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California voters approved Proposition 14 in 2010, a ballot measure that changed the rules for primary elections. Known as the Top Two Primary Act, Prop. 14 created an open primary system where Republican voters are free to vote for Democrats and vice versa, with the top two vote getters regardless of party move on to the general election. The change was hoped to usher more moderates into office – and there’s some anecdotal evidence that it’s succeeding – but it’s also created a unique pathway for marginal candidates to sneak onto the general election ballot.

Consider the race for Assembly District 76, which stretches from Camp Pendleton to Encinitas. On the primary ballot, Republican Assemblyman Rocky Chavez was unopposed. But Chavez faces an opponent in the general election: fellow Republican Thomas Krouse, a political unknown. How did this happen?

Turns out, Prop. 14 doesn’t care how someone becomes one of the top-two vote-getters. In Krouse’s case, he garnered 28 write-in votes.

‘Democracy is all about choices’

“Democracy is all about choices, isn’t it?” Krouse said. “I thought it was un-American that the Republican Party would run someone unopposed,” he said. So he submitted the necessary qualified signatures to get himself certified as a write-in candidate for the June primary. “It was just the obvious things for me to do,” said Krouse, a portfolio manager. “I just have a certain set of values that I follow without question.”

This scenario actually happened in three other San Diego-area races this year. Democrat Nicholas Shestople qualified as Assemblywoman Marie Waldron’s opponent because of 375 write-in votes. Orange County Supervisor Pat Bates, unopposed in June in the race for Mark Wyland’s Oceanside-area seat, now faces Democrat Gary Kephart, thanks to 756 write-in votes. And Assemblywoman Shirley Weber faces George R. Williams of the American Independent party, who received 115 write-ins.

In fact, the only San Diego-area legislator to keep the write-in candidates at bay was Assemblywoman Lorenza Gonzalez, who ran unopposed in June and is still unopposed on the November ballot. That’s either a testament to her strength as a candidate or just pure luck.

‘Look what your dad is doing!’

“It gives me a bit of a rush to get a certificate from the Secretary of State, signed by Debbie [Debra Bowen], saying you’re officially a candidate,” said Shestople, a retired civil engineer from Temecula. “I scanned a copy and sent it to my son and my daughter and said, ‘Look what your dad is doing!’”

Shestople, unlike the other writes in, actually defeated another candidate on his way to the November ballot — Mike Paster, a libertarian who garnered 14 write-in votes during the primary. Shestople said he’s running because he thought it was important to have a Democrat on the ballot in Waldron’s 76th Assembly District and while he suspects his party designation will help secure a decent number of votes, he has no illusions who will win. “I’m a realist,” he said. “The demographics are definitely against me.”

San Diego in State News

• San Diego-area political activists Ken Moser and Richard Shigley have sued Sen. Ben Hueso, alleging that he misused campaign funds to pay for legal costs associated with Hueso’s failed 2005 run for the San Diego Unified school board. Hueso’s chief of staff called Moser a “perpetual filer” of such lawsuits that target Democrats. (U-T)

• Assembly Speaker Toni Atkins was the top political fundraiser during the end of the legislative session last month. (Sacramento Bee)

• Gov. Jerry Brown signed legislation, co-written by a City Heights woman, requiring health-related consumer protection boards to track the ethnicity, languages and demographics of their fields. The hope is that this will ID where diversity is lacking in California’s health care workforce. (VOSD)

• Fresno Democratic Assemblyman Henry Perea was in San Diego this week to meet with Atkins, and to talk about electric vehicle rebates. (U-T)

• Atkins’ ascension to Assembly speaker, in part, has some wondering if San Diego has become the new home of LGBT activism. (Advocate)

Quick Hits

• The number of  independent voters has reached an all-time high, with 4 million “no party preference” voters. (L.A. Times)

• Poll: Fifty-eight percent of likely voters support Proposition 1, the water bond. (Public Policy Institute of California)

• The federal government has approved the design of California driver’s license for undocumented immigrants. (Sacramento Bee)

• Gov. Jerry Brown signed legislation establishing tougher penalties for arson shortly after a man was charged with starting the Kings first near Sacramento. (L.A. Times)

• The governor vetoed legislation that would made it easier for men to change their babies’ diapers in public places. (Sacramento Bee)

• U.S. Sen. Rand Paul spoke at the California Republican Convention this past weekend. (OC Register)

• California Attorney General Kamala Harris is late in producing nine mandated reports this year. (U-T)

• Carly Fiorina — remember her? — won’t rule out a future bid for the White House. (San Francisco Chronicle)

What’s Next?

Prediction: At least one of the write in candidates mentioned above will bring in a sizable percentage of the vote, by virtue of his party designation alone. But none of them will win.

Brian Joseph

Brian Joesph is a Voice of San Diego contributor. He has covered the state capitol for more than seven years. You can reach him at bjoseph1@gmail.com.

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