October 6, 2017

Primary Relevance for California

The California legislature recently approved SB 568 which, now that it's been signed by Governor Jerry Brown, will move all of the Golden State's primaries to the first Tuesday after the first Monday in March.

It's easy to understand why they'd want to make a change on when they hold the presidential primary; after all, California has the country's largest population and, in 2016, more registered voters than the population of 46 states, so it does seem a little out-of-kilter that those voters have no say in picking the candidates to lead our country. In 2016, for example, Hillary Clinton clinched the nomination the day before California's primary.

And, from an issues perspective, it makes sense to many as well.  Here's state Senator Ricardo Lara, the author of SB 568:
Moving California's presidential primary to March from June means candidates in both parties can't treat immigration, climate change, criminal justice reform and investing in jobs and innovation like afterthoughts, as they did too often in 2016. 
For state and local offices, the move might not make as much sense. Opponents expressed concern that the earlier primary might cause potential candidates to think twice about challenging well-funded incumbents. Assemblyman Matt Harper notes about his colleagues
Some of you may love that, but I don't think it's right for the voters. I think it's incredibly short-sighted. 
They've tried this before, in 1996 when the move to March put them behind only 27 other state caucuses and primaries, and again in 2008, when moving to February moved them up a couple of slots voting behind only two dozen states during that race.

In an editorial in the Mercury News about the current proposed changes, the writers reminded everyone what happened in 2008:
California's early vote may have 'mattered' more than it did in previous years, but voters didn't see any more of the candidates in previous years. Nor did the candidates focus on issues of special significance to the state or region 
They also express a concern that moving the primary "could have a dramatic effect" - but not necessarily a good one.
The sheer size and population of the state means that candidates will need huge amounts of money to be competitive. An early California primary may weed out good candidates who, by proving themselves in smaller states could have been contenders. 
And, because SB 568 ties all primaries to the same date:
The early primary also poses problems in local and state races. If, for example, a city council incumbent loses in the primary, he or she would serve as a lame duck for nearly 10 months before the winner takes office.
All of the reports I'd seen indicated there was no guarantee that this bill would be signed, especially given that the Gov had expressed some concerns himself, and there was additional concern that the national parties, who at least try and run a tight ship on the presidential primaries (Dems in 2016 notwithstanding), might be less than delighted, but in the end he did sign, without fanfare.

There's definitely room for improvement in the way we choose presidential candidates, and having a state as potentially influential as California actually have relevance is a good start. So is starting any of those conversations now, to be ready for 2020, regardless of who ends up being in the race.

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