Frustrated that Democrats dominate elective office in California, a Republican eyeing a 2018 run against Sen. Dianne Feinstein wants to repeal the state’s top-two primary system that he says shuts out Republicans and disproportionately propels left-wing Democrats into office.
“There’s no question more liberal candidates have been more successful,” said Thomas Palzer, who is pushing an initiative for the November 2018 ballot to repeal a clause in the California Constitution that says regardless of party, the top two vote-getters in a primary election advance to a November runoff. “To me, that’s not representative government.”
Voters adopted the top-two primary system in 2010 after a political deal involving former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and then state Sen. Abel Maldonado put it on the ballot. It was aimed at encouraging more competitive races and seen as a way to help more moderate candidates get elected.
“That was really a lie,” Palzer said, noting the Democratic hold on the state Legislature, where they have a supermajority. Palzer also mentioned last year’s U.S. Senate race, in which Democratic Sen. Kamala Harris faced off against former Rep. Loretta Sanchez, also a Democrat. It was the first time since 1914 that a Republican wasn’t on a general election ballot.
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Palzer, 68, was one of 12 Republican candidates who ran unsuccessfully for the seat to succeed former Sen. Barbara Boxer.
“That really enlightened me in terms of the top-two...the odds were slim of any Republican getting on the ticket,” Palzer said. “I’m not doing this to grease the slicks for myself...regardless of party, it’s a bad law and it needs to be repealed. It affects every voter. They’re being cheated out of the ability to look at top candidates from every party and then make their decision.”
Generally, there was hope that the system would “give a leg up to candidates who were not favored by the Democratic and Republican establishments,” according to Eric McGhee of the nonpartisan Public Policy Institute of California. In a 2016 analysis, McGhee said “at least some” same-party races pit moderates against more liberal or conservative candidates, and in some cases, the more moderate candidates “might win.”
Both Republicans and Democrats oppose the top-two system. It has been criticized by the Republican Party for making it more difficult for Republican candidates to make it through a primary contests in a state growing more blue, and by Democrats because it forces them to fight one another, driving up the cost of races.
Palzer estimated that he’ll need between $4 million and $12 million to successfully put the initiative on the ballot next year. He’s seeking to raise money from the state Democratic Party and the Republican Party, as well as the California’s Green Party, Tea Party caucus, interest groups and individuals. So far he has raised between $80,000 and $100,000, he said.
He’s also reached out to Tea Party activists and a statewide coalition that backed Donald Trump for president called “Californians for Making America Great Again.”
“I’m coordinating with Trump groups, Libertarians, the Green Party...Democrats and Republicans...they already know the top two is not good for them,” Palzer said.
The state Republican Party declined to say whether it formally supports or opposes the system, but when it was on the ballot in 2010 it was against it. Cynthia Bryant, executive director for the party, said delegates would declare an official position after the initiative qualifies for the ballot, should it gather enough signatures to qualify.
In a statement, state Democratic Party Chairman Eric Bauman argued the top-two system “weakens the Democratic Party.”
“Progressives have been forced to spend nearly $200 million in contests featuring two Democrats,” Bauman said. “This is a system that silences the Democratic base and completely excludes third parties from even competing in the fall...the fact that this initiative was filed by Republicans underscores how flawed the top-two system really is.”
Bauman said repealing the system is a core priority for the party.
The state Attorney General’s office received a draft of Palzer’s ballot initiative Monday. It has 65 days to review the initiative before it’s allowed to go out for signatures. It would need 585,407 signatures to qualify.
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WORTH REPEATING: “The values of white supremacists do not reflect the values of our nation.” – Assemblyman Marc Levine, D-Greenbrae, rejecting use of the term ‘white nationalists.’
BROWN IN SAN FRANCISCO: Gov. Jerry Brown is scheduled to deliver early morning remarks at a leadership conference of the Laborers’ International Union of North America at the Hilton in San Francisco.
LAKE TAHOE SUMMIT: Feinstein hosts the Lake Tahoe Summit scheduled to begin at 9 a.m. at the Tallac Historic Site in South Lake Tahoe.
The annual event focuses on ways to improve the health of Lake Tahoe, and looks at successful restoration projects. This year’s event will address how to combat the effects of climate change in the Lake Tahoe basin, according to Feinstein’s office. Harris, Democratic Rep. John Garamendi, Republican Rep. Tom McClintock are among the event’s featured speakers from California.
Feinstein and Nevada Republican Sen. Dean Heller were co-sponsors of the Lake Tahoe Restoration Act, signed into law in December. They are expected to tout the law, which authorizes an additional $415 million in federal funding over the next seven years to “improve Lake Tahoe’s water clarity, reduce the risk of catastrophic wildfires, combat invasive species and protect threatened species and wildlands,” according to Feinstein’s office.
“Despite our successful efforts over the last two decades, Lake Tahoe still faces threats from pollution and sedimentation that reduce the lake’s remarkable water clarity, warming water temperatures caused by climate change, increased potential for devastating wildfires in the basin and a variety of invasive species that could potentially devastate the region’s economy,” Feinstein said in a December statement.
ICE CRACKDOWN: Sen. Hannah-Beth Jackson, D-Santa Barbara, and California Supreme Court Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye will discuss the impact of immigration agents in California court rooms at 10:30 a.m. in Room 2040 of the Capitol.
Cantil-Sakauye in March told federal immigration officials to stop “stalking undocumented immigrants” at courthouses.
The federal Department of Homeland Security has said that immigration agents are allowed to carry out arrests at courthouses. Immigrations and Customs Enforcement generally avoids making arrests at “sensitive locations” such as schools, hospitals and places of worship, according to federal officials. Courthouses are not considered sensitive by ICE, according to their website.
The American Civil Liberties Union says policies that allow or even encourage arrests at courthouses pose a threat to public safety and infringe on constitutional rights held by all people in the country.
CELEBRATE: Happy birthday to Assemblywoman Cristina Garcia, D-Bell Gardens, who turns 40 today.