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Independent Thoughts on CA's Primary Results

by Jason Olson, published

The San Francisco Chronicle ran this headline across their front page yesterday:

It's a little hard to believe that in April of 2010, I sat in a meeting with their editors and then Lt. Gov. Abel Maldonado to pitch them on endorsing the “Top 2” open primary (Proposition 14). They did and their article today begins, "The potentially dramatic effects of two landmark ballot measures approved by California voters in recent years began to emerge Tuesday with a primary election that could lead to shifts in the state's legislative profile in Sacramento and Washington."

Congratulations again to the voters who supported the Top Two Open Primary and Redistricting Reform measures in past elections. Yesterday's vote showed what removing party control over the elections can do. We had a primary process that was about selecting the best leader to move California forward, rather than who was the best partisan to fight for their party.

Yesterday five independent (“No Party Preference”) candidates running for the California Legislature placed in the “top two” of their respective races and will advance to the general election to face an incumbent. Top Two Open Primary champion Abel Maldonado (R) will also advance.

While the political parties are too entrenched for independents to change the outcome of elections more dramatically then that, we are impacting on the process as the Chronicle headline attests.

In the past, districts that heavily favored one major party over the other would be decided in the dominant party’s primary, making the general election meaningless. This year many of those districts feature races between two candidates of the same party, or against an independent candidate. This ensures that in November, all the candidates will have to work harder for the independent vote.

Take the 15th Congressional District. Over 58% of voters chose a candidate other than Pete Stark (D), a 40-year incumbent and the longest tenured elected official in the state. Stark won by a narrower-then-predicted margin of 42% to 36%. The other 22% (which the Chronicle doesn't spell out) went to an independent candidate who did not advance but, in this new “top two” environment, is clearly holding cards with the power of his endorsement along with the voters who backed him.

I want to send a special congratulations to Abel Maldonado on his win in the 24th Congressional District last night. Abel took on both political parties by putting the open primary on the ballot. We were proud to fight with him for open primaries, and we were proud to endorse him for Congress. Maldonado represents the kind of non-partisan leadership America needs.  We’re excited to bring that message to every independent in his district again in the general election.

I also want to congratulate independent Linda Parks, who IndependentVoice.Org endorsed in the 26th Congressional District and who polled 18.5% of the vote to place third. Democrat Stacey Lawson [D - 26th CD] who we also endorsed, finished 4th in her contest with 10.1% of the vote. We were proud to support them both and look forward to building on those relationships. (link to endorsement press release)

Finally, this was the first election where forces of the independent movement became directly involved in State Legislative and Congressional Races. While our approaches were different, we sought to push the agenda embraced by independent voters: that partisanship has broken our government and the only way forward is fundamental political reform.

While the results were impressive for our first go around, they also show the challenges ahead. If we are to emerge as a “third force” (rather than a third party) in California politics, we must make the long-term investment in building our base at the grassroots.  IndependentVoice.Org and our national organization IndependentVoting.Org remain committed to that goal. I invite all of our partners in this election and those who share in those ideals to join with us.

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