Sick of following Iowa and New Hampshire’s lead on presidential politics? Here’s an answer

Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, ended his presidential campaign in May 2016, a month before California’s had a chance to vote.
Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, ended his presidential campaign in May 2016, a month before California’s had a chance to vote. AP

In this time of never-ending campaigns, politicos game the presidential races for 2020 and beyond. And so Sen. Ricardo Lara, D-Bell Gardens, pushed Senate Bill 568 to move the presidential primary to the first Tuesday after the first Monday in March.

We urge Gov. Jerry Brown to sign it into law. Not that Brown is seriously contemplating another run, but a March primary would help any candidate from California, whether it’s Sen. Kamala Harris, Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti or some rich entrepreneur.

Leaving personal ambitions aside, there is one big upside: It would be good for little-d democracy.

Bit by bit, lower population states have gained outsized power, the result of gerrymandering and the constitutional reality that each sparsely populated red has two U.S. senators, just like California and New York.

We Californians make up 12 percent of the nation’s population, are the most ethnically diverse, and have the largest number of military veterans. Yet we cede clout to Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina and Nevada, which have a combined population that is less than the combined populations of Los Angeles and Orange counties.

Lara’s bill has its downsides. It would move primaries for state races up to March, making general election campaigns longer than baseball seasons, adding to the cost of statewide campaigns.

Other states would compete by moving their primaries up. But given the number of delegates in California, candidates would be compelled to campaign here and learn about our issues.

As it is, California’s role begins and ends in Hollywood and the Bay Area. Presidential candidates raise money from Steven Spielberg and his friends, or Mark Zuckerberg and his friends, and care little about Fresno or Turlock.

California voters might temper politics nationally. Perhaps Republicans such as Gov. John Kasich of Ohio or Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida could have derailed Donald Trump’s candidacy if Californians voted earlier. The sort of anti-immigrant rhetoric that played well in some early voting states in 2016 wouldn’t resonate here.

Brown is weighing several other election-related bills:

▪ AB 249 by Kevin Mullin, D-San Mateo, would force greater disclosure in political advertising of major donors to ballot measures. Voters ought to know who’s buying laws or paying for them through ballot measures. He should sign it.

▪ AB 918 by Assemblyman Rob Bonta, D-Oakland, would expand the use of ballot material in different languages. It deserves the governor’s support.

One that cries out for a veto is SB 149 by Sen. Mike McGuire, D-Healdsburg, to require presidential candidates appearing on California ballots to release five years of income tax returns.

Presidential and gubernatorial candidates should release their tax returns. But this bill is an example of Democratic legislators pandering to their base by bashing Trump because, well, they can. If California Democrats can ram through legislation aimed at Trump, a conservative state legislature could aim similar legislation at Democratic candidates.

Brown has good reason to veto this bill. He didn’t release his tax returns when he ran for governor and for reelection. Potomac Fever may be in remission, but there’s no cure. Imagine that Brown signs the early presidential primary bill. He could become a favorite son, but that son would have to comply with the tax return bill. Better to veto the hyper-partisan SB 149.

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