News item: Pete Peterson, the Republican candidate for California Secretary of State, has 30 percent support, and a big lead, in a new Field Poll.
Reaction: As readers of this site know, I’m a big fan of Pete and his work on civic engagement in local communities around California. He’d make a terrific Secretary of State, and would transform the office in important ways.
But that’s not why Peterson has that level of support in the polls. Those surveys reflect one fact: Peterson is a Republican.
Party identification – and yes, partisanship – remain strong forces, despite a century of efforts by self-styled California reformers to wipe them out. We may say we vote for the person, but we are, profoundly, party animals.
It’s time for a brand new approach to reform that harnesses the power of party ID and partisanship – instead of fighting against it. Indeed, the fight against partisanship is doing serious damage to our politics.
One of the great ironies is that supporters of the top-two election system and similar reforms have been loudest in railing against money in politics and calling for limits on campaign fundraising. The top-two system, and other efforts to weaken parties, have brought much more money into the process. Fundraising is way up in California elections since the switch to top two. If you really wanted to limit fundraising and its corrupting effects, the best thing we could do would be to eliminate the top two.
Peterson’s own campaign is an example of the healthy, equalizing power of that party identification. His fundraising has been weak, and his campaign appears to have less cash than most journalists I know. But because he’s a Republican, he’s doing better than a No Party Preference candidate, Dan Schnur, who is raising big bucks.
Peterson’s case is a reminder of a hard fact. Parties and party ID are not part of the problem of money in politics — they are an answer to it, a great equalizer against those who would seek to buy power and elections.