The Non Partisan Primary Deal

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.