrymandering is not this initiative – it’s like saying the cure for, say, colon cancer is to take the flu vaccine – it’s the wrong medicine for the wrong ailment.
There have been proposals to de-politicize this process but none have yet passed constitutional tests. Surely the People Who Know Best could hire some bright and talented folks to do this. It would be boring as hell, and no great headlines with grinning guys like Steve Westly touting them as the next Governor/Savior of California. Ah, well.
One other point – in all the discussion about this initiative, it’s a good bet you won’t read much about the abysmal record of “moderates” and their ability (or more accurately, their total inability) to organize politically in this state. I’ve had first-hand experience with these folks recently, and from what I’ve been told by colleagues in the GOP, some of their self-styled moderates end up doing the same stuff. (If I’m wrong, just tell me, since I haven’t worked on any moderate GOP campaigns in a long time).
Readers will recall that I worked for a “moderate” candidate in the primary election in California’s 21st Assembly District. What I say now are my opinions alone, and not his in any way shape or form – my interpretation of events should not be confused in any way shape or form as comments or opinions of a former client.
Besides, once you start reading you’ll know it’s me, and not a distinguished professor and businessman doing the talking. In other words, if you want to complain to someone, come to me, not him.
“Moderates” had a real chance to back a winning candidate in this race. Polls indicated that he was the frontrunner for several months. Now you’d think that someone who had many prominent endorsements, who was able to block a pre-primary endorsement at the Democratic Convention, and who had real experience leading one of the last non-dysfunctional school districts in the state would get some real hard-core, pull-out-the-stops support from these guys. He didn’t.
To be sure, there were some notable exceptions, and that’s duly noted, but for the most part, I have never worked with such an ineffective, and out of touch bunch of people than these folks. They never seemed to grasp basic concepts, such as campaign deadlines and timelines, which are important when you have a limited number of days to win an election.
Many of the groups and associations who will be supporting this bizarre initiative this fall (as well as many others) did nothing to help out our great candidate, despite all the work on his part to convince them otherwise, as well as the #*&@#! aforementioned polls which showed this to be a sure win.
Frankly, if the People Who Know Better want more “moderates” in office they need to stop tinkering with the elections system and go back to the basics of winning campaigns. That means supporting winners, not sitting idly by and complaining about how your side is having trouble getting folks elected. In other words, participating effectively in a democracy takes some work.
That may mean confronting some ugly truths once in a while, as I’ve done here, but if there’s one thing I’ve learned is that if one keeps doing what they are doing, they keep getting what they’ve got. Right now, they don’t “got” much.
© 2003-2006 Greg Dewar | All Rights Reserved | Originally Published at www.schadelmann.com
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