Over the past few weeks, leading into the California Republican Party’s convention in Orange County this weekend, there have been mailings supporting the argument that the “top two” or “jungle primary” system created by Proposition 14 in 2010 is a good idea.
It is not a good idea – at least not for conservatives. In fact, as the California Republican Party itself predicted when it strongly opposed the passage of Prop 14, it has been a disaster.
Prop. 14 changed the way elections for partisan office are held in California. Prior to its passage, each qualified political party held a primary in June, and the winner of that primary would advance to a general election ballot featuring all of the nominees of each party, as well as independent candidates.
Under the new system all candidates run in June, and the top two vote-getters advance to the general election.
Since Prop. 14’s passage, not a single Republican has been elected to statewide office. Since the passage of Prop. 14, there are fewer Republicans in Congress from California. Since the passage of Prop. 14, there are fewer Republicans in the State Senate. Since the passage of Prop. 14 there are fewer Republicans in the State Assembly.
Now, is Prop. 14 totally responsible for flagging GOP numbers in partisan elected offices? Of course not. But it certainly is not helping the Grand Old Party pick up numbers, as proponents said it would do.
I think it is important for us all to remember how we ended up with Prop.14 in the first place. Back in 2009, a terrible budget deal was brokered by insiders. Then-Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, along with legislative leaders from both political parties, pushed through what was at the time the largest tax increase in the history of California. In order to get the deal done, three Republicans in each chamber had to vote for it. One of the three GOP votes in the Senate, Abel Maldonado, refused to vote for the deal unless the so-called “open primary” measure was placed on the ballot as part of the deal. So a terrible deal was made worse.
Governor Schwarzenegger then championed the ballot measure, raising millions of dollars to pass it. And Maldonado, who campaigned for its passage, was rewarded with an appointment as Lieutenant Governor – but he was rejected by the voters when he ran for election as the appointed incumbent.
Just days after the tax-increase was passed, the state GOP gathered in Sacramento and passed a scathing resolution cutting off party funding to those Republicans who voted for the tax increase.
The delegates to the California Republican Party, when Prop. 14 was on the ballot, voted overwhelmingly to oppose the measure. And for good reason. First and foremost, eliminating the right of every political party to nominate a candidate in June, and have its nominee appear on the general election ballot, has meant that many races have no Republican on the ballot in the general election. The most glaring example was last year’s U.S. Senate race, where voters in November had to choose between then-Attorney General Kamala Harris (D) or then-U.S. Representative Loretta Sanchez (D).
Prop. 14 has also created circumstances in which the general election is a food-fight between two Republicans, bringing an intra-party feud to the general election.
And, of course, the open primary has led to much higher costs to campaign (candidates now have to talk to every voter in June, and again in November). This higher cost for elections has worked out just fine for the Democrats, whose coalition includes very well-funded interests like the California Teachers Association.
In fact, at this weekend’s convention, there is a somewhat quixotic proposal to create a process for the State GOP delegates to have a vote – kind of a straw poll – to potentially endorse candidates in statewide races. But that endorsement would not be binding on anyone, and of course would not limit ballot access to the endorsed Republican candidate alone. It is doubtful as to whether a candidate endorsed by the California Republican Party would have an advantage unless the party spends party resources to help communicate its endorsement to Republican voters. No one thinks that will happen.
Proponents of Prop. 14 also said that its passage would lead to a more moderate California legislature. However, as impossible as it once seemed, the state legislature has become more liberal than ever before! In fact, if you have money, which the liberal interest groups in the state do, Prop. 14 gives you more power, not less.
California Democrats have moved to the left. But on the GOP side, there has not been an offsetting move to the right. On the contrary, it seems like there are more Republicans than ever before who are willing to vote with Democrats for bad public policy, including big tax increases.
There is no better example, of course, than the recent vote to extend the state’s “Cap and Tax” program – the result of which is a GOP patina on a draconian program and an estimated over $25 billion in higher taxes over a decade! Democrats control the legislature now with super-majorities in each chamber. If Prop. 14 was working out poorly for them, they could just vote to place a repeal of it onto the ballot.
The California Republican Party faces many challenges. But Prop. 14 has made the path forward more difficult, not less, for Republicans in the Golden State.
Jon Fleischman is the Politics Editor for Breitbart California. His columns appear regularly on this page. You can follow him on Twitter here.