Policy, Not Election Reform, Determined Outcome of Major Bills

Joel Fox
Editor and Co-Publisher of Fox and Hounds Daily

On Friday, fellow F&H columnist Joe Mathews blamed the failure of climate change and tax bills to pass out of the legislature on the top two primary system in California. Sorry, Joe, it was the policy not the election reform that sank these measures.

Mathews argues that the top two primary created the need for more money for candidates to be noticed when the entire field of contenders for the same office are listed together on the ballot. That leads to candidates being susceptible to money spent for or against bills coming from the same supporters who backed the candidates, Joe contends.

Looking out for constituents had more to do with the stands taken by the moderate Democrats who pushed back on the climate change bills or the Republicans who said no to taxes for roads.

Californians already pay more for their gasoline than the rest of the continental U.S. –currently on average 36-percent more. Reducing petroleum and driving up costs likely would have an immediate impact on lower and middle income Californians and hurt small businesses. Moderate Democrats elected under the top two system recognized that.

A similar argument was made about a gas tax hike hitting low income drivers at a time of budget surpluses and the call for reforms to spend more current dollars on transportation.

These are all legitimate policy arguments. While there is no denying that the desire to get re-elected and money to run campaigns is a major concern of politicians, negative impacts of policy decisions on voters have as much to do with election outcomes as money in the system does.

Joe asserts that the theory behind the top two primary system is to make legislators bolder. I think that misses the mark. The theory is to make the legislators more thoughtful and more responsive to all their constituents, not to the interests that heavily influence the direction of the parties.

Despite Joe’s assertion to the contrary, I suspect that supporters of the top two primary, whether they backed the bills that were altered or not, think the new election system shows promise.

What we are seeing is a new power base emerging in Sacramento: The Rise of the Mod Dems.

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