The Unintended Consequences of CA’s Top Two Primary System

California’s new “top-two” primary system has some Golden State Democrats worried. Though they’re confident about holding onto the seat being vacated by departing U.S. Senator Barbara Boxer in 2016, Democrats may come to rue the new set-up, which allows the two top vote-getters to advance to the general election, regardless of party affiliation. In a low-turnout primary crowded with vote-splitting Democratic candidates, it’s not out of the question that two Republicans could lead the field. That almost happened in one of last year’s statewide primaries.

In the June 2014 primary for state controller, two Republicans squared off against three Democrats and a Green Party candidate. Republican David Evans, an unknown accountant from Central California, spent just $600 on the race but managed to garner 850,109 votes thanks to his bare-bones ballot statement—“Most qualified for Controller”—and the clever ballot designation he put after his name: “Chief Financial Officer.” Fresno mayor Ashley Swearengin (a Republican) eventually won the primary, but Evans held the second-place spot for several days while votes were counted—putting him ahead of the two leading Democrats—until he was finally edged out. He finished fourth, with less than one percentage point separating him from the second-place finisher, Democrat Betty Yee. If Evans had held on, two Republicans would have competed in the general election, ensuring the first statewide GOP victory in almost a decade. Yee went on to beat Swearengin in November.

For Democrats, it was an uncomfortably close call. Democratic political consultant Garry South summarized the implications: “One of the lessons we’ve learned in ’12, and now in ’14, is that in a very low turnout primary, which this was, with a disproportionate share of Republicans turning out, Democrats have to be careful they don’t overload the ballot with candidates splitting too few Democratic voters.” These are the conditions of almost every California primary, however.

Reformers had hoped that the top-two primary structure would put more moderates on the general election ballot. It’s not yet clear that this is occurring. What’s certain is that the system is proving problematic for California’s Democrats, who have long dominated statewide offices. The reasons are two-fold. First, as South describes, with lower turnouts and higher percentages of Republicans participating, primaries are more challenging for California Democrats. Total voter participation figures still favor Democrats in these races, but it’s a much closer split than in the general election. Second, with a deeper bench of potential candidates, California Democrats have too many contenders for a limited number of statewide offices.

Even in traditional primaries, operatives of both parties have long practiced the art of “clearing the field” to limit the number of candidates on the ballot. The top-two primary amplifies the importance of field-clearing. Paradoxically, the new system was meant to weaken the political parties’ sway over the primary process, but it may wind up strengthening it. A reform intended to increase options for voters might actually reduce them.

The 2016 Senate primary is already exposing potential cleavages on the Democratic side. The first Democrat to declare for the seat being vacated by Boxer is state attorney general Kamala Harris, a woman of Jamaican-American and Indian descent. But discontent is mounting among Latino Democrats. The California Latino Legislative Caucus recently made a public call for a Latino to run for the Senate seat. Former Los Angeles mayor Antonio Villaraigosa contemplated a run but bowed out this week. Latino attentions have shifted to Orange County congresswoman Loretta Sanchez and Los Angeles congressman Xavier Becerra.

As Los Angeles Times Sacramento columnist George Skelton recently wrote, “Latinos feel insulted by blacks. Angelenos are suspicious of San Franciscans. Democrats are squabbling. It’s inevitable. It’s the unintended consequence of a one-party dominated state.” And the unintended consequence of a top-two primary system may well be to exacerbate these conflicts.

Public Turning Against Dems On Education

Democrats are losing their longstanding advantage on the issue of education, according to a new poll by the centrist think tank Third Way.

As recently as 2012, voters trusted Democrats over Republicans on education by 25 percentage points or more. Now, that advantage has shrunk to only eight points, a drastically narrowed margin. Thirty-four percent of voters trust Democrats most to handle K-12 education issues, compared to 26 percent who trust Republicans most.

The poll also probed voters more deeply to see how they assessed each of the party’s positions on education, and the sentiments were often not good for Democrats. Forty-eight percent of voters and even 40 percent of teachers described Democrats as “pouring money into a broken system,” while 30 percent of voters and 25 percent of teachers agreed that Democrats put “the interests of teachers above the interests of students.” Democrats were also associated with defending the existing K-12 system and with being captured by educational special interests.

