I missed Republican Assemblyman Jeff Gorell’s Thursday press conference announcing his proposal to make the Secretary of State office a “non-partisan” position, and moving the responsibility for title/summary writing to that office. I was in Soledad that morning training two dozen government officials in how to lead a non-partisan public process.
I met Assemblyman Gorell for the first time a couple weeks ago at a Republican candidates forum in Ventura County where we were both speaking. Since he is one of the few local elected Republicans, I’ve followed his career for several years. We exchanged pleasantries when he entered the ballroom.
On Monday afternoon, as I began to head to the first Secretary of State Candidate’s Forum in Downtown Los Angeles, there it was in my email inbox – a request from Jeff’s staffer: “On behalf of Assemblyman Jeff Gorell, I would like to invite you to a bipartisan press event to announce a constitutional amendment to make the Secretary of State a non-partisan position.”
“I wonder why Jeff never spoke to me about this legislation when I saw him 9 days ago,” I thought to myself. Especially since: a.) I’m a filed Republican candidate for that very office; b.) We’re less than 3 months out from the primary; c.) I have actually written on the subject of partisanship in the secretary of state office, and d.) I have offered my opinion on how we could reform the title/summary writing process. I might have been helpful to him as he wrote the bill.
Google “Jeff Gorell” and “Secretary of State” and you find almost nothing prior to last week, but I know removing party labels from the Secretary of State has been a burning issue for one of the current SoS candidates (Dan Schnur) since…well…December. Dan uses a catchy metaphor about Dodger uniforms and Giants uniforms and how the Secretary of State shouldn’t wear them.
I offer a better analogy below…
I said in these pages over a year ago, there is a world of difference between being identified with a Party and acting as a partisan. For our elected officials, It relates to being transparent with and accountable to voters. Just saying you are “non-partisan” doesn’t mean you are. Voters have a right to know where their candidates stand on issues related to the office they are running for.
This is one of two things on which the current Secretary of State and I agree (the other being the disturbing defunding of ballot security by Legislative Democrats). Debra Bowen has argued that the non-partisan designation, “becomes secret partisanship, not nonpartisan.”
She’s right. Think about it: If, in 2018, the Green Party’s David Curtis runs for the non-partisan Secretary of State, does anyone believe that he won’t act in a partisan way? Further, if we entrust the SoS with title/summary responsibility should voters trust the “non-partisan” David to write the summary for, say, an initiative permitting more fracking in California?
And as for Dan. I hope he’s not trying to confuse voters into drawing a similarity between his “No Party Preference (NPP)” status and “non-partisan”. They’re not the same thing, of course, and as I’ve written, many partisan voters have found a home under the “NPP” tent.
California voters should be very concerned about Secretary of State candidates with histories of partisanship. Voters should check into the backgrounds of each of the candidates to see who has been partisan as it relates to political engagement, and who has experience in engaging the public without a particular political axe to grind. I, for one, look forward to voters holding me accountable for this.
So I propose a more accurate metaphor for Dan to use on the stump: suppose Kobe Bryant retires from a 20+-year career with the Lakers, and in three years is asked to referee a Lakers/Clippers game.
Do you trust him to be non-partisan? After all, he’s not wearing a Lakers’ jersey anymore.
When I considered entering this race over a year ago, I had several friends recommend that I run as a “No Party Preference” candidate, but my response then, and now is that – politically – is not who I am. I know what the Party registration numbers are here in California, but I’ve been a registered Republican for 25 years. And as I’ve written, I’m proud of the Republican heritage of reform and encouraging civic participation. Republicans created and passed the Initiative and Referendum in California.
Republicans have demonstrated over the past 20 years – from Bill Jones to (then Republican) Bruce MacPherson – we make the most productive, and non-partisan secretaries of state. As someone who has worked to bring greater transparency to government, I know it begins with our leaders. Voters – especially for this office – should know where their candidates stand.