Tuesday, January 5, 2016




          California is in the forefront of most things. From new tax formulas and TV shows to new electronic devices, pioneering farm irrigation techniques and innovative hairstyles, trends begin in California and work their way east across the county.

          But not in presidential politics. There, California legislators have opted to make this state a backwater, one whose national leadership depends in large part on the whims and wishes of people in far smaller places like Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina and even neighboring Nevada.

          It’s a classic case of the tail wagging the dog. Yes, up until now, because presidential debates are televised nationally, Californians have felt part of the process.

          But that ends Feb. 1, when Iowans – fresh from their Rose Bowl beating by a California team – head to schools gyms, church recreation rooms and just about anyplace that will hold a couple of hundred emotional persons staging first-in-the-nation caucuses that begin to determine who will be America’s next President.

          Meanwhile, California – by far the most populous state – will vote last, along with New Jersey and New Mexico – and likely have nothing much to say about who the two candidates will be. If the history of the last 11 presidential elections means anything, by the time Californians get ready to vote in June, the outcome in both major parties will be determined by people in other places.

          And because both parties consider California solidly Democratic territory, the state’s voting outcome predetermined by its large Latino population and its big Democratic voter registration advantage, the two finalists for President also will spend little time or money here.

          They won’t even advertise much here. Or at least they didn’t four or eight or 12 years ago, or even during the just-ending runup to the primary election season.

          That makes those with big money to donate are the only Californians who count in this year’s presidential politics. They are about the only people candidates see on their few trips to the state, which amount to vacuum-cleaning operations that suck up cash from the wealthy. California, with about 12 percent of the national populace, had accounted for more than 16 percent of all campaign cash at the last reporting date.

          It didn’t have to be this way. Yes, both the national Republican and Democratic parties have rules against anyone voting before Iowa and New Hampshire, which holds its snowy primary eight days after Iowa.

          But there was nothing preventing California from scheduling its vote on Feb. 16, a week after New Hampshire. Or two weeks later on Feb. 23, the day when Nevada Republicans will caucus (Democrats there caucus three days later).

          Yes, the naysayers will tell you that letting the little guys go first gives a chance to candidates who can’t raise much money to start with, but can later, after winning a few small-state primaries. California just costs too much, they contend. Tell that to the well-financed likes of Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton.

          Others will say California has tried this before, with several primaries in late February and early March over the last 20 years that nevertheless didn’t have much influence on the national outcomes. The problem with this claim is that some of those primaries did matter: For example, Hillary Clinton’s 2008 win here in late February kept her in the Democratic race against Barack Obama for months afterward. Without California, Clinton would have been left for dead after her losses in Iowa and New Hampshire.

          The real reason for all this is the self-interest of California state legislators, who know an early primary would force them to accelerate their schedules, decision-making and fund-raising. They would have to declare for office and start schmoozing donors months ahead of the current mid-March deadline.

          They don’t say this, of course, preferring to hide behind the fact that an early election might cost about $100 million more. But in a state budget of more than $220 billion, that election cost is less than peanuts. Besides that, isn’t it worth something to have Californians feel involved, even inspired?

          There will be little of that feeling here this spring, though, as the candidates slog through dozens of states while taking breaks to fly here for fund-raising dinners.

          That sense of being left out can be laid at the feet of state lawmakers, who never seem to pay any price for selfish and shortsighted decisions.

    Email Thomas Elias at tdelias@aol.com. 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 www.californiafocus.net

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