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The Non Partisan Primary Deal

by Indy, published

The greatest irony in the deal Sen. Abel Maldonado struck in exchange for a "yes" vote on the state budget: If the nonpartisan primary that's headed for the June 2010 ballot is approved, it would greatly decrease the chances of California ever again going through months of legislative waterboarding.

The deal was done in the wee hours this morning, at the end of a record-setting 45 1/2 hour Senate session that followed a lockdown over Valentine's Day weekend. It came as Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger was ready to shut down hundreds of construction projects worth $5.5 billion and involved 90,000 jobs. It came after he'd told 10,000 state workers they were about to lose their jobs.

The Senate vote was not without drama -- no surprise there, in a week when the Republicans already had ousted Dave Cogdill as minority leader because he backed a budget package that violated the party's no-tax pledge.

This morning, four Democrats initially threatened to vote against the plan because of the nonpartisan primary. Ultimately, they agreed to vote yes, and when Cogdill of Modesto and Roy Ashburn of Bakersfield joined Maldonado of Santa Maria in balking the new Republican leadership, the deal was done.

The Assembly passed the package just as the sun rose, with Republican leader Mike Villines of Clovis, Roger Niello of Sacramento and Anthony Adams of Hesperia providing the three GOP votes, The Los Angeles Times reports.

The details Democrats agreed to, according to The Sacramento Bee:

  • Eliminating a 12-cent-a-gallon gas tax increase, replacing it with a 0.25 income tax hike and more than $600 million in line-item cuts.
  • A proposed constitutional amendment that would ban legislative pay raises in deficit years. That's headed for the ballot in a June special election.
  • Another proposed constitutional amendment that would create an open primary system, with the top two finishers facing off in the general election regardless of their party affiliation. That proposal likely will appear on the June 2010 ballot.

Short-term, the gas-tax compromise was crucial because it got the deal done.

Long-term, the open primary would be the most important change because of its potential to rein in the nasty side of partisanship that's largely been responsible for California's four-month budget drama.

Under the system, as originally proposed by the California Independent Voter Project, the top two vote-getters in June would advance to the November General Election. The system's already used in Washington state, and similar processes are in place in many California cities and its counties as well.

"While it will likely be heavily opposed by political parties and special interest groups," CAIVP Chairman Steve Peace said this morning, "if passed, it will represent a significant victory for voters and for common sense. Partisan gridlock has damaged both our state and our country."

The current system often sends the more politically strident partisans to the November election because the strategic goal in the primary is to collect enough votes among party members to advance. Running in an open primary, though, candidates would have to pass the test among a greater cross-section of voters.

Though the Democratic and Republican parties, of course, disagree, an open primary system usually results in more-moderate candidates running in the general election.

If there's ever a time California and the country could use moderation, it's certainly now.

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