Not everything was awful for Democrats, as Republicans were more likely to be accused by both teachers and the voting public of being complacent about public schools and unwilling to make changes that could boost student performance.

However, merely breaking even with Republicans is a bad sign for Democrats, argues Third Way social policy director Lanae Hatalsky. Traditionally, she says, Democrats have relied on a big advantage in education to offset a perceived weakness in other areas, such as on national security.

Third Way argues that the poll indicates Democrats need to stop relying on voter inertia and instead take more substantive efforts to embrace reform in education. That doesn’t necessarily require them to endorse charter schools or vouchers, but could instead involve simply doing more to improve the raise expectations for teachers.

“Folks who are watching the education debates, when they do see somebody who is talking about a new idea…it seems to be more and more the Republicans who are stepping up to do that,” Hatalsky told The Daily Caller News Foundation. ”One of the things I think has been frustrating has been the unwillingness of Democrats at both the state and national level to engage with the issue. They’ve been able to avoid the question and let the Obama administration do the heavy lifting.”

Whatever Democrats do, they need to start acting fast, Hatalsky said. Republicans are expected to propose significant legislation to update No Child Left Behind in 2015, and if Democrats don’t engage with them they could decisively seize the initiative on that issue.

The poll was conducted from Nov. 11 through 16, and had a sample size of 808 general election voters along with 201 public school teachers. The margin of error for the first group was 3.5 percentage points, while for the latter group it was 7 percentage point.

This article was originally published by the Daily Caller News Foundation.

Santa Cromnibus

santa cromnibus

 

Nate Beeler, The Columbus Dispatch

Democrats Defeated

Democrats Defeated

Gary McCoy, Cagle Cartoons

The Democratic Wall in CA has Leaks

The Republican election day tide which saw a gain of 7 senate seats, 13 House seats and 3 governorships across the nation banged into the Sierra Nevada wall that has often separated California metaphorically from the rest of the country with Democrats once again sweeping all the statewide offices. But this time there were leaks in the wall. Republicans apparently accomplished the party’s modest goal of keeping the Democrats from capturing a two-thirds majority in the Legislature.

The Republicans might have made a bigger splash if more money was directed toward a couple of statewide candidates in competitive races. Both Secretary of State candidate Pete Peterson and Controller candidate Ashley Swearengin came within five-percent of their opponents without substantial financial support.

As part of the national trend boosting Republicans in Congress, tight races could fall to Republicans with Doug Ose and Carl DeMaio holding narrow leads early this morning. Incumbent Republican congress members Jeff Denham and David Valadao, who were supposed to be in danger when the election campaigns began, won handily. There may even be an unexpected upset of long time Democratic Congressman Jim Costa to Johnny Tacherra in CD 16.

The Secretary of State’s website is monitoring four razor thin races on a special page of the website. The close races are defined as within two-percentage points. Those races include the Costa-Tacherra contest along with two other congressional races: Brownley-Gorrell in CD 26 (current edge to Brownley, the Democrat) and Peters-DeMaio in CD 52 (current edge to DeMaio, the Republican.)

The fourth contest on that site is an all-Democratic contest for Assembly District 39, in which Assembly Revenue and Taxation Chairman Raul Bocanegra is less than one-percentage point behind Patty Lopez. Bocanegra easily took the primary with over 62% of the vote but is in danger of losing the seat to Lopez, an education advocate. Bocanegra is a leading Democrat who tried to work with the business community.

As of this writing, Governor Jerry Brown has a 17.5% advantage over Neel Kashkari. When Brown ran for re-election in his first stint in the office 36 years ago he defeated Attorney General Evelle Younger by 19.5% of the vote. It’s hard to compare the two contests, Younger being much better known at that time than Kashkari is now, but Brown not really mounting a campaign this time.

Brown’s coattails when he chose to get involved in races did not seem very effective. He campaigned in Assembly District 16 for Tim Sbranti who as of this writing is nearly 4-percentage points behind Republican Catharine Baker. He attended a rally for incumbent Al Muratsuchi in AD 66 who has apparently lost to Republican David Hadley. Meanwhile, Brown’s many radio ads in Southern California on behalf of Jose Solorio feel flat as he lost by 20-points to Republican Janet Nguyen in Senate District 34.

