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Ray Haynes

Can We All Agree That the Top Two Primary System Has Failed Its Entire Mission?

Long the dream of the business community and left of center Republicans, the top two primary was the second choice of those who wanted to allow Democrats to improperly influence Republican general election candidates. I was an early target of the first “jungle primary” approach. That approach was to put all the candidates on one ballot, let everyone vote, and then only the top Republican and top Democrat would go to the general election. The hope was that Democrats would cross over in safe Republican districts, and vote for the more moderate Republican. Then Democrat Senate Leader Bill Lockyer came to my district, and worked to recruit a moderate Republican and to push the Democrats in my district to vote for that Republican. There was already a Democrat in the race, so I worked to recruit a second Democrat to run, and told the world that the second Democrat would be my spy on the Riverside County Democrat Central Committee. That set up a fight between the Sacramento Democrats, who wanted the moderate Republican to defeat me, and the local Democrats, who didn’t want my spy on their central committee. The plan worked, the Sacramento Democrat sponsored moderate Republican lost. I won, and more interestingly, so did my spy.

Soon thereafter, the Supreme Court threw out that moderate Republican sponsored “jungle primary” on the grounds that it violated the first amendment rights of association of the parties. The Republican Party, the Supreme Court said, could choose its own rules on who would be its nominee in November. The voters couldn’t force it to follow a different set of rules. The court also said, however, that there was no need for a Republican or Democrat to be on the November ballot. The state could choose any method of determining who would be the top two candidates in November.

Enter our current nasty system. The business community thought they had finally found a way to get more moderate Democrats elected in safe Democrat districts and more moderate Republicans elected in safe Republican districts. Legislative nirvana was predicted, no more deadlock. Legislators would all sit around in this moderate heaven, and rationally and sensibly negotiate legislative deals that really solved the state’s problems.

This bit of naivete tell us why the business community always loses its political and legislative battles. They are good at business, but they don’t get politics. How were they wrong? Simply stated, in politics, people don’t act like elections are one big business deal. People believe in the principles they espouse in politics, and they want people to push those principles when they get elected.

So, government employee unions want elected officials who will hire more government employees, increase government employee power and wages, expand government and raise taxes. Those who believe in liberty want exactly the opposite. There is no compromise here. What has ended up happening in elections is that in the primary in safe Democrat districts, the government unions support the most leftist candidate on the ballot. The business community supports the more moderate Democrat, and the two become the “top two” in the general. The business community then expects the Republicans in the District to vote for the more moderate Democrat, because they now have no choice. Republicans, particularly conservative Republicans like me, in response to this asinine strategy, just don’t vote that line. In 2016, 2 million Republicans in California simply refused to vote the US Senator ballot line, which happened to have two Democrats on it, and this state got our socialist Senator, Kamala Harris, instead of allegedly more moderate Loretta Sanchez. So much for a more moderate Democrat party.

On the Republican side, we don’t know how it has worked, because the increasingly irrelevant Republican caucuses in the Senate and the Assembly have not been required to make tough decisions. The second bad idea to take hold in California, that of having an allegedly unbiased commission draw Legislative districts (a commission staffed by people chosen by the Democrat Secretary of State) has ensured that the Democrats get close to an unassailable super-majority in every election, making it so only one or two Republicans are necessary to raise taxes. Since a good number of our Republican friends in Sacramento suffer from a form of Stockholm syndrome, there’s always one or two who sell us out.

So the top two primary has not moderated the Legislature. If anything, it has pushed it to the left. It has failed the moderate side of the Republican and Democrat party, and it has failed the business community. It has not made California politics more reasonable, it has made it more crazy. We should scrap it, and start over. The Republican and Democrat parties have differences. We should celebrate those differences, and put them on full display for the people of California, then let the party that best reflects that values of California win. I like those rules. I think Republicans will win under those rules, if we work hard. But either way, that is how elections were designed to operate. We should return to that system.