By Steve Carlson & Tim Coyle, Sacramento Lobbyists
Great expectations for June 5, 2012 primary election began forming well before its new, path-breaking format was put into action several weeks ago. The idea of an “open primary” had become popular in California over the past two decades. Pundits said elections where vote totals, not political parties, decide the finalists for a general election would attract more centrist candidates to compete. If the centrist candidate prevailed, the theory went, there would be less partisanship in Sacramento and gridlock would eventually come to an end.
Despite the build-up, there were few dramatic outcomes attributable to the state’s recent open primary. Of the 20 Senate races conducted, only 2 will see candidates of the same political parties vie against one another in November. Similarly in the Assembly, while the finalists in 18 of the 40 races are candidates from the same political party, nearly half of those races featured candidates from the same party to begin with.
There were a few scattered contests where so-called moderates made it to the final match-up in November. But for the most part, non-centrist, liberal candidates survived to be the favorites in Democrat contests and likewise, the more conservative candidates prevailed in predominantly Republican districts.
One important exception is the race in the 39th Assembly District. The contest in this Eastern San Fernando Valley district featured the chief of staff to term-out Assembly Member Felipe Fuentes – Raul Bocanegra – versus Los Angeles City Councilman Richard Alarcon. Even though Bocanegra out- performed Alarcon by nearly 3,000 votes – just under 10% – in the June face-off, the new open-primary rules force these 2 combatants into a run-off election in November. AAGLA has taken a keen interest in this race, particularly because of Alarcon’s terrible record on matters important to Southland property owners.
Perhaps one of the most important outcomes of the June primary is how much closer it took Democrats to winning that game-changing 2/3 majority in the Legislature’s upper house. Going into November, Democrats (in both houses) are only 2 votes away from winning the much-prized 2/3 majority. A super majority gives the controlling party power to, among other things, raise taxes and fees, and to place constitutional amendments on the ballot. While it’s not likely that Republicans in the Assembly will give up a net 2 seats and yield the 2/3 margin to their political adversaries, it is conversely very possible that it will happen in the Senate.
Another significant result of the June primary came as a surprise to political observers all across the state: the overwhelming support given by California voters to Proposition 28, a ballot measure to change the two-decades-old law governing and limiting the terms of state legislators. Under the current term-limit law, individuals may only serve a maximum of 6 years in the state Assembly (three 2-year terms) and 8-years in the state Senate (two 4-year terms). These are lifetime limits – a maximum of 14-years. Proposition 28, which passed by a substantial margin on June 5, amends the law to a) cap the total lifetime limit at 12-years; and b) allows any or all of those 12-years to be served in either the Assembly or Senate, or some combination of both.
Proponents of Proposition 28 had argued that if a legislator who plans to serve all 12-years in one house of the Legislature, he or she will devote himself or herself to a particular issue and thereby become more of an expert in that field. We agree. We also believe that better relationships can be established with lawmakers who, say, use their lengthened stay in the Legislature to take a greater and long-term interest in housing. Of course, the opposite is possible, as well – we could get stuck with a hostile lawmaker who gains strength and power with time.
In the end, however, maybe the biggest surprise coming from the June 5th primary election was that there were few surprises. We’ll know more in November.