This piece was originally published on Fox and Hounds Daily

CA Dems Battle on Key Issues

 

 

Democrats fighting logoAlthough Democrats in California are eager to celebrate major victories next Tuesday, political fault lines lie under their party.

From anti-rape legislation, to education reform, to health costs and beyond, an anticipated left-leaning consensus has failed to materialize in the Golden State. The resulting controversies, disagreements and difficulties in politicking have thrown a suprising degree of doubt on Democrats’ broader election-year routine.

National Democrats had grown accustomed to a clear, reliable dividing line between identity politics and more general issues. The distinction helped strategists protest the status quo for allies with powerful institutional interests — while microtargeting voters based on criteria like race or ethnicity, sex or gender, age, immigrant status and sexual orientation.

But the new cleavages among California liberals have upset that carefully calibrated approach, leading to close scrutiny and, in some cases, close state elections.

Yes means yes

The phenomenon became hard to ignore when the national political media picked up on sharp disagreements over California’s new “yes means yes” legislation, which requires affirmative sexual consent at universities receiving state funding. Initially, the controversial bill seemed poised to become law without incident.

Outside the state, however, commentators influential among establishment liberals and progressives found themselves at loggerheads over the implications of its strict, invasive rules. As the Los Angeles Times observed, the scuffle — which drew in figures at publications ranging from Vox to The Nation to New York magazine — escalated into “a clash between those who believe the law is too intrusive and those who believe intrusiveness is the entire point.”

For Democrats, the political point has become clear: rather than helping cement a consensus among liberal voters about how to advance legislation concerning sex, “yes means yes” has given voters a stark reason to reassess what they want out of Democrats in that regard.

Given the significance Democrats have placed on the women’s vote in recent years, and the hope they have placed in rising generations of younger voters, the news is especially unwelcome.

Teachers unions

California also gave Democrats a preview of even broader and more fundamental divides on the left.

When Judge Rolf Treu handed down the Vergara ruling, which held public teacher tenure protections to unconstitutionally infringe students’ rights, Democrats split immediately. Some, like Gov. Jerry Brown, went to bat for the teachers unions.

Others, like U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, presented the ruling as a clarion call to improve educational opportunities for all students. Because many underperforming schools and teachers have been found in districts with substantial (or majority) minority populations, some Democrats recognized they could be forced into an uncomfortable choice.

On the one hand, Democrats wished to stand publicly for the interests of minority children and families. On the other, they wanted to defend teachers unions, which have long played a decisive role in Democrats’ political success, especially in California.

These broad political challenges quickly crystallized into a pitched battle over the tenure of one man: California Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson, a dedicated ally of the teachers unions. Torlakson’s incumbency has become a referendum on his staunch opposition to the Vergara decision.

His challenger, former charter schools executive Marshall Tuck, also is a Democrat — creating an intra-party race as close and bitter as any in recent memory, even though officially the post is non-partisan.

If Tuck wins, an even bigger confrontation will arise, pitting him against Brown and Attorney General Kamala Harris, his fellow Democrats, assuming both are re-elected. Brown handily is leading Republican challenger Neel Kashkari, who applauded the Vergara decision.

Harris filed the state’s appeal of Vergara on behalf of Brown. Her opponent is Republican Ronald Gold, who urged her not to appeal VergaraHe asked, “Is she with students, particularly inner city and economically disadvantaged ones, or is she with the teachers unions that support her campaign?”

Even after their expected victories next Tuesday, that’s the kind of headache California Democrats can do without.

Health insurance costs

Finally, the remarkable divides among California Democrats on Proposition 45 could establish another pattern of disagreement for liberals nationwide. It would give the California insurance commissioner the power of approval over changes in health-insurance rates — including over Covered California, the state’s implementation of Obamacare.

Prop. 45 is sponsored by the left-leaning Consumer Watchdog organization.

It comes down to this: Will Covered Care rates be set as part of the federal legislation, or by the state insurance commissioner because of Prop. 45?

The official Ballot Pamphlet from the California Secretary of State features the dueling liberal visions.

The Pro side insists: “Proposition 45 will lower healthcare costs by preventing health insurance companies from jacking up rates and passing on unreasonable costs to consumers.”

