Independent-minded political reform in California is exactly backwards. Reformers rail against the evils of partisanship. But then they pursue reforms like redistricting reform and the top two that weaken political parties. Those parties, with fewer powers and thus fewer members, become smaller. And smaller parties are more dominated by true believers – which is to say they are more partisan.
The reformers’ cure makes the disease – partisanship – worse while creating a new problem – weaker parties. This has left California with the worst of both worlds: all of the problems of partisanship with few of the compensating virtues of parties.
So what if you wanted to curb partisanship?
Make independents – that is, people like me – choose a party.
Force me to choose a party in order to register to vote. Or if that seems too extreme, restore the incentives to register with a party by bringing back partisan primaries for state offices – and institute partisan primaries for local offices as well. Political science suggests that bringing back partisan primaries would give a big boost to turnout and engagement.
Such changes would do two very good things. It would make the parties bigger –and potentially stronger – and California could use stronger parties to encourage engagement. Second, it would make those parties more diverse ideologically – and less partisan.
Many registered independents are partisans in disguise. Those of us who truly are independent – and don’t feel comfortable with the major parties (or the minor ones for that matter) – would find it hard to choose. I’m not sure what I’d do. My social views (and my economic views in these tough times) are much closer to the Democrats than the Republicans. But I believe in two party government and the Republicans need help right now. Plus, I feel a historic pull, as a Californian to the GOP; Republicans established this state at the beginning, and they did most of the building of the California we know. We only had one Democratic governor between 1896 and 1958.
Maybe I could be a Green – they’re the party that takes political reform most seriously. But I’m not all that green environmentally. At the very least, I’d moderate the Greens, too – or any party I joined.
And that’s why expanding parties – not shrinking them – is the way to fight partisanship.