San Francisco’s labor leadership, third-party candidates and the Republican Party chair don’t agree on taxes or proportional representation, but today they said they do share one view: Proposition 14, the primary election reform ballot measure, would be a step backward in California politics.
If passed, Prop. 14 would do away with partisan primaries. The general population would vote on every candidate during the primary, and the two with the most votes would square off in the general election, regardless of party affiliation.
Supporters say the measure would reduce partisanship, increase competition and lead to a less polarized Legislature that could accomplish more.
But critics, who made their case at a news conference in San Francisco today, believe Prop. 14 would be disastrous, especially in areas where one party has a stronghold, according to Howard Epstein, chair of the San Francisco Republican Party.
For example, two Democrats would inevitably end up competing in San Francisco’s general election, he said, while two Republicans would face off in Orange County.
Not only would this discourage voter turn-out by limiting the number of parties and candidates on the ballot, it would lead to candidates with few philosophical differences trying to tear each another down, Epstein said.
“We wouldn’t get a diverse conversation,” he said.
Prop. 14 would also make campaigns more expensive because candidates would have to appeal to the entire population for both the primary and general elections – instead of focusing on just one party during the primary.
This has labor leaders concerned that the candidates with the most money and corporate backing would automatically win. Third-party and write-in candidates would almost surely be eliminated in the primaries.
“We believe in more choice,” San Francisco Labor Council director Tim Paulson said. “Prop. 14 reduces choice and turnout. Voter turn-out in the United States has been such an issue recently; we don’t need any more disincentives.”
Christina Tobin, a Libertarian candidate for Secretary of State and chairman of the board for the Illinois-based Free and Equal Elections Foundation, said research shows states that eliminate two-party primaries also reduce “political cleansing.”
In Louisiana and Washington, the only two states without partisan primaries, the only incumbents voted out of office are those who suffer major scandals, she said.
The real benefactors of nonpartisan primaries are therefore incumbents and corporations – a fact demonstrated by the bill’s financial backers, the Prop. 14 opponents said.
The Yes on 14 political action committee is largely funded by Schwarzenegger’s PAC, which donated $2 million to the campaign, according to the Secretary of State’s election finance website.
The California Chamber of Commerce’s PAC has also donated more than $700,000 to the campaign.