I served 20 years in the California legislature so I am not without familiarity with the reality of the bubble that politicians live in or the sometimes surrealistic view of the public that is manufactured by political consultants on both sides of the aisle. Secretary of State Alex Padilla is both a friend and a fellow Democrat who I have supported and expect I will continue to support.
However, the most recent statements from his office concerning potential voter confusion in this year's primary election compel me to speak candidly and openly about my disappointment in his office's handling of one of the most important responsibilities of the secretary of state.
His office is certainly not alone in failing to appreciate the significance of California's movement away from partisan elections to a nonpartisan open primary system. Indeed, this was a change resisted by both major political parties and the entire political infrastructure that is the rock bed of their political existence.
In this case, the secretary of state's office was intimately aware of the potential for confusion and the need for a robust voter education program. I know this because I personally discussed the issue with both the secretary himself and his office. In addition, attorneys for the Independent Voter Project (IVP) presented a comprehensive and simple solution to Padilla and his office.
The secretary of state ultimately chose not to support the IVP proposal to simply conduct the presidential election in the same manner as all of the other offices, while still preserving the parties' authority to dictate the terms of their national nominee selection process.
The legislature even considered (and defeated) a resolution that would have simplified this year's primary ballot by encouraging the secretary of state to exercise his authority to conduct an open presidential primary as required by the California Constitution.
The old California semi-closed partisan system still lives in our presidential primary in which the political parties still dictate the rules. As such, the Democratic Party has chosen to allow independents to vote in its primary; Republicans, do not.
Nonpartisan primaries are simple. People vote for anyone they want to vote for regardless of party affiliation. The final decision is always made when the most people vote. It is a voter centric system. The old partisan systems are complex on purpose; the political parties want it that way.
Those of us who believe the current system is broken will continue to fight at the ballot box and in the courts. IVP sued in New Jersey over a closed primary system that averages single digit turnouts. Similar legal action is contemplated in California, where the presidential primary rules are in conflict with our Constitution.
Old habits die hard. I’m an old guy; I get it. But the longer politicians, including my friend Alex, cling to the decaying structures of intense partisan backroom control of elections, the more tumultuous the eventual earthquake will be when change finally comes.
When Bernie Sanders or Donald Trump complain about a system that is rigged “against them” they are wrong. It’s a system rigged against the voters. Prop. 14 shifted that power in the direction of voters for all elections except for president. Secretary Padilla should side with the people and lead the charge to conform the presidential process to the California constitutional requirement for open primaries.
Photo Source: AP