An interesting story in the New York Times on Saturday suggests that the political climate in California has improved because of election reforms, including a change to the primary system.
The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 2000 in California Democratic Party v. Jones that the state's blanket primary system was an unconstitutional violation of the party's free association rights. The Democratic Party of Hawaii is relying on the court's ruling in its challenge to Hawaii's open primary system.
A blanket primary -- where voters can chose any candidate, regardless of party, and the top vote-getters from each party advance to the general election -- is different from an open primary. In open primaries, voters -- regardless of party affiliation -- can select a political party and must vote for that party's candidates.
California's response to the court ruling, however, was not closed primaries. California's nonpartisan primary system now sends the top two candidates, regardless of party, to the general election. It is highly unlikely that the Democrats behind the lawsuit in Hawaii would see such a primary system as an improvement.
From the Times:
Lawmakers came into office this year representing districts whose lines were drawn by a nonpartisan commission, rather than under the more calculating eye of political leaders. This is the first Legislature chosen under an election system where the top two finishers in a nonpartisan primary run against each other, regardless of party affiliations, an effort to prod candidates to appeal to a wider ideological swath of the electorate.
And California voters approved last year an initiative to ease stringent term limits, which had produced a Statehouse filled with inexperienced legislators looking over the horizon to the next election. Lawmakers can now serve 12 years in either the Assembly or the Senate.