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Lawmakers seek more clout for California in presidential contests

July 14, 2011 | 12:27 pm

Tired of having California ignored by presidential candidates as a place to campaign, the state Legislature on Thursday approved a measure aimed at forcing contenders to consider the state as more than an ATM for campaign cash.

The state Senate and Assembly approved and sent the governor legislation that would ratify an agreement with other states to award electoral votes in the general election to the presidential ticket that receives the most popular votes nationwide.

Current law provides a "winner take all" scheme in which the presidential ticket that receives the most votes in California receives all of the state’s 55 electoral votes.

Because the populous state is heavily Democratic, candidates often write it off as a place to campaign, instead focusing  their attention elsewhere, on battleground states where the vote is more competitive.

The new measure was introduced by Assemblyman Jerry Hill (D-San Mateo) because of frustration that presidential candidates too often ignore California except as a place to raise money. He said that in 2008, candidates concentrated their general election visits on 16 states.

"It's important because California has been ignored in presidential campaigns for as long as I can remember,'' Hill said in support of AB 459. "This bill will make California relevant in the long run.'' He said it would force presidential candidates to discuss issues important to Californians.

Some Republican Senators including Doug La Malfa of Richvale opposed the measure, which was approved on a vote of 23-15 in the Senate and 49-5 in the lower house.

"It flies in the face of 220 years of election law in the United States for deciding a president," La Malfa said.

The change would only take place if adopted by states with a majority of the electoral votes. So far, the interstate compact has been ratified by seven states including Illinois, Massachusetts and New Jersey.

Gov. Jerry Brown has not taken a public position on the bill, a spokeswoman said.

-- Patrick McGreevy