Saturday, May 26, 2012




          There was never much doubt California voters were unhappy for many years with some parts of their electoral system before they finally did something about it in 2008 and 2010.

          By the time the polls close at 8 p.m. today, we will have some idea about the efficacy of those efforts to improve how we choose elected leaders. No need to pay much attention to the Republican presidential primary staged simultaneously with the state’s own non-partisan vote, as the outcome of that race was determined weeks before any Californian cast a ballot.

          Every change taking effect in this election came via a popular initiative that responded to some kind of public dissatisfaction, as the vast majority of politicians and virtually every political party opposed all that was done.

          The first change, passed by a large margin in 2008, gave the once-a-decade task of drawing new boundary lines for the state’s 120 legislative districts to a Citizens Redistricting Commission chosen by the state auditor from a large group of applicants, all of whom tried to prove they had no axes to grind. Republicans are still contesting one of the commission’s products – the map of state Senate districts. Their complaint will be decided by another initiative this November, but any shift this might produce can’t take effect until two years from now.

          Change No. 2, in 2010, expanded the citizen’s commission brief to include redrawing the 53 congressional districts, thus taking reapportionment completely away from politicians who previously used it to ensure their own longevity in office.

          That combines with another 2010 initiative which ended official party primaries in California except in presidential voting. Instead of separate primaries in each party, there will be just one in each district. The two top vote-getters in every district will face off in the November runoff, with minor party candidates who usually get less primary votes than unsuccessful hopefuls of the two big parties no longer cluttering the runoff ballot.

          This may produce some titanic intra-party clashes in the fall. Polls indicate longtime San Fernando Valley Democratic congressmen Brad Sherman and Howard Berman will both outpoll any Republican in their district, their fates to be determined in the fall. The same for Democratic Congresswomen Janice Hahn and Laura Richardson, who figure to face off this fall after being tossed into a new district stretching from the Los Angeles Harbor area north to Compton.

          Even before those clashes, the combination of new districts and a new system caused several longtime congressional grandees to simply abandon hopes for reelection. That list includes Ventura County Republican Elton Gallegly, San Bernardino County Republican Jerry Lewis, San Dimas Republican David Dreier and San Joaquin Valley Democrat Dennis Cardoza. Others departing, possibly in part because of the electoral changes, include Republican Wally Herger, who has served 13 terms from a mostly-rural Northern California district, and Democrat Lynn Woolsey, a 10-termer from a partially suburban area north of San Francisco.

          There is no assurance all their replacements will be either Democrats or Republicans. The best example of a candidate with current allegiance to neither party is Ventura County Supervisor Linda Parks, a former Republican now registered as an independent, who has a strong chance to succeed Gallegly.

          Minor parties don’t like the fact they no longer have guaranteed slots on the runoff ballot, even though they never had much chance to win even when they did have those spots. Previously, they were guaranteed ballot spots and official standing if they got 2 percent of any general election vote or had 1 percent of all registered voters. They will still have that second way to maintain their status as official parties, so there’s no assurance any of them will disappear.

          One major purpose of all the changes, as advertised by ex-Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and other sponsors, is to help end gridlock and ideological bloc voting in Sacramento and Washington, D.C. by spurring election of more moderate candidates.

          This primary marks the first phase in testing that promise. For once we have a race or two or three featuring two persons from the same party, they’ll be forced to reach out to voters in other parties in order to win a majority in their districts. If Democrats are forced to seek Republican votes, and the other way around, the presumption is that more moderation will follow.

          But the best laid plans of mice and men, as the great California author John Steinbeck often noted, do not always pan out. Which means this primary is only Step 1 in assessing whether all the electoral changes will actually lead to the changes they promised, in Congress and the Legislature.

      Email Thomas Elias at His book, "The Burzynski Breakthrough: The Most Promising Cancer Treatment and the Government’s Campaign to Squelch It," is now available in a soft cover fourth edition. For more Elias columns, visit

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