Political Radar


October 20th, 2013

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.

3 Responses to “Primarily”

  1. Bart Dame:

    A couple of points. First, Hawaii's Reapportion process is much less partisan than those in most states. Indeed, Hawaii bi-partisan commission has been held up as a model for other states, whose redistricting processes are directly controlled by their state's legislature. I am not familiar with California's "nonpartisan" commission. But the Hawaii BI-partisan commission ensures the two political parties serve as a check on the excessive partisanship of each other. As we saw this last time, the one faction NOT represented on the commission, the so-called House Dissidents, ended up receiving the least favorable re-apportionment results. Nevertheless, they managed to win re-election in each case.

    Secondly, it is not apparent that the California blanket primary system produced more "moderate" legislators than the previous, closed primary system. I know these goes contrary to commonly held assumptions, but that's why we have the social sciences, to prevent our unexamined assumptions from leading us astray.

    My friends Google found this regarding the effect of "open" versus "closed" primaries on the voting behavior of members of the US Congress:

    "[A study by] Hirano, Snyder, Jr., Ansolabehere, and Hansen (2010) analyzes more than sixteen
    thousand House elections from 1932 to 2006 and finds little evidence that members of Congress
    subject to primary elections vote more extreme than members not subject to primaries."

    I know the strongest support for the Hawaii Democratic Party's lawsuit comes from party activists who believe a closed primary will result in the nomination of candidates more in tune with the platform of the Democratic Party. That is, more "liberal" than some of the current crop. While I agree political parties, including the often forgotten Libertarian and Green parties, DO have a right to exclude non-members and people actively hostile to their party from participation in picking their party's nominees, I respectfully suggest the lawsuit advocates have grabbed onto a "solution" very unlikely to produce the results they seek. There is no "shortcut" to electing good candidates. We still have to do the hard work of organizing, fundraising, canvassing, educating and convincing our neighbors to elect our favored candidates. The closed primary is a false panacea. So, for that matter, is the temptation to use the Party Rules to FORCE Democratic elected officials to vote consistent with the platform. Another shortcut sought by lazy people.

    The factors which cause Democratic legislators to vote at odds with the Party platform are many, starting off with the fact they are more accountable to their constituents in their district, the interests of their campaign contributors, the approval of newspaper editors and would-be pundits and targeting by organized special interests. One elected official told me he regarded the Democratic Party as about as significant as the Lion's Club and maybe less influential than the Rotarians.

    But it is not just the Democratic Party activists who have an exaggerated sense of the likely effect of a closed primary. So too do the newspaper editors and Guardians of Responsible, Conventional Opinion. Ian Lind has argued the "solution" proposed by former Oahu County DP Chair Tony Gill, now serving as the Party's attorney in the lawsuit, will have minimal impact on primary election results. Gill's position that the Party is willing to settle for just getting the names of those who vote in the Democratic primary, weakens the basis for his claim the Party's constitutional right to associate with likeminded people if relief is not granted. In essence, Gill is saying, "We are willing to allow people hostile to the Party to help pick our nominees, but we just want their names." A not unreasonable or extreme demand. But not consistent with the passionate defense of the right to political self-determination which stirs the hearts of party activists, as well as the fears of the lawsuits opponents.

  2. Bart Dame:

    It is also worth noting the NYT article uses agreement with the legislative agenda of the Chamber of Commerce as their benchmark for assessing "moderation." The initiative in California which pushed through the current, non-partisan blanket primary system was heavily financed by corporate interests like the Chamber.

    Some of us may have other criteria for judging "moderation" and view the demands of the Chamber of Commerce as "immoderate." For example, they deny climate change:

    "...of the $32,000,000 the Chamber spent on the 2010 midterm elections, 94% went to climate change deniers."

  3. Especially Incognito:

    Exact words from google.

    Trivia. Petty assumptions.

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