I would like to take back everything bad I ever said about the top two. Heck, I’ll even call it a primary, even though it isn’t.
The results in June’s general…er… first round… er… jungle cluster-thing elections were delicious. For those of us who always knew California politics was a joke, the top two has a wonderful way of revealing, and expanding upon, the joke.
Exhibit 1: David W. Evans, as of late on election night., was holding onto the second spot – and a spot in the November runoff – in the race for state controller. Mr. Evans, previously unknown outside California City (a desert town invented by a Columbia professor), had a web site; an office phone number that when I called it Tuesday night had been disconnected; and no apparent money.
But as of Wednesday morning, he was in an incredibly tight race with two well-known Democrats for the second spot in the top two, raising the possibility that the Democratic party could be kept out of the runoff. How could this possibly happen? You ask
Who cares? I say. That’s the surprise and serendipity of the glorious Top Two!
Exhibit 2: Leland Yee, a state legislator so determined to get things done he had a second career with gangsters and gun-runners, was in third, with nearly 10 percent of the vote in the race for California Secretary of State. Even though he was indicted earlier in the year and dropped out of the race.
Yee was running narrowly ahead of the favorite of most newspaper editorial pages – Dan Schnur, a prominent supporter of the top two. Schnur and I debated the issue – he for the top two, me against – before I realized the error of my ways and became a passionate convert to the top two cause.
After our debate, Schnur wrote in this space [LINK: https://www.foxandhoundsdaily.com/2012/08/a-rebuttal-redistricting-reform-and-top-two-primary/] that I might be “confused.” And speaking of yours truly, he added that “[Joe] and the other skeptics who disparage the reforms that voters have instituted are under-estimating what Californians are capable of.”
And you know what? Dan was right! I totally underestimated what voters were capable of!
Schnur, it should be noted, made his campaign about taking on corruption in Sacramento, noting Yee’s case prominently. Derek Cressman who finished behind Schnur (and Yee), also banged this drum, arguing that the Yee indictment made the case for big change. I guess corruption won a few more votes this round, but there’s always next time. Keep fighting, guys!
And next time, let’s pray, that we still have the top two to keep things so confusing.
Now I admit, I said some harsh things in the past about the top two. About the dismal turnout and totally disengaged electorate back in 2012. But after the dismal turnout and disengaged electorate of 2014, I see I was missing the point. You can’t get results this fun with high turnout and voter engagement.
I’d also like to apologize to all the good government folks out there whom I criticized, saying that they didn’t really know what they were doing with this political reform, that they were trying to enhance the power of rich people, that they would confuse voters and weaken political parties and other groups that give regular people a way into the process. Now I understand how committed they were to give a boost to partisan underdogs like the unknown David Evans and the indicted Leland Yee.
I suspect that in the days ahead, you may hear a few dead-enders – like leading Democrats, the speaker of the Assembly, maybe one or two apostate reformers – grumble about the top two, and suggest that it’s some kind of failed experiment that produces weird and perverse results. But don’t you believe them. Isn’t it clear that this wild and wonderful system perfectly suits our state?
Sing it from the mountaintops, Californians! Top Two Now! Top Two Forever!