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What about the Blue Dogs?

by Susannah Kopecky, published

The prospect of an open primary in California should send shivers down the spines of millions: a forward-thinking state taking a truly forward-looking step. Sadly, in recent years California has been allowed to fall into a slump, while unrestrained spending and little-to-no oversight, has forced many businesses and individuals to pay the price... literally. With some of the highest taxation rates in the entire country, and a state government going broke, it's hard to swallow the age-old pill that higher taxation equates to strong economies. Come election time, a new idea on the horizon may force politicians to think outside of the box.

The idea of an open primary is in itself rather phenomenal: for California, the proposed open primary amendment would do away with political party nominations. The people would be the nominating powers, not the party itself.

If passed, "The Top Two Candidates Open Primary Act" would award the two highest vote-getters to be the nominees for a major political office. Conventional wisdom tells us that in general, the "middling" candidates have the upper hand. Ideally, at least one of the top two candidates would be expected to move toward the center, to garner the majority of votes. And California, despite its reputation as a haven for out-of-the-box thinkers and extreme left wing politics, can be a surprisingly pragmatic state when the time is right. Conservative Governors Reagan, Dukmejian and Wilson were all products of the Golden State.

For the first time in a long time, the California Republican Party has a chance to truly mobilize and become a rallying force in statewide politics. Gov. Schwarzenegger won the election because of his own efforts and his name recognition, not because of the party. Looking at the past, one can see emerging patterns: the most famous California governors of the last 40 years have been elected after statewide finances waned and irresponsibility reigned supreme.

Suffice it to say, the election of conservative governors has been an answer to free-for-all and excesses.

In good times, however, memories are short-lived and leaders are elected who are not so careful about spending. The state Republican Party can take this opportunity to gain pride in itself and boost interest in their philosophy of governing. Rather than settle for second best, or as the party of reaction, the party should set itself up as a party of action, just different from Democrats.

But there is a specific group of Democrats known for their flexibility on social issues, but more hawkish views on international relations. These Democrats are known as the Blue Dogs, and are a rare breed in today's Washington.

In light of the benefits of the open primary, if a Blue Dog were to be selected to represent California in a federal capacity, there are potential issues. If a Blue Dog were elected as a California senator, with whom would they caucus?

As the federal leadership has known, in the personages of Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid, disagreeing with the majority party is frowned upon. That's politics. But consider the case of Connecticut senator Joe Lieberman. A longtime Democrat, Lieberman was punished for his support of the Iraq War. In his most recent reelection bid, Lieberman's own party refused to nominate him, based on his Blue Dog status. Running as an Independent, Lieberman did triumph, though after his support for Senator John McCain's presidential run, Reid again threatened expulsion, and ultimately stripped him of a position.

If a Blue Dog or liberal Republican is selected to represent California in the Senate, for example, will he or she be allowed to caucus with their fellow party members, or, like Lieberman, will they be shunned? Could the Scoop Jacksons of today even make a dent in the far-left Democratic Party? Even moderate Sam Nunn did not support President Obama's run until well into 2008, while moderate Democratic senator Evan Bayh's stance on the Iraq War was seen as a negative. Rumors flew that Obama would select Bayh as Vice President, after claims of Obama's far left record surfaced, but the moderate Bayh was not selected.

The Top Two Candidates Open Primary Act does not specify that a candidate must list his/her political party: if they do not openly affiliate with one party, who do they work with, and how do they effectively get work done? As delightful as the idea of a true maverick is, mavericks still need friends to fund them and back their ideas.

Another unfortunate fact about politics and political machines is that political parties are excellent fundraisers. If parties are not at all involved in the selection and nomination process, why should they be as effective at fundraising, if they did not approve a candidate? Or if two candidates from the same political party are the two top vote-getters, does that mean that the party must split its funds between the two?

Many questions remain on exactly how to keep the idealism of the primary act, while also assuring candidates of funding without political pressure. If any state can figure out a way, the Golden State can do it.


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