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Schwarzenegger, Khanna: Party Bosses Hate That Nonpartisan Primaries Put Voters First

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Created: 19 June, 2018
Updated: 17 October, 2022
2 min read

Former California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger wrote a joint op-ed with US Rep. Ro Khanna (D-CA) looking at the political parties' hatred of the nonpartisan, top-two open primary in California -- hatred that was on display leading up to the June 5 primary elections.

Schwarzenegger and Khanna say party bosses hate the system so much because it takes control of election out of their hands, and puts it in the hands of voters:

"We’re from different parties, we don’t agree on every issue, and we don’t bench-press the same amount – yet. But when it comes to California’s open primary system, where the two candidates who get the most votes advance to the general election, regardless of their political party, we see eye to eye: That current system, in place since 2012, works best because it puts the voters first.

When California voters came together in 2010 to pass the twin reforms of an independent redistricting commission and top-two open primaries, our state was reeling from the effects of destructive partisanship – stuck with structural deficits, passing budgets months after their deadlines, with few legislators looking for innovative solutions to the real problems our state was facing. A 2005 report from the Pew Charitable Trusts’ Government Performance Project gave California government a C-minus, the lowest grade issued to any state in the nation that year. In 2009, Los Angeles’s then-Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa said California was “ungovernable.” When assembly members Joe Canciamilla, a Democrat, and Keith Richman, a Republican, established a bipartisan working group 15 years ago to discuss solutions for pressing problems facing the state, they were initially forced to meet in secret. Some group members refused to publicly acknowledge their participation in the effort for fear of retribution from party leadership.

Beginning to change that meant taking power away from the political parties, which became, increasingly, artificial gatekeepers, giving an advantage to candidates who campaigned only to their respective party bases and ignoring independents, who are now 25.5 percent of all registered voters in California and the second-largest group of voters in our state.

With open primaries, a better political culture has emerged, with more and more legislators governing for the people they represent, not just special interests and party bosses in proverbial smoke-filled rooms." - Arnold Schwarzenegger and US Rep. Ro Khanna

Read the full op-ed here.

The author of the top-two primary in California, the Independent Voter Project, says the nonpartisan primary reform has accomplished all of the goals they had in mind:

  • "First, every voter should have an equal opportunity to vote for the candidates of their choice, regardless of the voter’s political preferences;
  • Second, elections should be more competitive; and
  • Third, every candidate for elective office should have the same requirements to appear on the ballot."

Open to ways to improve the system, the Independent Voter Project and FairVote announced a joint effort to implement a top-four system with ranked choice voting.

Photo Source: KPCC

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