Legal challenge puts open primary initiative in jeopardy

The California School Employees Association has filed a lawsuit to amend Proposition 14’s language, and legislators, who voted for the initiative last year as part of a budget compromise, have directed their attorneys not to fight the legal challenge.  If the lawsuit is successful, critical elements of the Top Two Open Primary initiative will be stripped.  Proponents of the open primary measure are incensed and vow to mount a robust legal and public relations campaign.

The California School Employees Association, which is a major donor to the Democratic-controlled legislature, denies claims that it made a backroom deal with legislators.  Dave Low, the lobbyist representing the school union, stated, “They are trying to make a connection that doesn’t exist.”  Instead, Low argued that legislative attorneys, who have sided with the union, have agreed to change the initiative’s language because it is “untrue” and “biased” in its current form.

Californians for an Open Primary, which includes AARP, the California Chamber of Commerce, and the California Business Roundtable has accused Democrats of using the school union to undermine the ballot initiative.  “They don’t want it to pass,” said Steve Merksamer, an attorney from Californians for an Open Primary.  “This measure goes to the heart of changing the system and changing their dominance.” 

Governor Schwarzenegger, a staunch proponent of the open primary initiative, will attempt to thwart the lawsuit.  His spokesman, Matt David, said the deal reflects “Sacramento’s dysfunction and why Californians have lost faith in its ability to solve problems.  The governor will intervene in this case to fight for the reform that Californians overwhelmingly want.”

Nathan Barankin, spokesman for state Senate leader Darrell Steinberg, scoffed at suggestions that Democrats had plotted to undermine the measure, calling them “bogus”.

Stay tuned to the latest developments as Proposition 14 hangs in the balance.