The Anti side retorts: “Prop. 45 creates even more expensive state bureaucracy, duplicating two other bureaucracies that oversee health insurance rates, causing costly confusion with other regulations and adding more red tape to the health care system.”

These political fault lines are just opening up, and are likely to get even larger.

This article was originally published on CalWatchdog.com

Cartoon: Democrat Zombie

Democrat brains

Rick McKee, The Augusta Chronicle

Obama Sinking the Dems

Obama anchor

Daryl Cagle, CagleCartoons.com

Rand Paul Urges Poor Americans To Give Up On Dems

Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul, a likely 2016 hopeful, is urging middle- and working-class voters to give Republicans a chance to guide the economy.

“The constituencies that voted for [President Obama] aren’t doing very well,” Sen. Paul said in an interview with St. Louis Public Radio. Income inequality is higher in states and cities with Democratic leadership, he explained, and “ridiculous” low interest rates held in place by the Federal Reserve in recent years have artificially boosted the stock market and hurt the ability of middle- and working-class Americans to save.

“If you are unemployed or underemployed, maybe you need to look to other people and new policies,” Sen. Paul said. “Maybe you people need to give Republicans another chance if you want to improve the lot of people who are suffering.”

The Federal Reserve is expected to increase rates sometime in the next year for the first time since 2006, but uncertainty about when and how much rates will rise has contributed to confusion and volatility in financial markets. The Dow Jones fell by 335 points Thursday — the worst single day drop of 2014.

Sen. Paul is a vocal critic of the Federal Reserve, and has pushed several times, so far unsuccessfully, to pass a bill in the Senate to audit the Fed. He pointed to the latest downturn as evidence a larger and longer “correction” to come that would be bad news for investors.

“The message really is that I’m concerned about every person who is either under employed or unemployed,” he added in the interview. “That the way we get them jobs is by enhancing capitalism. What does that mean? Smaller government and bigger market place. Lower taxes and less regulation, more trade.”

This piece originally appeared on the Daily Caller News Foundation.

Embattled Democrats Silent On ‘Executive Action’ And AG

Four Senate Democrats facing tough reelection races recently voted against President Obama’s plan to take executive action on immigration.

But would they vote against an attorney general nominee who would implement such a policy? When asked by The Daily Caller News Foundation, none of them were willing to commit.

Senators Kay Hagan of North Carolina, Mary Landrieu of Louisiana, Mark Pryor of Arkansas, and Jeanne Shaheen of New Hampshire all cast last-minute votes with Senate Republicans in September to prevent the president from following through on his plan to grant millions of illegal aliens work permits by executive action.

Another embattled Democrat, Alaska Sen. Mark Begich, also cast a last-minute vote that ensured Alabama Republican Sen. Jeff Sessions’ amendment to deny funding for the president’s plan would fail. Those five votes were characterized as political maneuvering around a tough issue just ahead of an election. (RELATED: Sessions Leads GOP, Five Democratic Senators To Vote Against Obama Amnesty)

With a replacement for Attorney General Eric Holder likely to be named during the lame-duck congressional session following the election, senators will have a chance to weigh in on the issue again. Sessions has joined Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, Texas Republican Sen. Ted Cruz and Kentucky Republican Sen. Rand Paul in saying they would vote against any attorney general nominee who does not publicly disavow the president’s immigration plan.

When asked by TheDCNF, all four Senate Democrats who voted with Sessions on defunding the executive action plan declined to say whether they would also vote against an attorney general nominee who was in favor of it.

A spokesperson for Begich said the senator is against unilateral action on immigration from the president and does not support amnesty, but also declined to take a position on Sessions’ plan, saying he won’t comment on a hypothetical attorney general nominee.

“To me, securing our borders has to be the priority, and that should be the President’s focus,” Sen. Begich said in a statement. “I don’t support amnesty, and that is why the House must consider the Senate’s bipartisan solution so we can move forward with common sense reforms to fix the current broken system.”

The other three senators declined TheDCNF’s request for comment.

Hagan ran on immigration in 2008 and said last year she opposes amnesty. Landrieu boasted of voting against amnesty 9 times in a recent campaign ad, and Sen. Pryor also stated he is against amnesty in a campaign ad. An adviser to Shaheen told The Washington Post the senator does not support “a piecemeal approach by executive order.”

This article was originally posted on the Daily Caller News Foundation.