The biggest news out of California last night was not an election: it was the endorsement of a ballot initiative, Proposition 14, that might radically change the type of candidate who seeks and wins congressional and statewide officers. The "Top Two Primary Act" allows voters of any political party to pick anyone who qualifies for the ballot for a particular race regardless of party. Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger sees Prop 14 as a big piece of his legacy.
The practical effect will be incentivize candidates to avoid the trap of having to run one type of campaign to win base voters and another type of campaign to win the general election. It is conceivable that, with such a system in place, Senate candidate Carly Fiorina wouldn't have felt it necessary to sharply tack to the right. But the same system would have required a lot more energy and expenditure from the incumbent, Barbara Boxer.
Who funded the initiative? Chamber of Commerce types, who know that pragmatic candidates won't want to alienate business interests in the state. It was opposed by activists from both parties, who believe it to be an incumbent protection measure of first order.
Good government types are cautiously pessimistic, because they knew that third party candidates now have virtually no chance to being elected to statewide office unless they're charismatic and spend a lot of money. Richard Winger of Ballot Access News opposed Prop 14 and notes that California now has
one of the most restrictive ballot access laws in the country.
Will candidates with new ideas be disincentivized from running? Will California only nominate candidates who reflect the median political values expressed by a California voter? Is that a good thing or a bad thing? Will candidates have more power to shape their campaigns than political parties? Unknown, unknown, unknown and unknown.
And will this system survive a federal court challenge? A similar scheme in Washington State is already being challenged in federal court.
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