Nonpartisan Primaries and Redistricting Are Reshaping California Policy

Recently the federal government has been the focal point of the country as partisan fighting and gridlock have ruled the day. An inability to find compromise has resulted in a government shutdown and lots of negative commentary throughout the country.

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If this sounds like a familiar story, it is. California spent much of the last decade facing budget gridlocks, partisan bickering, and severe budget cuts and shortfalls. However, recent news reports around the country have been talking about the comeback kid also known as the State of California.

Under the leadership of Governor Jerry Brown and a legislature controlled by a supermajority of Democrats, California is managing to pass legislation on highly controversial subjects. But what’s the surprise? The legislation has been highly moderate and signed with the support of both parties. California has also produced an on-time budget and is experiencing an economic recovery that some claim is leading the country out of the recession.

What is the cause of this unexpected turnaround? Before last election cycle, California conducted an independent redistricting of its districts. Some say it was a big success, some say it is the entire process was really controlled by Democrats. California also conducted its first elections under the nonpartisan “Top-Two” primary act, which changed the purpose for which primaries are conducted. Traditional primaries are designed to elect party nominees. Nonpartisan primaries are designed to narrow the field of candidates, regardless of party affiliation.

Nonpartisan Top-Two Primaries v. Partisan Primary Systems

Learn More About Primaries

The following excerpts are from a series of interviews in which respondents were asked if elections reforms such as the Top-Two Nonpartisan Primary and the Citizens Commission on Redistricting has had an impact on the way legislators approach policy at the State Capitol:

 

SENATOR TOM BERRYHILL, 14th SENATE DISTRICT

“It has made a much quicker impact than I thought it would. I’m very encouraged as I thought it would take longer to bring the sides together but I have seen an immediate impact and it’s very encouraging.”

DR. NATHAN MONROE, PROFESSOR OF POLITICAL SCIENCE, UNIVERSITY OF CALIFORNIA MERCED

As districts are drawn in a less partisan manner in combination with the top two primary system we are going to see candidates moderate their message as they look to appeal to voters in the center.”

ASSEMBLYMEMBER ADAM GRAY, 21st ASSEMBLY DISTRICT

“Yes I do. I think a striking example of this occurred this past year with a bill I co-authored SB 4. This legislation dealt with the regulation of a highly controversial oil drilling technique called Hydraulic Fracturing. We were able to pass this important piece of legislation with a supermajority vote of both houses that included the support of both Democrats and Republicans. It is a very encouraging sign that we could work together on such a divisive issue.”

SENATOR ANTHONY CANNELLA, 12th SENATE DISTRICT

“Ultimately, when we are just focused on partisan politics it forces the candidates to run to their respective right or left. I think most the population is roughly in the middle. A non-partisan primary so to speak forces people to talk about the issues everybody cares about.”

JACK COX, PRESIDENT, COMMUNICATIONS INSTITUTE

“We need politicians to come together and sit down…and talk about issues together in a neutral environment. We need a political environment where people leave their political guns at the door and start serving the public.”

ASSEMBLYMEMBER HENRY PEREA, 31st ASSEMBLY DISTRICT

“I think they’ve had a positive impact. I think what they’ve done is really forced candidates from both parties to really moderate their views and understand that there is a broader audience. This creates a broader constituency that they need to talk to during their campaigns versus a very narrow constituency like we have seen in the past. It’s had a positive affect because it’s moderated views and it’s moderated politics. I think we saw that for the first time this year when we had more moderates from both parties elected which allowed us to make progress on important issues facing the state.”

Cadee Interviews California Legislators

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