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GOLIS: What if both candidates were Democrats?

Pete Golis


“The people love extremes, sir. You get people riled up with extremes. You can’t have a rally of moderates.”
— Comic Stephen Colbert, in mock interview with California Lt. Gov. Abel Maldonado, the author of Proposition 14.

True or false: Fewer than one in four Sonoma County voters is a Republican.

The answer is, true. According to the April 9 report from the secretary of state, Republicans account for 22.9 percent of the registered voters. There are more than twice as many Democrats, 52.5 percent and almost as many decline-to-state voters, 19.5 percent.

While it may be pleasant to pretend that local legislative races are competitive, if you’re a Republican who wants to win an election here, good luck with that. (In 2008, Democrat Barack Obama outpolled his Republican rival, John McCain, by more than three-to-one.)

It’s been more than 15 years since a Republican won a congressional or legislative election that involved Sonoma County. (Extra points if you named Rep. Frank Riggs of Windsor. He served three non-consecutive terms — and then fled to Arizona.)

One-party domination, however, does not lead to contented voters. It’s a common refrain in each November election: I voted, but I wasn’t happy about my choices.

More often than not, closed primaries leave voters with a choice between a Republican nominee whose views place him to the right of most voters and a liberal Democrat supported primarily by public employees’ groups.

In the vast space between these two party nominees, you find frustrated voters — moderate Democrats, decline-to-state voters, moderate Republicans — all of them weary of the polar ideologies that have crippled state government.

How disillusioned are state voters? The Public Policy Institute of California reported last week that among likely voters, the state Legislature has an approval rating of 11 percent.

This dissatisfaction drives the current campaign for Proposition 14 on the June 8 ballot. In simple terms, this measure decrees that the top two vote getters in the June primary, regardless of party, will run-off in November.

In places like Sonoma County, a new study found last week, that could mean that both candidates are Democrats.

The report by the Center for Governmental Studies focuses on legislative and congressional districts in which one party enjoys a supermajority, defined as an advantage in registration of 25 percent or more.

If you want to know why you don’t see Republicans excited about winning elections in the North Bay, consider this: In the seven legislative and congressional districts that touch Sonoma County, Democrats enjoy supermajorities in five and substantial majorities (defined as a registration advantage of more than 20 percent) in the other two.

Primarily in the Bay Area and Los Angeles, Democrats have supermajorities in 15 of 40 Senate districts, 28 of 80 Assembly districts and 19 of 53 congressional districts.

These one-party districts are the product of partisan redistricting plans, but they also speak to patterns of migration. California is growing its own version of red states and blue states — Republican majorities in the inland counties, Democratic majorities along the coast.

It is in these super-majority districts, the CGS study says, that Proposition 14 would be most likely to produce November elections featuring two candidates from the same party.

If the measure was in force during the 2006 and 2008 elections, the report recounts, candidates from the same party would have been general election opponents in 11 legislative and congressional districts.

What can’t be predicted is how the law might change the political calculus of individual districts.

Over time, the CGS study says, open primaries would tend to move California’s political debate toward the center because candidates could no longer depend on the most conservative Republican voters or the most liberal Democrats to secure a party’s nomination.

It’s no surprise, then, that the interest groups that thrive in the current political environment oppose Proposition 14. When public employees’ unions and the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers’ Association are joined in opposition, we come to the moment in which groups that prefer political combat find common ground.

“(The system is) dysfunctional because the party bosses on both sides want to manipulate everything,” Lt. Gov. Abel Maldonado, the author of Proposition 14, told Stephen Colbert. “We’ve got to end that.” Maldonado, sworn-in as lieutenant governor on Tuesday, turned up on Comedy Central’s “The Colbert Report” on Thursday.

In both parties, the professional politicians want to characterize Proposition 14 as an attack on the two-party system, but most of the wounds are self-inflicted.

More than one in five California voters now refuses to affiliate with any political party. The number of decline-to-state voters has increased by half since 1998.

Whether they are decline-to-state voters or merely disgusted, millions of Californians no longer feel at home in either party.

With the start of absentee balloting only a week away, Proposition 14 asks voters to decide whether their frustration with the political dysfunction in state government trumps their historic loyalties to one party organization or the other.

For now, we live in a state in which people are embarrassed by their government, but incumbents win elections anyway. If you want people to have faith in a democracy, this is no place to be.

Pete Golis is a columnist for The Press Democrat. CLICK HERE to read his blog, Golis Being Golis.

7 Responses to “GOLIS: What if both candidates were Democrats?”

  1. Chris says:

    I completely disagree. It has not been shown that an open primary would have the desired effects on California, this is a ballot measure praying for a hypothetical outcome. In gerrimandered districts, you’re going to actually split the democratic vote, and end up with a REALLY conservative against a democrat anyway.

    I think if Abel Maldonado and the rest of the Republicans are so concerned with bringing the elected officials back towards the middle, they should allow independents and decline to states to vote in their primary. That way the most conservative person doesn’t automatically win, polarizing the general election as well.

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  2. chuck becker says:

    Hmmmmmm, there’s got to be a fly in this ointment. I don’t know what it is, or when I’ll figure it out. But I know that I’ll find a fly eventually. This is, after all, politics, the land of ointment … and flies.

