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Calif. Economy Could Play Bigger Role Than Voting Issues in Secretary of State Race

by Steve Baker, published

In the June 3 nonpartisan, top-two open primary, Californians chose Democrat Alex Padilla (30.2%) and Republican Pete Peterson (29.7%) to advance to the general election in the race for secretary of state. From a glance, both candidates look similar with platforms based on increasing voter participation (only 25.17% during the primary) and increasing transparency in the electoral process.

But, this highly competitive statewide race is attracting widespread attention.

Padilla has a slight edge less than a month ahead of Election Day. A September 9 Field poll shows him in the lead with 43 percent compared to Peterson’s 36 percent, with 21 percent undecided.

The race for California secretary of state features candidates who must not only remain active in pursuing increased voter participation through new technologies, but overcome growing voter apathy -- due, in part, to paralyzing partisanship at the national level. Voters cannot afford to ignore any race in the 2014 election, let alone an office that is responsible for influencing potential voter participation, registration, and business growth within California.

Both candidates have expressed publicly a need for the secretary of state to remain party-neutral in carrying out the duties of the office. Peterson emphasized this point in an interview for IVN:

"I believe the secretary of state’s office should be run in a nonpartisan way, and I have an 8-year professional record in conducting nonpartisan public policy making processes."

Likewise, each candidate plans to implement new technologies to the voter registration process. While Peterson has met with community leaders to develop solutions for low voter turnouts, Padilla has voted to enhance civic education in order to boost participation.

Perhaps the greatest contrast lies in their histories.

Padilla is a veteran public servant with credentials as a California state senator from District 20. He took office in 2010 and before that was a member of the Los Angeles City Council from 1999 to 2006.

As a senator, Padilla promoted reforms such as SB 1101, a 100-day campaign contribution blackout, SB1102, a 24-hour disclosure of campaign contributions, and SB 1104, which requires public access to campaign communications to strengthen the California Political Reform Act.

Peterson was the executive director of Common Sense California and later the Davenport Institute for Public Engagement and Civic Leadership. He has worked with multiple California civic leaders to promote public participation with programs such as "Public Engagement: The Vital Leadership Skill in Difficult Times."

Though he's inexperienced when it comes to public office, his private-sector credentials have been geared toward civic engagement. He has even called the secretary of state position a "dream job" and promises measurable and efficient actions if elected to office.

Thursday Night Debate

A debate on Thursday, October 9, promises an in-depth look at the candidates for this highly contested position. The debate will take place at UC-Berkley and will be moderated by John Myers with a statewide live stream starting at 6:30 p.m. PDT.

Expected topics will most likely cover the responsibilities of the secretary of state tied to recent voter turnout or how each candidate plans on implementing new technologies. Both candidates will use this opportunity to differentiate themselves from their opponent and align non-affiliated voters to their campaign.

For some voters, the race may come down to issues other than voting. Voter attitudes on California’s economy and wealth disparity are likely to play a role.

Peterson's promise to streamline the process required to open a business and strengthen California's economy has been a defining characteristic of his campaign. He has often cited anecdotal complaints by small business owners regarding the current state-managed business environment.

Padilla’s voting record boasts plenty of support for minimum wage increases, corporate tax amendments, restrictions on superstores, and tax incentive amendments. This will most likely gain favor with voters concerned about the growing wealth disparity in the state.

Experience level and party affiliation aside, both candidates are civically-minded, but only one will be the next secretary of state.

Editor's note: The author of the article reached out to Alex Padilla's campaign, but has not yet received a response.

Image: Senator Alex Padilla (left) / Pete Peterson (right)

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