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Thursday, Feb. 15, 2007 | County Supervisor Greg Cox joked with me on the phone that he was excited at the possibility of hosting three elections in 2008.
It was funny, to a couple of politically obsessed people like us, because it was obviously not true.
In truth, Cox decided, admirably, to raise his voice Wednesday against a bizarre and, apparently, unchecked movement going forward in Sacramento to split the 2008 primary into a February 2008 primary election for the presidential candidates and a June 2008 election for all the state’s local candidates — its Assembly members, senators, mayors, city attorneys, etc.
This is one of those efforts that you assume no rational person will support so it won’t go forward, so you don’t have to worry about it. Unfortunately, it’s not. Let’s do the background again on this in a good once-over:
It’s simple: Remember when John Kerry and Howard Dean, etc., were angling for the chance to run against George Bush? California wanted to get in on the action. The state’s leaders knew that if California held its primary election in June or something, the game would be over by the time we got up to bat.
So they decided to do as they had before and hold the state’s primary election in March 2004.
You might remember that, locally, it meant former Mayor Dick Murphy, who was running for reelection, had to face the swipes from his rivals for the post well before 2004 even began. And the election, of course, didn’t end until November 2004.
Anyway, the March presidential primary didn’t work out for California anyway. By the time it reached us, the race for the Democratic nomination was over. The state just decided to shrug its shoulders and we passed a law moving the primary to June.
Now, though, some people want us to get back into the game. How about, they say, we move our presidential primary to February.
Let’s make one thing clear here: I’m bubbling with enthusiasm for that idea. Seriously. I love politics and I’ve never lived in a place that actually got exposed to a presidential race. It would be interesting. California could secure a little more clout. It makes total sense.
Now, what doesn’t make sense: It’s not just president we have to vote on in the primary of 2008. We have to vote on who’s going to run for mayor, city attorney, supervisors … all of them. We have to vote on who’s going to run for the Legislature.
But the Legislature is not considering, currently, moving the entire primary to February 2008. It wants to move only the presidential primary. In other words, we’d have to vote for president in February, for the other spots in June and for the final election in all of them in November 2008.
The California Senate just approved a bill that would implement that scenario if the Assembly and governor also follow suit.
This makes absolutely no sense. I’m sorry, it makes no sense. This would add an extra election to the 2008 calendar at a cost of at least $60 million, the state Senate’s own staffers estimated. In addition, it would cause untold stress for local registrars of voters. The Legislature could save all that money and all that hassle if they just moved the whole primary to February and only held two elections in 2008.
So why are they doing it?
Well, the Senate and Assembly’s leaders are being termed out. They can’t run for reelection in 2008. But they want to.
They want to move the presidential election to February so that, on the same ballot, they can put a measure to extend their term limits. If voters approve that proposal, the legislators will be able to run for reelection that coming June. In other words, we would be holding a special election for the sole purpose of allowing a few Legislators to run for reelection.
This isn’t just a Democratic initiative. La Jolla’s own Republican assemblyman, George Plescia, has introduced the bill into the Assembly.
Now, let me make another thing clear: I think the term limits laws, as they regulate the Legislature, stink. One of the reasons we have so many voter initiatives in California is because the Legislature has no ability or will to produce very good legislation of its own. Voters, and special interests, have taken it upon themselves to give their issues a chance. We have to seriously consider extending term limits.
But this is dumb.
Now, to Cox. Plescia has said the county, and all local registrars in California, would be reimbursed for the cost of holding the special election. Here, it would cost the county $12 million to hold this special election. And Cox said the promise of being reimbursed is not that reassuring.
“They say, ‘Of course the costs will be covered by the state.’ But it took a long time to get reimbursed from the state the last time a special election was held,” Cox said. “You don’t want to have to go chasing the money after the fact.”
And then there’s the logistics. The local Registrar of Voters told me not too long ago that the county has to plan on organizing about 6,000 people for every election. That’s a tremendous task and not one that should be done for any other reason than the most important.
“There’s no appreciation of the impact that has on the Registrar of Voters,” Cox said.
Then Cox put on his cynical hat:
“This is probably part of a deal between the governor and the Legislature. The governor will have a chance to put on the ballot a reform of the state’s redistricting process in exchange for allowing another item that will extend term limits,” Cox said.
Yes, he’s probably right.
But while it may make sense in the most politically cynical of ways, it certainly makes none in the rational world. There’s no reason we can’t vote on redistricting and term limits all in the same election in which we decide on who’s running for mayor and city attorney and all the other spots.
They only reason they want to spend at least $60 million of the taxpayers’ money on an extra election is so that they can keep their jobs. That’s not a good enough reason.
Again, yes we should move the presidential primary up. We can do that by moving the entire 2008 primary to February. But this would mean that the legislators who are facing term limits will just have to give up their jobs.
If they make decisions like the one they appear to be on the road to making, they deserve to.