Neel Kashkari should be the embodiment of what backers of the Top Two (it-is-not-a-primary, don’t call it a primary) promised us.
He is moderate. He is willing to depart from the doctrine of his own party. He presents himself as less partisan. He talks all about working together.
Trouble is, the top two makes it next to impossible for him to get noticed, much less compete.
Because the top two primary doesn’t actually support any of the things – moderation, compromise, anti-partisanship – that it’s supposed to.
It’s a system that discourages parties, and thus discourages the sort of engagement and connection that moderation and compromise require. It empowers ideologues. Kashkari nearly lost to an arch-conservative backbencher with no money, not much of a campaign, and a reputation mainly for carrying a gun through airport security.
By weakening parties and other ties, the top two makes one factor even more important than it already is: money.
If you don’t have money, you can’t compete. Indeed, you need to go through two rounds, without party backing, so money – and the political consultants for campaigns – are even more essential.
And Kashkari, while a wealthy person by normal standards, is a pauper in this new era. He can’t self-fund to the degree that he is known even by a majority of Californians. Wealth or massive fundraising is required. (A note: Political consultants who today criticize opposing candidates for their wealth should be called on their craven hypocrisy, since this consultant-driven system requires such rich candidates).
So we’re left with a campaign that is a non-campaign.
When we approved the top two, we essentially dealt a huge blow to politics and engagement. But most Californians – at least most of that diminishing number Californians who still bother to pay attention to state politics – don’t yet realize it. Even Pete Peterson, a Secretary of State candidate who knows more about civic engagement than any Californian, hasn’t come to his senses on this; he expressed support for the top two in a debate last week in Sacramento, even though the system works against virtually all of his stated goals.
Wake up, California. Or we’ll have more Neel Kashkaris.