LA Times political writer Mark Barabak recently reported on a really, really early study on the effectiveness of California’s “top two” primary system (in which all candidates for California state offices and US Congress, regardless of their party affiliation, compete in a common primary with the top two candidates advancing to the general election). Barabak says the system isn’t working, that it’s not increasing turnout and that it’s not “moderating” politics in Sacramento.
A couple points:
1 – It’s way, way too early to declare anything about Top-two’s effectiveness in making government work better in California. Prop 14 passed just four years ago… barely two political cycles. Can we please give it a few more cycles (and a couple open statewide Senatorial/Gubernatorial races) before we bury it?
2- For most proponents and particularly the bill’s authors, and contrary to Barabak and many other detractors’ (mostly partisans) arguments, Top Two was not conceived as a way to get more “moderation” in the state legislature just for the sake of moderation (though some proponents decided that was the way to sell it). Instead, the idea was to put pressure on legislators and candidates to fight more broadly for support across their constituencies to make districts more competitive, and most important, to take the power of partisan designed elections away from self-interested parties (that love them some baked-in/safe legislative districts) and back in the hands of voters — where elections should always focus, right?
LA Times opinion: “Somewhere along the way, though, (some) proponents of 2010’s Proposition 14 found it useful to market their reform as a plan to promote politicians with more centrist positions. That was always a questionable goal. Voters ought to be able to choose representatives who embrace their views, even if they veer far from the center. There is a difference between a bunch of middle-of-the-road lawmakers and a body of principled thinkers who can broker useful agreements despite ideological differences. The success of top-two should be judged by how well the Legislature works, not by how centrist it is.”