Why Open Primaries Is A Vote for the People

Edward Headington
Owner of Headington Media Group and Fox & Hounds Daily Contributor

The truth is often only told in politics once a politician has given up
all hopes of winning the White House or stepped away-voluntarily but
especially involuntarily-from public life.  Pre-2008 John McCain and
then Senate President pro Tem John Burton were notable exceptions but
former San Francisco Mayor and California Assembly Speaker Willie Brown proved this rule recently during a Pat Brown Institute awards acceptance speech:  

"We don’t have people who actually sought elections; went
door-to-door, rang the doorbells, presented their case-made their case,
suggested solutions to problems, and allowed for debate on those
proposed solutions.  What we have are people who are just skilled at
getting elected-they are not skilled at serving."

If there is a reformist Poseidon among us to protect from the beast of
partisanship, then surely his or her three-pronged trident includes
modifying term limits, implementing redistricting reform and voting for
open primaries.  Let us invoke the spirit of that mythological civic
God of Athens at the polls this Tuesday and reshape our body politic.

It is perhaps well to ask just how we go about taking the partisanship
out of an inherently partisan process.  We have a long-established
two-party system set up in the Golden State that seems to work just
fine for the political class-which I long been a part of.  And besides,
wasn’t James Madison talking about "Factions" in Federalist No. 10 at the dawn of our republic?  Is it not in our political nature to organize?

The first problem with this line of thinking is that the binary choice
of voting for only a Democrat or only a Republican is unrealistic in a
digital democracy of the early 21st century.  One need only look at the
American culture we export around the world to come to this quick
realization.  It also ignores two key facts: nonpartisans now represent
20% of the California electorate and these "decline to state" voters
are the "fastest-growing segment."

Could we not paraphrase even a little from legendary New York Mayor
Fiorello LaGuardia and agree there is no one Democratic or Republican
way to fix our state?  Former Governor Gray Davis said it best on The Dylan Ratigan Show last week: "At
the end of the day, you’re elected to do what’s best for the public and
sometimes what’s best for the public is not what your party wants.  The
open primary will put the public interest above the party’s interest."


The second problem with partisan primaries is that it contributes to
Sacramento gridlock.  Primary voters on both sides have a series of
litmus tests each candidate must pass if they are to get the
nomination.  Translation: moderates often do not stand a chance in the
electoral process and the eventual elected official is less apt to
reach across the aisle-even if it benefits the people more than their
own political party.  Important things like passing a balanced budget
on time have become, as Governor Schwarzenegger puts it, Kabuki
Theater-all the while a certain truthiness maintains that the status quo is sustainable.

There is a cynical maxim in politics that dovetails with Brown’s
sentiment above: the only qualification needed for the office you seek
is simply winning.  Truth to tell, passing open primaries will not
solve all of our problems nor fully address the challenges that
incumbency and deep pockets present.  But by allowing the top two
vote-getters to move forward, we would at least get a real debate in
many districts and the chance that our governing bodies would be more
open to bipartisan solutions.  Bear your trident on June 8th and shake
things up.

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