The Morning Report
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OK, so the county appears to be starting to fire up some opposition to the special Fabian Nuñez Job Protection Election. In addition to Supervisor Greg Cox, whom I spoke to yesterday, Walt Ekard, the chief administration officer, just sent a letter to state officials outlining his concerns about holding three elections in 2008.
From Ekard’s letter:
The implementation of new voting systems and equipment, ever increasing difficulties with recruitment and training of poll workers and the necessity of implementing more sophisticated security measures are but a few of the changes that have made it imperative that elections officials have adequate time to prepare for each election. Conducting three major elections in the space of nine months will increase the risk that unforeseen problems will occur and has the potential to further undermine the public’s confidence in the voting process.
Now, mind you, it’s a bit unusual for Ekard to take a stand like this in his own name. He’s usually a pretty behind-the-scenes guy.
And here’s Ekard’s kicker:
I fully understand the importance placed on ensuring that California voters play a greater role in the selection of Presidential candidates in 2008 and therefore this letter is not intended to oppose moving the primary from June to February. However, given the costs to taxpayers associated with conducting an additional primary election and the obvious operational risks of attempting three major elections in such a tight timeframe, I respectfully urge that you consolidate the presidential and statewide primaries into a February election.
Of course, the reason legislators don’t want to move the whole election is because they want to hold a special election in February that also would allow them to place an extension of the term-limits on the ballot. If voters approve that, the legislators who are termed out will be able to run for their seats in June.
The LA Times today wrote the most simple and reasonable argument yet about why this is OK. The Times sees the attractive potential of lawmakers allowing voters to also approve redistricting reform on the same ballot.
Lawmakers, for their part, will give up power to pre-select their voters only if they get to relax term limits. As it happens, looser term limits are at least as good for the state as they are for politicians, who still would be held to a total 12 years in the Legislature. That would give them more than the current six years in the Assembly or eight in the state Senate, but less than the combined 14 they now can serve in both houses. We’d prefer doing away with term limits altogether, but that is deemed a political nonstarter.
Assembly Speaker Fabian Nuñez, serving his last term, wants one more, so he is embracing redistricting reform to get it. All he needs to do is get the package to California voters before he’s termed out in December 2008. The June primary would be too late because that’s when he would be running for reelection, if he could. He needs an earlier ballot, one that would include term limits, redistricting and, of course, a presidential primary. The presidential race offers Sacramento politicians a high-minded rationale for moving the primary. It’s not about them, you see, but about the interest of the state to be a player in the presidential election.
It’s all good, though. California weighs in early for president, relaxes its term limits and, most important, finally strips lawmakers of the power to shape districts. Yes, there is an element of crass politics to this Fabian Nuñez Memorial Primary, but it’s crass politics in the service of three — count ’em — goals. If only self-interest in Sacramento could regularly pay such dividends.
The Times calls this rosy scenario a win, win, win. The only loser, of course, is the taxpayer, who has to pay for three elections. There’s no mention of the fact that we could still have a win (an early presidential primary), a win (a change to the term-limits laws), a win (redistricting reform) and a win (only two elections) — that’s, count ’em, four wins — all with a unified February primary with term limit and redistricting reform on the ballot.
But, as the Times points out, when you inject naked self-interest into the situation, three wins is probably as good as it’s going to get.