California once again has the chance to become a national leader instead of a national joke.
When Californians go to the polls on Tuesday, they will be voting on a ballot initiative to reform the primary election process in California. The initiative, Proposition 14, will change the way candidates are selected to appear on the primary ballot and voters will be able to vote for any candidate they choose without regard to the party affiliations of either the candidate or the voter.
Supporters of the measure argue that it will lead to the election of more moderate candidates, ending the legislative deadlock caused by radical partisanship. Opponents argue that it will have the opposite effect, leading to domination of the voting process by “fat cats” and special corporate interest groups. The outcome Tuesday is far from certain, but in my opinion, it is an idea whose time has come and deserves to be considered by other states as well.
One of the major problems today is the domination of government and politics by “political bosses”. Loyalty to the “Party” has replaced loyalty to the Constitution and the people in the minds of too many elected officials. More often than not, it is the party establishment that determines the choices we have when we go to the polls in November. John McCain and Mark Kirk are two prime examples. Proposition 14 may not solve the problem, but it will help somewhat in breaking the hold political parties have gotten over the election process.
George Washington, in his farewell address warned about the dangers of “factions”. Perhaps it was the two parties organized during his first term in office that he had in mind when he prepared his speech. The first political party was formed to strengthen the power of the central government and was soon followed by a second in opposition to it. Both parties faded away during the thirty-year dominance of republicans throughout the administrations of Jefferson, Madison, Monroe and J.Q. Adams only to be brought back with a vengeance by Andrew Jackson and the institutionalizing of the spoils system establishing party loyalty above merit.
Under Prop. 14 political parties would not nominate candidates, although they could still endorse, support or oppose candidates. All qualified candidates, regardless of party, would appear on a single ballot with the top two vote getters for each office advancing to the general election. Whether the candidate’s party affiliation would also appear on the ballot would be left to the discretion of the candidate. In theory, voters could vote for the one they believed was the best candidate for the job, regardless of party.
Needless to say, both parties are vehemently opposed to Prop. 14 which is perhaps the best proof of its merit. If approved it would greatly diminish the influence and power of political parties over the legislative process. The end result would be that elected officials would once again be more beholden to their constituents than their party leadership. It seems to me that the proposition would result in more partisanship rather than less. However, the partisanship would be based on issues rather than party loyalty, which is a good thing. Candidates would be trying to stake out a constituency for specific issues and not necessarily following the party line.
Proposition 14 does not effect the candidates for President and Vice President but it would effect the candidates for the Senate and House and all elected state offices. If successful, it could later be expanded to include the selection of electors without violating the Constitution.