California Budget Deal Costs 3rd Parties

The search for one Republican vote necessary to approve a new budget for the State of California ended at 6:15 this morning. State Senator Abel Maldonado crossed party lines to vote with the Democrats in a deal that combines cuts in services, increases in taxation and borrowing to close a $40 billion deficit. The deal could also save Maldonado’s political career at the cost of eliminating 3rd party participation in general elections.

As part of the deal, Maldonado extracted an agreement to put two measures on the ballot for the voters of California in 2010. One is reasonable and the other is not. Salaries for members of the State Legislature are set by in independent commission. This year, even with the large deficit, they gave the legislators a salary increase. One of the two measures that Maldonado wanted would prevent legislators from getting a raise when the State budget has a deficit.

The other is much more of a personal gift disguised as a measure to open up elections. It would change the primary system in California to one that would select the top two candidates for office regardless of party. In the conservative Central Valley of California, this would generally deliver a general election between two Republicans. In San Franicisco, it is more likely to deliver one between two Democrats. It will, however, almost certainly ensure that no third party candidate will ever reach the general election. That single fact will deter the most qualified candidates from seeking to run as a Green or a Libertarian or anything other than as a representative of the duopoly.

Maldonado is a relatively moderate Republican, representing a carefully constructed district that stretches from the edge of Sililcon Valley all the way to the agricultural community of Santa Maria in Santa Barbara County. He has ambitionns to run for statewide office after his current term as State Senator is over in 2012. At that time, he would have served his limit of two terms in the State Senate.

After this vote, there is no way that Maldonado could be elected in a very partisan Republican primary. He would surely be opposed by the very right wing California Republican Assembly, which resembles the John Birch Society on policy. This deal provides the only way that Maldonado can achieve a statewide office where his being willing to compromise on the budget would appeal to independent voters.


  1. Well, the good news is that the top-two primary was soundly rejected by Oregon voters in 2008. Measure 65 failed with 65% voting against.

    This is a good, thorough analysis of top-two and how it could affect California:

    The author notes that CA voters rejected top-two in 2004. Apparently politicians want to take advantage of the current crisis to force through an unpopular measure (is anyone else seeing a pattern?)
    The author also notes that instant-runoff voting would accomplish all the good things that top-two proponents want, without all the bad – like eliminating voter choice.

    In short, California Greens should take the crisis of the state threatening to neutralize third parties, and use it as an opportunity to popularize and pass instant runoff voting.

  2. Marnie, this was based on story in San Jose Mercury News:

    The agreement involved some raw political horse-trading. In exchange for Maldonado’s vote to raise taxes, Democrats agreed to place on the June 2010 ballot a pair of political reforms long sought by the senator: an overhaul of the state’s electoral system to do away with partisan primaries and a refusal to raise lawmakers pay when the state is running a deficit.

  3. Green Ferret – that Capital News article is a good one. It’s by Steven Hill who’s written a few good books on election reform.

    This state senator is a partisan bastard. Gail Collins wrote about him in the NY Times today and was talking about how some of his other demands were to stop money for office renovations from going to his potential opponent in a statewide race and other petty stuff like that. He was practicing vindictive, petty politics while California almost had to lay off 200,000 people!

    If this thing is definitely going to the ballot, third parties should become a part of an opposition campaign (and possibly advocate for IRV instead, like Green Ferret said).

  4. Top-two was used for the first time in Washington state in 2008. The consequence: for the first time since Washington became a state in 1889, there was a complete absense of minor party and independent candidates from the congressional and statewide state races.

    When Jesse Ventura ran for Governor of Minnesota in 1998, he only got 3% of the vote in the open primary in September 1998, but he went on to win. Top-two would have knocked him off the November ballot. Also the Green Party’s only California state legislator only got 8% in the first round, but she went on to win the run-off. She also would have been knocked off the run-off if “top-two” rules had been in effect.

  5. Great examples, Richard. At first I was intrigued by Washington’s top two, thinking it made things a little like Louisiana’s old system before they dropped it, but clearly it stacks the deck against third parties.

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