Less gridlock, more governing?

Jeff vonKaenel

While all the winners of the June primary may not be known for a while longer until absentee ballots are counted, it is clear that Proposition 14 has dramatically changed the political calculations for determining those eventual winners.

Prop. 14 altered the rules of the game. In previous elections, only Democratic voters could vote in the Democratic primary, and only Republican voters could vote in the Republican primary. Independent voters could meditate on the state of the nation. Once the general election came around, Democratic districts would elect Democratic candidates, and Republican districts would elect Republican candidates.

Now, in partisan races, voters can vote for any of the candidates, and the top two candidates, regardless of party affiliation, are put on the November ballot. In November, we will have numerous races with candidates from the same party running against each other.

Incumbent Republican Congressman Tom McClintock will face off against fellow Republican Art Moore. Democratic Assemblymen Roger Dickinson and Richard Pan will square off for a state Senate seat. And two Sacramento-area Assembly seats will have only Democrats on the ballot: Jim Cooper and Darrell Fong for one, and Kevin McCarty and Steve Cohn for the other.

All four of these races were “safe seats” for their political party. The primary would have previously decided the winner. But now, the political math is very different. Take McClintock’s seat. It is in a solid Republican district. Forty-five percent of the registered voters are Republican, 29 percent Democratic, and 26 independent and other. In practical terms, this means that in the past, a candidate receiving only half of the 45 percent Republican vote could win the primary and then the general election. The 55 percent of Democratic and independent voters would have no say in the election of their congressman or congresswoman.

Under the old system, an extreme tea-party candidate could and did win. But post-Proposition 14, a much more moderate Republican, like Moore, has a real chance to win the November election which includes all of the voters.

The same math applies to the California Senate seat currently occupied by Darrell Steinberg, in a safe Democratic district. Candidates Dickinson and Pan now have to appeal to the whole electorate instead of only the Democrats.

While the end result of Prop. 14 is still unclear, it has already made a difference here in Sacramento. Extremely partisan candidates are less viable. Races that were previously settled at the primary election, by one party or the other, are now decided by the whole electorate.

As a result of Prop. 14, I believe we will end up with elected officials who know they need to represent all of the people in their districts, instead of just the members of one political party. This could lead to less gridlock and more governing. And that’s good for all of us.

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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.