“The world is made for people who aren’t cursed with self-awareness.” – Annie Savoy says of Nuke LaLoosh in the film Bull Durham
Nuke Laloosh, the minor league pitcher who lacked such self-awareness, has nothing on California pundits.
Since the Los Angeles mayoral election in early March, the state’s good-government-oriented pundits have been lamenting the low turnout and lack of engagement characterized by the race. Some have offered ideas for fixing it. Mail balloting was a popular suggestion on this site.
What’s funny about these laments is that many of these same pundits have praised the state’s top two as a major political reform that’s giving us better elections.
They seem not to realize that the election system they’ve championed at the state level is the same election system that’s made a farce of LA elections.
That’s right. The LA elections are, like state elections after 2010, a non-partisan top two system. All the candidates, regardless of party, appear on the ballot in the first round of voting. This is mistakenly called a primary – because California reformers and media lack self-awareness about the reforms they’re pushing — even though it’s the opposite of a primary, because the top two abolished primaries because primaries give more power to parties. The first round is actually a general election; the second round is a runoff. Though the more accurate name for this first round, as my California Crackup co-author Mark Paul has suggested, is “the cluster%$!&.”
In LA, that cluster%$!& produced a confusing, wide-open, dispiriting race that didn’t clarify much and was won by the two candidates with the most money. Those candidates moved onto the second round, the bloodbath, which is pretty much all about negative campaigning.
And when this race is not about negative campaigning, it’s about lying. Or to be more polite about it, misrepresentation. Two candidates who pretty much see the world the same way – Eric Garcetti and Wendy Greuel – have to pretend to be things they are not in order to appeal to win over the voters who don’t see the world the same way.
Greuel has responded to this challenge with impressive pandering to every constituent group possible. She’s run as a former Republican pro-business candidate in conservative areas and as a lefty who will protect the public employee unions in liberal areas. The strategy is based on low turnout and on two principles: first, that no one is paying attention and second, that no one in LA will talk to other people in LA about these mixed messages. This may well prove to be a winning strategy.
Garcetti’s strategy has been to, after a lifetime of working for progressive causes, to run as the conservative, pro-business alternative in the race. And to take on the unions that have been among the biggest backers of his political career.
Good luck to the voter who wants to know what these two will do in office. Such a voter doesn’t have a prayer of achieving any real understanding.
To read commentary on this election, you’d think that LA, and this mayor’s race, is some sort of aberration. It’s not. This is the sort of election that Californians have designed for themselves, in the name of reform. When you look at the LA race, you’re looking at your future.