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Could Prop 14 help get budget approved on time?

May 19, 2010 12:00:00 AM PDT
On June 8, Californians will decide whether to open up future primaries to voters of all party affiliations. Could that help California avoid a budget crisis in the future?Sacramento rarely approves a budget on time.

Lt. Governor Abel Maldonado partly blames the gridlock on the closed primary system, where he says the extreme candidates of each major party are nominated with the eventual winner taking their extreme views to the Legislature.

"My building here that I work in is broken. There's dysfunction, and there's chaos, and people can't come together for what's good for California," said Maldonado.

For the 2009 budget, the moderate Republican and then a senator demanded and got Proposition 14 on the ballot for his Yes vote that ended the stalemate.

The open primary measure would advance the top two vote-getters to the November general election. It could result in two candidates from the same party vying for the job, leaving little chance for smaller, less-funded parties to win.

"Whether it's the Tea Party or independents saying we don't like the choices that we have, well, this is just going to be more of the same," said Cres Vellucci, Green Party press secretary.

The idea behind open or top-two primaries is to get more moderate candidates into office willing to compromise.

"People who are thinking that you're suddenly going to transform California from a highly partisan place to a much more moderate place as a result of voting for this, basically they're smoking something," said Bruce Cain, a UC Berkeley political science professor and director of the University of California Washington Center.

Washington state held its first open primary in 2008. Out of 125 Legislative races, eight had candidates from the same party advance to the general election. Sam Reed, Washington's Secretary of State and a Republican, says the trend is leaning towards electing more moderate politicians.

The non-partisan Center for Governmental Studies actually studied past Legislative races and what would have happened had the open primary been in place. The results were inclusive.

"We did find a slight moderating effect, and I think it was enough to say that perhaps change will actually create a more moderate Legislature. But I wouldn't say Prop 14 is a panacea," said Molly Milligan, a senior fellow with the Center for Governmental Studies.

Supporters say the open primary measure isn't meant to fix Sacramento on its own.

"Prop 14 is one of a package of reforms that we really need to change Sacramento and make Sacramento work for the voters," said Jeannine English, president of the California AARP and co-chair of the Yes on 14 campaign.

"It doesn't push people to the middle. It allows extremists to get through the process," said Dave Low, the California School Employees Association's assistant director of governmental relations.