California Needs a Party That Stands for Common Sense
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The Common Sense Party, a new political party being formed in California, stands for fiscal responsibility, social inclusivity and pragmatic decision-making.
The party has no checklist of positions to which adherence is demanded. Instead, a candidate must show that she or he makes decisions on the facts, not prejudice. People of good faith who disagree on any point can receive support of the Common Sense Party.
Best answers are often in the middle, and better answers are always to be found when differing viewpoints are encouraged. This is the positive vision we have for a new party.
By contrast, the two major parties in California have gone to their extremes. The Democratic Party holds more than two-thirds of both the California Assembly and the State Senate. That gives them the power to raise taxes and to put state constitutional amendments on the ballot without having to obtain a single voter’s signature.
The Republicans in the Legislature used to exercise some check on the dominant party; but having fallen below one-third, they are now irrelevant. Republican Party leaders have only themselves to blame for this. Over the last 10 years, Republican registration has dropped from 31 percent to 23 percent in our state.
Republican leaders have insisted on orthodox adherence to the stands of the national Republican Party, which itself has shifted sharply to the social right and has abandoned its previous record of fiscal responsibility. This was true before President Trump, but the trend has accelerated under him.
Unchecked by another political force, the leaders of the California Democratic Party have lurched dramatically to the left. They have attacked the gig economy (not just Uber and Lyft drivers, but translators, newspaper and goods delivery drivers and free-lance professionals of every kind) in service to the unions who reliably provide Democrats with money and votes.
They have put a measure on the ballot to allow taxes to rise on inherited residential property above a certain value. They have increased gasoline taxes relentlessly. Like the Republicans, the Democrats have insisted on orthodoxy. For instance, a Democrat who even asks whether the harm from keeping children out of school due to COVID-19 might outweigh the risk of virus spread is ostracized from this increasingly dogmatic party. Democratic candidates must embrace a package of positions — in its entirety.
Most Californians are dismayed by the two major parties’ movement to their extremes. The Public Policy Institute of California reports that 55 percent of adult Californians believe a third party is needed in our state. Independents felt that way by 75 percent; Democrats by 56 percent, Republicans by 53 percent. California allows 16- and 17-year-olds to pre-register to vote: the Secretary of State’s Office reports 52 percent of them are choosing “no party preference,” while 32 percent favor the Democrats and 10 percent the Republicans.
Almost all candidates this November will be Democrats or Republicans; so, in the near term, what can a new party do? The answer is found in California’s campaign finance laws. An individual may contribute up to $4,700 to a candidate for the Legislature. However, an individual may contribute up to $38,800 to a recognized political party for the express purpose of that party then directing the money to a candidate. A recognized political party may collect $38,800 from as many individuals as it can find; there’s no overall limit to what a party can give to a candidate.
This is the reason no independents have been elected to the Legislature in over 20 years. There is a 10-to-1 fundraising advantage for a candidate with the support of a recognized party over an independent candidate.
Thanks to California’s “top two” primary, there are 12 races where a Democrat is running against a Democrat for the Assembly this November and three Democrat versus Democrat state Senate races. In most of these races, the Democratic Party has chosen a favorite, who will receive the $38,800 multiplied by as many donors as they can find. The other Democrat will be limited to $4,700 per donor.
The Common Sense Party, once officially recognized, can equalize that. In its charter, the Common Sense Party states that it will support candidates of any party — so long as they are willing to think for themselves. So, if a Democrat disfavored by her or his own party has a donor capable of contributing $38,800, we can get that contribution to the disfavored Democrat.
If, as a result of this strategy, the more independent-minded Democrat wins an Assembly seat in seven of the 12 Democrat versus Democrat contests, the orthodox Democrats will be deprived of their 2/3 stranglehold. If three California Senate candidates do the same, the chokehold will be broken in the state Senate. Either alone will be enough to return the Legislature to a body that considers alternatives thoughtfully, instead of one that demands strict adherence to a pre-set playbook. Many Democrats have told us they would prefer the independent-minded Democratic legislators whom we could help elect, for the health of their own party as well as the good of California.
We will consider the same equalizing function in the two Assembly races where a Republican faces a Republican, and in the one race where a Republican faces an independent.
To be recognized officially, the Common Sense Party needs 68,000 Californians to register in the party. The only effective way to get registrations is in-person solicitation, at the familiar tables outside grocery stores and shopping centers. (Online registration is totally ineffective; state law impedes unsolicited emails that attach a voter registration form.)
We had registered about 20,000 by March 8 and were on target to reach 68,000 by the July 3 deadline. Then COVID-19 hit. For the safety of our signature gatherers and the public, we ordered in-person signature-gathering to stop. It has not been safe to start up again. Faced with similar circumstances in Illinois, the federal court lowered the required number of registrations for the Libertarian Party to drop by 90 percent. Other federal and state courts, governors and legislatures have lowered signature requirements for candidates, parties, and initiatives in Massachusetts, Michigan, Virginia, the District of Columbia, New York, Washington State and Vermont.
We have sued to ask for similar accommodations in California. California Secretary of State Alex Padilla and Xavier Becerra, California’s attorney general, opposed us. They argued we should have continued to gather signatures in person-to-person meetings throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, at six-foot distances, with sterilized pens and registration forms on different tables. Not only is this totally impractical; it is inconsistent with everything Gov. Gavin Newsom has been saying about limiting gatherings that are not absolutely necessary. It is also inconsistent with Padilla and Becerra’s acquiescence to the requests for an accommodation because of COVID-19 to give more time to environmental groups circulating an initiative against single-use plastic containers and to casino interests to allow sports betting.
Padilla and Becerra convinced a federal judge in Sacramento; our appeal is presently pending in the United States Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit.
Gov. Newsom can also act, like Gov. Andrew Cuomo did in New York. Newsom can issue an executive order lowering the required registrations. The state has a legitimate interest, of course, in requiring a showing of support before recognizing a new political party. Twenty thousand registrations makes that showing; even 10,000 would.
To require more in the face of the health crisis that shut down our registration effort deprives Californians of a constitutional right for no purpose — other than to entrench the existing political monopoly in our state.
The Common Sense Party wants to be the party “for the rest of us” in California. Whether we can fulfill that mission is now in the hands of the courts and the governor.
This commentary was republished with permission from The Orange County Register.