Despite the fact that I am not a fan of government by referendum, I was enthusiastically supportive of Proposition 14 in 2010. Its passage changed our primary vote from multiple partisan ballots to a single open contest where the top two finishers face each other in the general election, even if they are both from the same party.
A nonpartisan race, in theory, gives moderates and independents more of a voice. Partisan primaries, by contrast, tend to favor the extremes.
In an election where only Republicans are allowed to vote — and generally those who are most passionate about the conservative cause will show up to vote in primaries — there’s no benefit to a candidate who appeals to middle-of-the-roaders. The winner will be someone who holds right-wing views on every economic and social issue.
The same logic holds true in Democratic primaries — only in reverse.
My hope is that Prop. 14 ultimately will give us better candidates in the fall. Office seekers now have an incentive to appeal to voters in the vast middle.
A possible example of my preference being realized would seem to be the current open primary for our 4th Assembly District. The incumbent, Mariko Yamada, D-Davis, cannot run due to term limits.
Our district favors Democrats over Republicans 45.5 percent to 25.7 percent. Another 23.2 percent are independent and the rest (5.6 percent) are registered to third parties.
If only Democratic candidates participated, at least one of the top two finishers would get there by appealing to the ideas and interests of Republicans and independents. That is how our Assembly race looked, before Charlie Schaupp, R-Esparto, and Dustin Call, R-Davis, joined the race.
The person who interested me most, in that respect, was Napa County Supervisor Bill Dodd. He’s the sort of centrist candidate Prop. 14 was designed to help. Dodd is a former moderate Republican, who became a Democrat due largely to differences with the GOP on social issues like gay rights and abortion.
He’s too liberal to win a Republican primary and too conservative to win a Democratic primary. But he stands a chance in an open election. With no Republicans on the ballot, my expectation was that Dodd would fare better with conservative voters than the two Davis Democrats in the race, Mayor Joe Krovoza and Mayor Pro Tem Dan Wolk.
If Dodd could add to his column a share of the independents and middle-of-the-road Democrats, first place seemed to be his.
It still might be, in part because of an accident of geography. Dodd is the only one of the five candidates who is not from Yolo County. The district includes parts of six counties: Colusa, Lake, Napa, Solano, Sonoma and Yolo. If endorsements mean anything, Dodd would seem to be a favorite everywhere but here.
However, the electoral math for Dodd and the other Democrats changed when Schaupp decided to run. (Call is more moderate, and has yet to raise any money.)
Schaupp is a farmer and a retired Marine, who served in the Gulf War and the Iraq War. He’s more or less a right-wing conservative. He’s the type of candidate most partisan Republicans want in office.
Because of Schaupp, Dodd can no longer count on Republicans handing him their vote. Dodd, Krovoza and Wolk are now vying for the two-thirds of the electorate who are to the left of Schaupp.
The first person to enter this contest was Krovoza. Our mayor has run a surprisingly strong campaign. He’s raised a lot of money — though much less than Dodd. And he seems to have a lot of supporters working on his behalf. (Not only are there a lot of Krovoza lawn signs all over Davis, I’ve seen more and more big “Krovoza for Assembly” signs lately on bike trips through rural Yolo County and Napa County.)
Though he has won the endorsements of environmental groups like the Sierra Club, the big hurdle for Joe will be name recognition outside of Davis. That is not as large a problem for Dan Wolk. His mother’s fame gives Councilman Wolk an edge that money cannot buy. Sen. Lois Wolk currently represents virtually all of Assembly District 4, and she is popular.
Where Joe appears to be winning over a wider range of independent and Democratic voters, and he has been endorsed by The Sacramento Bee, Dan has been more successful gaining the endorsements of elected officials and public employee unions — most notably the all-powerful California Teachers Association. He also won the imprimatur of the California Democratic Party.
As much as I like an open primary, I don’t think, however, the outcome in the 4th Assembly District this June will be much affected by it.
Due to a lack of competition, Schaupp is going to win most Republican votes in all six counties. I expect he will finish in first place with about 33 percent of the vote. Dodd, due to his monetary and geographic edge and not his moderate views, is going to finish second with about 30 percent of the vote.
The math does not work for the two Davis Democrats. They are going to divide one segment of the district, splitting in two the final 37 percent of the vote. If one dropped out, the other likely would finish first.
Come November, Mr. Dodd will be going to Sacramento.
— Rich Rifkin is a Davis resident; his column is published every other week. Reach him at [email protected]