Wednesday, June 9, 2010

California voters pass open primary proposition, defeat big money measures

California voters spoke yesterday, and the results are in.  Prop. 14, which sets up a new open primary election system in California, passed by a wide margin.  This kind of surprised me, given that it was a Primary election and by definition more likely to attract partisans and less likely to draw out independents, who would benefit most from a change that would allow them to vote for any candidate of any primary.  But I guess partisan voters want that kind of flexibility, too.  

Frankly I was also surprised that California's minor parties came out so strongly against Prop. 14 – seems to me it is likely to boost their registration numbers because voters registered with a minor party, like the Green Party or Libertarian Party, could do so without having to sit out competitive primary elections in other parties. 

Prop. 16 was defeated, which was something of a relief.  If it passed I would be forced to revise my personal conventional wisdom about the initiative process in California.  As a twenty-year observer of California elections, I've long said that you can't win an initiative campaign without money, but you can't win with only money, either.  PG&E spent over $46 million getting Prop. 16 on the ballot and attempting to get this measure passed to change state law to benefit a single corporation.  Opponents raised less than $100,000.  It was truly a "David vs. Goliath" type of battle.

A lot of people I know, people who are smart and thoughtful and read the paper and listen to NPR, were unsure of how to vote on Prop. 16.  The commercials were so seductive - who doesn't want to protect their right to vote?  PG&E bought one of the best campaigns I have ever seen in this state.  And yet in the end voters defeated Prop. 16, and Prop. 17 as well, which also represented a single company's (Mercury General Insurance Corp.) attempt to bend California law in its favor.

I believe disclosure made a difference - not just timely and robust campaign finance disclosure, which enabled CVF and the news media to inform the voting public about the millions being spent by private companies to promote these measures, but also disclosure laws covering television ads and campaign committee names that require top donors to be identified. Such laws help level the political playing field, especially in high-stakes initiative battles such as we saw on this ballot.

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