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  3. lisa maldonado says:

    Glad Frank Riggs is now in Arizona where his views about unions and workers being able to participate in the political process are no doubt much more in tune His characterizations of public employees “incessant and irresponsible demands” (for what, a voice and safety at work, decent salary and benefits, retirement?? My god how terrible!?) shows him to be better suited to the (ahem) political environment of Arizona.
    I notice he doesn’t complain about the unreasonable and inccessant demands of ceo’s and businesses like Shell or Chevron to overdevelop,pollute the environment and make obscene amounts of profit while not paying taxes let alone decent wages! No it’s the public unions who are to blame for tanking the California economy! His presciption: another rich greedy republican like “Meg “Goldman Sachs” Whitman. We did our time with a rich greedy Republican Know Nothing , thank you. The current Governor has destroyed enough of the state without giving away the rest of the store to his rich friends like Meg (who couldn’t even be bothered to VOTE but thinks she can run the state.
    Congressman Riggs may earn for the good old days when only business interests could participate in politics but luckily those days are gone. Working people have every right to defend our interests of good jobs, good schools, clean water and air and fair wages. After all we do most of the work and pay most of the taxes!

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  4. Jack says:

    What a surprise to see Frank Riggs on here!!!

    I think its an interesting idea, but I think it would increase geographic sorting which has occurred so much in CA where Dems move to be near more Dems and Reps move to be near Reps (why else did Frank Riggs move to Arizona??, just joking Congressman). Sam Crump, former Sebastopol mayor is running for a congressional seat in AZ now as well – he’s a state Rep down there.

    The geographic sorting would be even more pronounced because what Republican wants to live in an area where Republicans are rarely if ever appearing on the ballot. Do we really want to live in completely politically homogenous areas?

    Its certainly an idea worth considering but it also has its pitfalls at the same time.

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  5. Tom Lynch says:

    Hi Pete,

    Couldn’t agree with you more. My ballot statement follows for the 2nd Senate Race…I too support prop. 14.

    Thank you for your good works,

    Tom Lynch

    Ballot Statement

    We are in the worst economic period since the Great Depression. To prevent further layoffs of teachers, police and public servants, along with the loss of essential services, we need a New Deal. I will work to replace public furloughs with graduated, salary based pay cuts, phase out double dipping and pension spiking and reform massive unfunded pension obligations paid by taxpayers and government employees.

    We need broader levels of engagement, working together openly and honestly solving problems with sustainable solutions. No new taxes without fundamental and significant Sacramento reforms! We need open and transparent government with full disclosure of contracts, salaries, benefits, overtime, hours worked and pensions paid. California must reinvent itself by leveraging resources, including restoring cuts to nonprofits and volunteer organizations. We must put more resources into education and less into incarceration.

    Favor: Term Limits, Open Primary ballot measure. Oppose: AB2113 legislation enabling Counties to impose an income tax. AB155 legislation hamstringing bankruptcy protections for Cities and Counties.

    As a concerned citizen and parent in the Second Senate District for over thirty years, I have demonstrated strong leadership in social justice, protecting the environment, developing jobs, and advocating improved government services. Formerly Sonoma County Economic Development Board, reelected member Russian River Redevelopment Oversight Committee, currently Supervisor Efren Carrillo’s appointee to the Sonoma County Planning Commission. My goals include protecting working families, women’s health services, schools, public safety and our environment and infrastructure with fiscally responsible solutions.

    Join me with your friends toward progressive change. Thank you.

    TomLynchforSenate@gmail.com http://Www.TomLynchforSenate.com

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  6. Frank Riggs says:

    I appreciate the mention by Pete but I think like many of us, his memory has faded a bit with age! I actually served three terms in Congress (’91-’93 and ’95-’99) and twice defeated a Democrat incumbent. Santa Rosa was the heart of the 1st Congressional District in my first term but was removed by the ’92 redistricting (gerrymander by another name).

    One other fact check: I relocated my family from Windsor to Northern Virginia in my second term so that we could have some semblance of family life (and took some political heat for doing so). After completing my service in Congress, my family remained in Northern Virgina so that our son Matt could finish high school.

    It was always my desire and intent to return to the west and it was a good job offer that lured me to Arizona. Eight years later, I’m still considered a “transplant” (like so many other ex-Californians!) but I hardly “fled” to Arizona.

    That all said, Pete’s point is valid but where did he and the P-D editorial board stand on Gov. Schwarzenegger’s effort a few years ago to reform the redistricting process by creating an independent panel to draw competitive legislative districts? If memory serves, it was soundly defeated with the help of the public sector unions who spent many millions advertising against the initiative.

    Those unions know how to play special interest politics with the best of them. They’ve become the core constituency of the Democratic Party and have contributed to California’s budget crisis and economic demise with their incessant and irresponsible demands.

    There’s no question, too, they’ll be providng Jerry Brown with the lion’s share of his financial support. It will be interesting to see whether Pete and the P-D endorse a recycled politican from the 70′s or the Republican candidate who will be able to claim a mandate to genuinely reform California state government as is so desperately needed.

    I can’t vote but I still care about my former home state.

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  7. Kay Russo says:

    Excellent editorial. There are two points here. The first was litigated by the two parties. Do folks who are not registered in a particular party have the right to vote in that party’s primary? I don’t have an an pinion. The second is the inability of a candidate in a minority registration party to win in a partisan race. One reason that’s true is because the party leaders look at the registration numbers and opt out of supporting the candidate and instead support candidates in more competitive districts. I’m so fed up with politics and politicians I no longer vote. After one is elected they are beholden to the lobbyists and their own party leaders. Independent? No! They no longer represent the interests of their districts. They do just enough to get re-elected. There’s not a dimes worth of difference between the two parties because the system works the same for everyone.

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