By Kevin Akin
This district is about 55% Democratic, and 30% Republican. The incumbent is retiring. In the first round (the “primary”), the votes are as follows:
Smith (Democratic) 16%
Jones (Democratic) 15%
Wong (Democratic) 9%
Salazar (Democratic) 8%
Goldberg (Democratic) 7%
Williams (Republican) 18%
Nguyen (Republican) 17%
Chagolla (Peace and Freedom) 6%
Schwartz (Libertarian) 4%
Under the present law (assuming that this were a special election to replace a member of the legislature), the runoff ballot would have four nominees. Smith, the Democratic Party nominee, would have a clear edge. Democrats got a total of 55% of the vote, and Republicans got 35%.
If Proposition 14 passes, there will only be two candidates on the general election ballot: Williams and Nguyen, the two well-financed Republicans. The 65% of the voters who chose other candidates will have no one from their parties for whom to vote. They will be unable to vote for an independent candidate who qualifies by petition, because that will be illegal under Proposition 14. They will not even be able to vote for a write-in candidate, because that will also be illegal under Proposition 14. Will this boost voter registration, and increase voter turnout in the general election? Guess again!
Having learned the lessons of Election A, the Democrats in this district unite behind one candidate, Smith, and any other candidates are strongly encouraged to withdraw in Smith’s favor. The Republicans realize that in order to be assured of a place on the general election ballot, they had better have one candidate as well, and Williams (now the incumbent) is the sole Republican. Disgusted at the lack of choice, many voters choose one of the candidates of smaller parties.
Smith (Democratic) 40%
Williams (Republican) 30%
Chagolla (Peace and Freedom) 15%
Schwartz (Libertarian) 10%
Lee (Green) 5%
Instead of five candidates in the general election, voters will have only two: the Democrat and the Republican. After the upsurge of votes for smaller parties in the “primary,” voters will again have only the usual same-old same-old in the general. Will this raise voter participation? Not likely! Proposition 14 will have further shut down our choices, and led to a complete lack of competition even in the Primary.
In another district, which is 49% Republican and 41% Democratic, the incumbent is Franklin, a Republican. He has been photographed asleep during legislative hearings, has failed to vote on important legislation, has been appearing at nightclubs with various women other than his wife, and was accused of accepting bribes (though the charges were dismissed after the two witnesses left the state after cashing large checks from a corporation owned by Franklin’s brother, right after the home of one witness was firebombed). Most Republicans, and most other voters as well, are utterly disgusted by him. As often happens in such cases, there is a long line of people willing to take him on. Many file for the office. One of them, a Republican lawyer named Porter, gets enormous sums from certain land developers and their business associates. The other candidates have moderate to low financing, except for incumbent Franklin, who has accumulated a lot of campaign cash while in office. Note that several of the Democrats, and two who file without a party name, each receive $5,000 donations from a business associate of one of the land developers who supports Porter.
Here is the vote in the first round (the “primary):
Porter (Republican) 21%
Franklin (Republican) 20%
Hurston (Republican) 3%
Doaks (No party name) 5%
Roe (No party name) 4%
Chavez (Democratic) 19%
Wang (Democratic) 10%
Lee (Democratic) 6%
Wilson (Democratic) 2%
Armstrong (Democratic) 2%
Bryan (Democratic) 1%
Zapata (Peace and Freedom) 5%
Sammler (Libertarian) 2%
Had this election been conducted before Proposition 14, the general election would feature Porter, who would have beaten the incumbent in the primary, and Democrat Chavez, Peace and Freedom nominee Zapata, and Libertarian Sammler. It would have been an interesting race.
But with Proposition 14 having been adopted, only two people end up in the general election: the incumbent Franklin, who has been rejected by 80 percent of the voters, and his Republican challenger Porter, who is an obvious lackey of certain developers. That is all. No Democrat. No nominees of smaller parties, no independents who qualify by petition, no write-in candidates, because they are all outlawed by Proposition 14. One thing is certain about the outcome of the general election: a corrupt candidate will win, no matter how many people despise him.
This is the “normal” scenario, with no important scandals, and fairly run-of-the mill candidates.
Owens (incumbent) (Democratic) 45%
Medway (Republican) 30%
Garcia (Republican) 6%
Faroush (Libertarian) 5%
Jessup (Peace and Freedom) 7%
Hartwig (Libertarian) 4%
McCorkle (American Independent) 3%
While some of the smaller party candidates had some interesting things to say, and voters gave them a total of 21% in the “primary,” none of them go on to the general election. Both Owens and Medway have substantial backing from local millionaires, who find them solidly in the camp of the most wealthy Californians, and they go on to a lackluster November campaign that hardly motivates anyone. In fact, since they both are pro-business “moderates” who don’t really differ on the issues, the only campaigning that matters is a little routine mud-slinging. Despite the falloff in voter turnout from previous elections, one of them wins. With no competition, no smaller party candidates to raise issues, no independent candidacy possible, and no write-ins, hardly anything is printed in the papers about the two candidates, and few will even remember who they voted for after the election. Democracy! Isn’t it wonderful?
With seven candidates in the “primary,” and just one big-money candidate among them (the sole Republican), it is a real struggle for the others to get into second place and make the general election. Here is how the vote goes in June:
Evanston (Republican) 43%
Watson (Democrat) 25 %
Emirill (Democrat) 20%
Niemoller (Democrat) 7%
Winston (Democrat) 2%
Atlee (Peace and Freedom) 3%
Stalman (American Independent) 3%
Watson is a progressive Democrat, and he manages to take in thousands of small donations before the primary, mounting a successful race to get into the top two. He seems to have good prospects, on paper, because Democrats took 54% of the vote in the first round. But one of them, Emirill, is a retired lobbyist who is generally regarded as a representative of certain local industrialists. Many of his votes came from “moderate” Republicans and decline-to-state voters, and they will take some persuading to vote for Watson. However, while Republican Evanston has a huge war chest, Watson exhausted all his funds in the primary, in which he has to reach every voter, not just the members of his own party. In fact, Watson comes out of the primary in debt by some $20,000. His first post-primary fundraising is used to pay off part of the debt, and he never catches up as Evanston pays for television and radio commercials, direct mail, and big signs all over town. In the November election, Watson gains only a heartbreaking 47% of the vote, and loses. He had several times as many grassroots activists as Evanston, but Evanston’s money made the difference. Had Watson only needed to reach Democrats in the primary, he would have retained enough money to win the general. This feature of Proposition 14, that each of the “top two” candidates must do a district-wide campaign among all voters twice, will help empower big money.
Make up your own scenarios. All it takes is a little imagination, and some experience in politics. What we know for sure is that if Proposition 14 passes, the role of big money in California elections will become even stronger, real issues will become even less important, and fewer voters will find people in the legislature whom they believe represent them. Presently, most Californians don’t really start paying much attention to politics until shortly before the November election. If Proposition 14 passes, that will be too late. And the primaries will be determined almost entirely by money.
Last revised May 1, 2010