CA Voters Nix Baby Step on Public Financing, Pass Game-Changing Primary System

On June 8, California voters turned down campaign-finance reform but embraced an unusual new primary system. The results last night were a mixed bag. The biggest disappointment is that Prop. 15, a small step toward public financing of elections in California, failed by a wide margin. It looks like the corrupting influence of big money in politics will continue for a long time in the state. In retrospect, it was probably a bad decision to put Prop. 15 on the primary ballot when the big races were on the Republican side, with no major Democratic statewide races.

The lack of movement toward public financing of elections is even more disappointing because elections are likely to get more expensive in California, thanks to the passage of Prop. 14. The primary voters yesterday voted to make this the last “primary” as we know it. The so-called top-two primary ballot measure passed by a wide margin. This means all candidates will run in the same “primary” and the top two vote getters, regardless of party, will advance to the general. In effect, this moves the general election to June, with a runoff election months later in November. This eliminates the ability of parties to select their nominee for the general election and makes it unlikely any third-party candidates will be on the November ballot. The official description of Prop. 14 was very misleading. Voters in several districts may not realize what they signed up for when they face a choice between just two Democrats or two Republicans in general elections.

The good news is that Prop. 16, a disgusting power grab by power company PG&E, appears to have lost. The proposition would have made it much more difficult for local entities to create new utilities to compete with the power giant. PG&E spent millions on the ballot measure but the people of California rejected this naked attempt to use the initiative system to protect a corporation's profits.

The California Chamber of Commerce backed Props. 14 and 16, while opposing Prop. 15. The corporatists won a few last night but it was not a clean sweep. I hope the voters of California enjoy the huge campaign spending by Meg Whitman, because without public financing of elections and with a new “primary” system that will likely make running for office even more expensive, it is a sign of things to come.

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