California election changes the game

Jeff vonKaenel

The election results are in. And California politics will be forever changed. Yes, having an innovative, creative and knowledgeable Jerry Brown run things will predictably create unpredictability. When the plan is not working, it is better to have someone at the top willing and able to chart a new course. Californians also confirmed their intention to reduce greenhouse gases by rejecting Proposition 23, despite the campaign waged by Big Oil and others to get it passed.

But the biggest news in California politics has to do with the new rulebook for elections. Proposition 25, which lowered the number of votes necessary to pass a budget from two-thirds to a simple majority vote, changes the rules of engagement for both the majority and minority party.

Previously, a minority party that was united and held a little more than one-third of the state’s votes could effectively control the budgeting process. And the majority party won support just because their ideas were not as crazy as the minority party. Those days are over.

In the Democratic-controlled state capital, the Democrats now have no excuse. They can no longer blame the other party; it is their show. And the Republican legislators have gone from having veto power over the total budget to having veto power only over new taxes.

The other factor that should significantly change California politics is reapportionment. Ours is the seventh state to reapportion districts with an independent bipartisan panel. Rather than allowing the legislators to create districts, we can have districts that make geographical sense rather than districts designed to vote either solid Democrat or solid Republican: “safe” seats.

Seats designed to be “safe” are usually won in the primary election. This is a special-interest lobbyist’s dream. Groups such as The American Trial Lawyers Association, the California Teachers Association and the Chamber of Commerce could threaten to pour money into a primary election if a candidate was not voting their way. This would put the legislator in the difficult position of either having to support the special-interest agenda, or facing a well-funded primary opponent. And the special-interest lobbyists would only have to focus their attention on the dominant party in the district.

In addition, starting with the elections of 2012, the two top votegetters in the primary will advance to the general election. If they both happen to be from the Democratic Party, Republicans and Independents will help choose which of the Democrats should represent them. This will mean that in the general election, the candidates will have to be concerned with all voters, not just those of their party.

We have changed the rules of engagement. New rules will create new outcomes. Of course there will be problems. But I believe it will create a better path for California. While we may be out of step with the rest of country, I call this leadership.

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About the Author

Jeff vonKaenel
Jeff vonKaenel is the president, CEO and majority owner of the News & Review newspapers in Sacramento, Chico and Reno.