Thursday, Feb. 1, 2007 | It’s hard to imagine there is an agency that has worked as hard in the last three years as has the San Diego County Registrar’s Office.

Sure, mayors resign in other parts of the country. City council members pass away and others also resign. Yes, congressmen get thrown in the pen in other parts of the country.

Other places, I suppose, have write-in candidates for high-profile public spots. And we’re not the only ones in the state who have to vote on initiative after initiative.

But San Diego has had it all.

And Mikel Haas, the registrar, feels it. Haas is just finishing his second year on the job.

“This county has done more major elections over the last 18 months than anyone anywhere,” Haas said.

Yeah, well, tough luck. Haas and his staff may get a breather, but if a local assemblyman and a few other state figures get their way, Haas may be busier in 2008 than he ever has been.

It may be a year away, but politicians are like dogs: time goes by much faster for them. They have to prepare. And even if you don’t age as fast as a politico, you probably still care where your money is going and there would be a lot of it going to this.

What’s happening?

Well, there’s a movement afoot to ostensibly make California a national player in the big presidential game. As you no doubt know, since California is a reliably Democratic state, neither of the two candidates who end up running for president are likely to ever spend much time here campaigning. They may drop by to collect money from our wealthier neighbors, but they aren’t going to waste time or money trying to get your vote. It’s pretty well understood how our electoral votes will be cast.

But do we get a chance to at least influence who those two candidates turn out to be? No, not really. California’s primary is scheduled for June. By then, the race for president will have already been narrowed to two major candidates.

And that is what California’s powers that be want to change. As such, led by Assemblyman George Plescia, they’ve put out a proposal that would move the presidential primary to February 2008 — when the race might still be formative.

But there’s another way to look at this too. Plescia and other legislators are approaching the end of their terms. Because of the state’s rigid term limits, these elected officials have to give up their jobs right at the point when they feel like they’ve hit their stride.

The two main leaders of the state Legislature have been pretty open about their desire to continue in their positions and to extend term limits. To do that, California voters would need to change the law. And voters would need to do that early enough so that these legislators would be able to run in the June 2008 election.

But they’d look pretty silly calling a special election in coming months to do that. Californians can put up with a lot, but paying out the nose for a special election to change the law to protect the jobs of specific legislators is not something they’d be too keen on supporting. If they want to extend term limits, fine, but let us decide during a regularly scheduled election and save tens of millions of dollars in taxes.

And so the idea now is that perhaps they could kill two birds with the same stone. They could move the presidential primary up to February 2008 but leave the rest of the state’s primary elections to June. They could change the state’s term limits law on the February ballot and, voila, California gets to play in the president’s sandbox and these legislators have a chance to keep their jobs.

The only loser is Haas. And, well, us. Wait, I guess, local political aspirants. And, gosh, pretty much everyone.

This scenario, if implemented, would have us go to the polls in February 2008 to vote on who should run for president and a change to the term limits law along with who knows how many other initiatives. Then we’d have to go back to the ballot box in June 2008 to vote in the primary elections for the legislature, the city councils, the city attorney, the mayor. Then we’d have to go to the polls in November to vote in the runoff elections of all these things and, of course, to cast our less-than-meaningful ballots in the presidential election.

Haas estimated adding that extra election in February 2008 would cost the county $12 million. Across the state, the total would reach $90 million. Plescia told me that Haas and other registrars across the state shouldn’t worry about the cost — he would find a way to make the state pay for it.

Haas said there is precedent for that: State funds paid for the special 2005 election that altered Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s career path. The state also covered the cost of the election to replace Duke Cunningham. But just because the state pays for it doesn’t mean it’s free.

There is, of course, an alternative. If we want to influence presidential politics and be fiscally prudent, we could eliminate the June primary altogether and do all our primary voting in February.

We’d only have to vote twice in 2008 under that vision. Haas would only have to arrange two elections.

Thing is, if we decide to do that, candidates for local office need to know now — as in yesterday. They are only allowed to overtly campaign for one year before their election. They will need that time.

It makes total sense for California to inject itself into presidential politics. But it doesn’t make sense to mount three separate elections in 2008. In fact, it’s a totally unjustified waste of taxpayer dollars.

Move the entire primary to February. Give us a say on Hillary, Barack, Mitt and the Johns. Do it soon so local candidates can get moving.

Save Haas a few bucks on bottles of Rolaids.

Please contact Scott Lewis directly with your thoughts, ideas, personal stories or tips. Or send a letter to the editor.

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