I’ll Have the Open Primary on Rye, Please

May 28, 2010

— by ‘tamerlane’

With the entire nation chafing at the two major parties’ stranglehold on American politics, Californians will be given a chance to do something concrete about it.

California’s June 8th primary ballot includes Proposition 14, which would turn all state elections for office into open primaries.  All candidates, regardless of party affiliation, would appear on a single list that every registered voter would pick from.  The top two vote-getters in the primary — again, regardless of party affiliation — would face each other in November.

Proponents of open primaries include around 70% of voters surveyed so far.  The biggest opponents are, unsurprisingly, the Democratic and Republican parties.  The No on 14 effort is being heavily funded by a union that is the state’s #1 campaign contributor.

Prop 14 is designed to broaden voters’ choice.  Those against 14 claim it will actually do the opposite.  That’s implausible, considering the Hobson’s choices we currently face.  As it stands now, incumbents and party insiders dominate the primary slates of both Dems and Gops.  Viable challenges within a party rarely occur, as party dynamics favor the person best at finessing the political machine, or who runs as the “purest” partisan.  In the general election, third party candidates are nearly always unacceptable kooks with fringe philosophies.  Thus is our suffrage  reduced to a Coke vs. Pepsi taste test.  (Or perhaps the better analogy is the buffet at Panda Express: many choices; none that don’t turn your stomach.)

California’s current races exemplify this dynamic.  In the GOP gubernatorial primary, Meg Whitman, Corporate Nazi & all-around nasty crustacean, is running far to the right by painting her opponent, Steve Poizner, as a spendthrift, democrat-light doofus.  Among the Democrats, the only recognizable name, Jerry Brown, is not so much running from the left as from somewhere beyond the Oort Cloud.  But Jerry Brown is the Dem machine in California.  For this true liberal, neither Whitman nor Brown are palatable, but nor are any of the motley crew of third party Vegans, Know-Nothings, Marxists, Randians and Raelians.

Open primaries promise to change all that.  On a ballot offering Brown, Poizner or Whitman, it might be Poizner, currently facing GOP flak for having worked with Democrats in the past, who’d find the broadest appeal.  This true liberal would certainly use his primary vote to block any extremist on either side; in this instance, voting for Poizner to sink Whitman.  And in an open primary, another powerful Democrat or two besides Brown might’ve felt confident to run, further expanding the spectrum of choice.  Come November, neither party’s anointed candidate might appear on the ballot, with Californians choosing between, say, a moderate and a centrist.  (It makes one giddy to imagine Barbara Boxer facing an open primary.)

Make no mistake – open primaries are no miracle cure.  The candidates most likely to prosper will be other Dems and Gops (kind of like how the Yankees and Red Sox have benefited most from the Wild Card.)   Also, voters, for all their complaining, tend to go with the names they know.

Still, even if viable third party candidates might remain rare, an open primary would at least induce both Dems and Gops to offer candidates with broader appeal — and hopefully less corrupt ones, as well.  The need to ride the party machine to get elected would be lessened.   Being a party hack or an extremist would turn overnight from a requirement into a liability.  And that would make for a better political system, and a better government, for us all.

Vote YES on 14.

(c) 2010 by ‘tamerlane.’  All rights reserved.