The Swarm

Mix it up with The Bee's editorial board.

February 19, 2009
Arnold pulls an open primary rabbit out of his hat
All the attention this morning is on Sen. Abel Maldonado, the Santa Maria Republican who cast the critical vote for California's budget package just hours ago.

But no matter how much you blame him for the state's budget mess, you have to hand it to Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger. He helped engineer the final deal, and got something he wanted in the process -- a 2010 ballot measure for an open primary.

It's hard to overstate what a radical change this could be for congressional and legislative races in California. If it passed, candidates for all parties would run against each other in the primary, with the top-two vote getters moving on to a runoff. That would open up chances for the Green Party to win in the Bay Area and Libertarians to win in conservative districts. It could rewrite the political map in our wacky state in ways we can't even imagine.

Moderates like Maldonado hope it will open political doors that would otherwise be closed to them. In 2006, Maldonado lost to conservative GOP lawmaker Tony Strickland in the primary for state controller, which Strickland then lost to Democrat John Chiang in the runoff. Maldonado is still seething about that, partly because Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger refused to endorse him in the primary.

Now Maldo has double revenge. The governor has been treating him like a king for days, and agreed to a budget provision that prevents Chiang from spending $1 million on furniture for his controller's office. Maldo also got the open primary measure, which gives him a thin chance of landing a state office after 2010. He'll need that chance. His party is sure to ostracize him and other five other GOP lawmakers for voting for a $12 billion tax increase, even though Maldo was successful in removing a gas tax from the package.

Here's where political reality set in. Members of Congress and the major parties are sure to attack the open primary proposal with everything they've got. It will be epic. Schwarzenegger and good government groups will rally behind it, but they'll need major bucks to counter the money spent against it. In all likelihood, they'll kill the measure and Maldo will be left out in the cold, a man without a party.

But that's a battle for another day. For now, Maldo can claim victory, as can Schwarzenegger.

Errata: An earlier version of this item had $1 billion for Chiang's office furniture instead of $1 million. My apologies. Lack of sleep.

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About The Swarm

The Swarm is written by members of The Sacramento Bee's editorial board. They meet daily and are separate from the newsroom. Views included here are those of individual writers, and do not necessarily reflect those of a majority of the board or the positions expressed in The Bee's editorials.

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