Here’s how California can be more than an ATM for presidential candidates

Cristina Levert protests the election of Donald Trump with students from Berkeley High School and UC Berkeley on Nov. 9, 2016, the day after Donald Trump was elected the 45th president.
Cristina Levert protests the election of Donald Trump with students from Berkeley High School and UC Berkeley on Nov. 9, 2016, the day after Donald Trump was elected the 45th president. NYT

We Californians must reclaim our position of leadership in the nomination of the president of the United States.

For the last three decades, with only one exception, every nominee for president for the Republican and Democratic parties was chosen before the primary election polls closed in California. Why? Because our primaries have historically been in June, at the tail end of the nominating schedule. A June primary virtually guarantees our voters have no meaningful voice in the nomination for president.

We need to change that, which is why I’m sponsoring Senate Bill 568 by Sen. Ricardo Lara, D-Bell Gardens, and Assemblyman Kevin Mullin, D-South San Francisco. The bill would move our presidential primary to the first Tuesday in March, after Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada and South Carolina.

We are the most populous state in the nation. We are the most diverse state in the nation. We’re home to more than 2 million veterans, more than any other state. And we make up the largest economy of any state in the nation. We need a greater hand in choosing presidential nominees.

By moving the primary to March, California would become more than an ATM for politicians who fly in to raise money and leave without hearing from voters. Future presidential candidates would need to make California a priority by visiting our state early and often. They would have to spend time in our communities, meet our people and understand our issues.

Imagine candidates for president having to describe their plans for the world’s sixth largest economy. Imagine candidates having to address the needs of the state that is No. 1 in agriculture, forestry, hunting, manufacturing and technology, not to mention the entertainment industry.

Candidates would learn that we treasure our coast, our valleys, and our glorious Sierra Nevada. Candidates would visit the greatest public university system and hear from the leading scientists in the world. Candidates would witness how diversity has become a tremendous competitive advantage for our state.

They would need to acknowledge and respect the contributions of the largest Latino community in the country, the largest Asian American community, the fifth-largest African American community, and the largest LGBTQ community.

We know moving up the primary would increase voter turnout in contests up and down the ballot, a passion of mine as California’s chief election officer. In 2008, the last time California held an early primary, 58 percent of the state’s registered voters cast ballots, the highest turnout in more than a quarter century.

Higher voter participation is fundamentally good for democracy. It produces more inclusive policy decisions and better reflects the will of the people.

Senate Bill 568 has enjoyed bipartisan support in the Legislature all year. No matter their party, legislators understand that California deserves a national voice, and want to ensure that the issues important to Californians become priorities for candidates of all political parties.

As we enter the final days of the legislative session, the Legislature and Gov. Jerry Brown will decide whether we move our primary from near last to one of the first. I ask them to side with giving California voters a voice in deciding who the next president will be by supporting SB 568.

Alex Padilla is California secretary of state,