FOR RELEASE: TUESDAY, FEBRUARY 22, 2011 OR THEREAFTER
BY THOMAS D. ELIAS
“ELECTING PRESIDENT BY DISTRICT FINE – BUT ONLY IF EVERYONE DOES IT”
Almost no one running for president ever campaigns in California once the February primary election is over. This state is so strongly assumed to be true-blue Democratic that voters here don’t even see the most inventive, interesting and controversial campaign commercials.
Ted Costa – the man who filed the petitions to recall ex-Gov. Gray Davis, a move that eventually made Arnold Schwarzenegger governor in 2003 – wants to end that and has just started circulating a proposed initiative to make a big change that would very certainly draw candidates to California.
He has a point. But one that makes sense only if every other state in America does the same thing.
Costa wants to carve up California according to congressional districts. As it stands, every state gets one Electoral College vote for each such district, plus two more for its two senators, giving California 55 electoral votes, 15 more than No. 2 Texas.
But Costa’s Electoral College Reform Act would give the winner in each district one electoral vote, and the overall statewide winner two more. If that system had been in force two years ago, Barack Obama would have won 44 of California’s votes, with 11 for Republican John McCain.
Even though California now has 20 Republicans in Congress, nine of their districts went for Obama in 2008.
This sounds eminently sensible, and it would certainly remove California from anyone’s list of states people take for granted. Candidates of all stripes would have to spend campaign time and money here, taking away from what they now spend in swing states like Ohio, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and Florida.
The only problem is that it’s not fair if California takes this action by itself (OK, California wouldn’t be completely alone; tiny Maine and Nebraska now have similar systems).
“The way it now stands, rural and suburban parts of California are not represented in the electoral vote,” says Costa. He’s right. Places like San Diego, Orange and Placer counties, which almost always vote strongly Republican, are drowned out in the final tally for president.
But something similar applies in other states, most notably Texas, which now has 40 electoral votes. Like California, the Lone Star state is taken for granted. It hasn’t gone Democratic in decades. But Democrats nevertheless dominated significant parts of it.
The state capital of Austin, also home to the University of Texas, is a hotbed of liberal and environmental activism, taking many steps to fight climate change even as state officials headquartered right there won’t hear of doing anything similar.
The state’s largest city, Houston, has not had a Republican mayor since the early 1980s, has long been represented in Congress by liberal Democrats and has not voted Republican for president since the 1970s. Its third-largest city, San Antonio, is politically dominated by Latino Democrats.
Like the California areas that don’t get electoral votes of their own, those Texas cities are unrepresented in the last stage of presidential elections. Like California, Texas rarely sees candidates once the primary season is over.
It’s much the same in rock-ribbed Republican (during presidential votes) states like South Carolina and Georgia, which contain plenty of Democratic areas. Example: Two of South Carolina’s six congressional seats are now held by Democrats.
That makes Costa’s attempt at electoral voting by congressional district a thinly transparent Republican ploy, as long as other states don’t do the same, and even Costa doesn’t think he stands much chance of getting it onto the ballot.
“I have people committing to me to gather 200,000 petition signatures,” he said. But he would need 550,000 of those and so far no financial angel has appeared with money to fund a big petition drive, as Republican Rep. Darrell Issa of San Diego County did for the recall. Of course, Issa hoped to run for governor in that recall when he donated the money, backing off only after Schwarzenegger entered the race and questions arose over his own past.
All of which makes Costa’s effort a bit quixotic. He knows it stands little chance. Nor should it, until the idea is adopted far more widely around America.
Email Thomas Elias at firstname.lastname@example.org. His book, "The Burzynski Breakthrough," is now available in a soft cover fourth edition. For more Elias columns, visit www.californiafocus.net