The political sands are shifting in California
Voters are still trickling into polling places throughout California, but already there are a few safe bets on how the state’s new “top-two” primary system and political boundaries are changing the political landscape.
“There will be incumbents who lose tonight," said Republican consultant Rob Stutzman.
It’s a culling of the field that happens, to varying degrees every 10 years after a new U.S. Census count, when political districts are redrawn and incumbents find themselves in unfamiliar territory or pitted against fellow lawmakers. That’s especially true this year, when the new boundaries were drawn by a panel of citizens instead of politicians prone to gerrymandering districts to protect those already in office.
Don’t expect to see a ton of independent or centrist candidates in the November runoff election. California primaries have traditionally attracted a low turnout, meaning that many of the voters who take the time to cast ballots will be pretty partisan.
“There’s one group of people who may be disappointed, and that’s the political observers who believe these reforms will automatically lead to the election of more moderate candidates," said Dan Schnur, director of the Jesse M. Unruh Institute of Politics at USC.
The vast majority of candidates who survive the primary still will be loyal Democrats or Republicans, but there may be enough reaching out to independents or voters in the rival party to have a pretty big impact. “We are going to see a greater number of competitive elections, and that’ll lead to the election of more responsive candidates, he said. “That’s going to lead to a fundamental change in the dynamic in the capital this year."
The most powerful political players in California, including labor and business groups, already have caught on. “Any time you change the rules, smart people adapt and figure out how to get in on it," said Raphael J. Sonenshein, executive director of the Edmund G. “Pat” Brown Institute of Public Affairs at Cal State Los Angeles.
Case in point: a Service Employees International Union California political action committee spent more than $60,000 opposing tea party Republican Assemblyman Tim Donnelly of Twin Peaks. The independent campaign has boosted the prospects of the other GOP candidate in the race, Big Bear Lake Mayor Bill Jahn.
“If you want someone who is going to be friendly to labor, you’re better off not getting a Democrat into the run off. They’ll get crushed in a district like that," Sonenshein said. “It’s better to have a moderate Republican.
--Phil Willon in Los Angeles
Photo: Tracy Bree looks over her ballot while voting in Sacramento. Credit: Rich Pedroncelli / Associated Press