February 18, 2009 - Dems signal willingness to cut deal on open primaries
Paper: Daily Review, The ( Hayward, CA)
Title: Dems signal willingness to cut deal on open primaries
Date: February 18, 2009
Author: Steven Harmon MediaNews Sacramento Bureau
SACRAMENTO — It all sounds so intriguing. Just sprinkle in an open primary as a sweetener to budget negotiations, and not only would you get the last Republican vote to close a projected $42 billion deficit, but you would ensure that future Legislatures would be composed of more temperate souls who would avoid the partisan bickering and standoffs that have left the state teetering on the brink of insolvency.
That's the theory, but the politics are much more Byzantine.
After initially rejecting Santa Maria Republican Sen. Abel Maldonado's demand to include an open primary measure as part of the budget deal, legislative Democrats on Wednesday were signaling a willingness to consider his demand.
Though both parties have long rejected open primaries, Democrats apparently now see Maldonado's demand as perhaps their last, best chance to get a deal. It would only be a promise to put the issue on the 2010 ballot.
"That's a terrible precedent," said Bob Mulholland, campaign adviser to the state Democrats. "That starts a train wreck. In a few months, when we're dealing with more budget issues, you'll have somebody else holding it hostage to their pet project."
A Republican leader who asked not to be named to avoid getting in the middle of fast-moving negotiations called the possible deal "Machiavellian" and said that open primaries would devastate parties and put elections and campaigns further in the hands of special interest groups. As talks went on into the night, a question that remained was if Assembly Republicans already committed to voting for a tax increase would go along.
"In general, the open primary is a good issue," said Marty Wilson, a GOP political consultant,"But whether it can be negotiated as a part of a budget solution, I wouldn't be very optimistic. I just don't see how a very partisan Legislature on both sides would let something like that go forward."
Democrats already negotiated program cuts, buckled on a spending cap long sought by conservatives, and gave in on tax breaks to multistate and multinational corporations that could cost the state $1.5 billion a year, among other concessions.
They provided millions in tax relief to one lawmaker's district in order to win his vote. Looming are the layoff notices to 20,000 state workers and the shutdown of hundreds of construction projects at a cost of $400 million just to start them up again.
"The advantage is exaggerated," said Bruce Cain, director of UC Berkeley Center in Washington, D.C. "Likely, some moderates would be elected. But would it change the composition of the Legislature? Would it make it a less partisan place? I don't know."
In the current closed primary system, winners of the hyperpartisan primaries rarely face more than token opposition in the general election and coast to victory — leaving many voters stranded and without a true choice, proponents say.
In an open primary, the two top vote getters would face off against each other in the general election, regardless of party. Conceivably, two Democrats could be vying for the vote of all voters in a safe Democratic district, and vice versa in Republican districts.
Either one or both candidates would theoretically adjust his or her campaign to appeal to the cross section of voters — or at least the one that did would stand a better chance of winning.
And voilà! You have a Legislature filled with pragmatic centrists willing to do the state's business, unfettered by party concerns. That's what lawmakers want, right?
Wrong, said Bob Stern, president of the Center for Government Studies. The unstated fear among party officials, he said, is that open primaries would produce lawmakers — those pragmatic centrists — who wouldn't tow the party line.
"Both parties have that fear," Stern said. "It would be difficult to impose party discipline." Even so, more moderates wouldn't necessarily result in more decisive action, Stern said.
"You might get more Correas," Stern said, referring to Orange County Democratic Sen. Lou Correa, who initially resisted voting for a tax increase out of fear of being punished by conservative constituents in his next election. He later committed to voting for it after being promised millions of dollars in property tax relief for schools in his district.
"It could work the other way," he said. "It could mean more timid legislators."
Index Terms: News
Record Number: 11736210
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