We’re supposed to have multiple points of view, or parties, on the ballot—and then the candidate who gets the most votes wins. That’s what we call democracy.
But what if only those candidates who represent the majority of registered voters in a district were allowed on the ballot? Anyone representing a minority point of view would have no reason to even run. That’s not what we would call democracy. But that’s what we have now, since California instituted a new primary system. In essence, it means that if you’re not a member of the majority party in a district, your point of view regarding important issues may never even be up for discussion.
No room for Green candidates. No Peace and Freedom party. In some cases, no Democrats or Republicans.
That’s what has happened in the race for the 28th District California Senate seat. Based on the law passed by California voters in 2010, the top two vote-getters in a primary, regardless of party, are the only candidates placed on the ballot in the general election. Thus, in a heavily Republican district, like the 28th, Democrats, independents and third-party voters have no way of expressing their feelings through their votes on the issues or policies they feel are important. And what is worse: Those elected have no incentive whatsoever to represent those voters’ concerns.
In the 28th Senate race, our ballot will now feature a “choice” between either former Assemblymember Bonnie Garcia or Riverside County Supervisor Jeff Stone, both Republicans. Registration in the district favors Republicans over Democrats by about 10 points, yet more than 19 percent indicate no party preference. The three top vote-getters in the primary were all Republicans, although the two Democratic candidates garnered more than 33 percent of the votes. The result is that the election in November will now be about how one Republican can beat another Republican, while more than 50 percent of the voters—Democrats and “other”—have no real choice at all. Instead of an election about key issues of concern to our area, and policy approaches to address those issues, we may have the spectacle of a personality conflict even worse than the primary, which was pretty ugly.
Luckily, in another local race, voters in the 42nd Assembly District will have a real choice. The lone Democrat in the primary, Karalee Hargrove, a member of the Morongo School Board, prevailed as the top vote-getter in the primary election in a district that is even more heavily skewed Republican than the 28th Senate district.
I had the privilege of interviewing Hargrove. A native Californian born in Lakewood, Hargrove was a high school dropout who married at 18. Divorced at 24, “I found myself the single mother of three sons living outside the Air Force Base in Fayetteville, N.C., and without a high school diploma. Bleak as it might appear to many, I came up with a plan. Within a few months, I had my diploma and was campaigning for a seat on Fayetteville’s City Council.”
Hargrove returned to California in 2007 to care for her grandmother; got reacquainted with and eventually married her “best friend”; ran for the Morongo School Board in 2010 and lost; then ran again and won in 2012.
“I registered to vote the day I turned 18,” she says. “While in Fayetteville, I helped to pass a law regarding police confidentiality, (and) I realized you can be just one person, but you can get things done.”
As a Democrat in a largely Republican district, Hargrove has built her reputation on trying to reach out to constituents of all political philosophies. “I don’t change my message for any individual group,” says Hargrove. “When you involve all the stakeholders, it’s always a better result. I always remember I’m not there just to tell them want they want to hear. Keeping it real—that’s what people are ready for!”
While it is daunting to campaign for the 42nd Assembly seat (the area covers a large part of the Coachella Valley from La Quinta through Banning and Beaumont, as well as Hemet, Morongo Valley, Yucca Valley, Joshua Tree and Twentynine Palms), at least the voters of that district have the chance to make an informed choice about who should represent them.
Is it better to have someone of the majority party representing you, so your issues are more likely to be heard? Or is it better to have someone of the minority party willing to stand up for what you think is right but wield no real influence? Isn’t it much better to at least have a choice?
The best thing to me would be to have a completely open primary ballot, so that everybody gets the chance to vote for everybody. However, the top vote-getter in each party would appear on the final election ballot. Voters would have the broadest possible choices, and candidates would have to appeal to voters beyond just their own party.
While we’re at it, we should demand that those elected serve the entire electorate, not just those who voted for them, no matter how big the margin. If we don’t start holding our elected officials to that standard, shame on us.
Elections should be about choosing among candidates based on each’s ability to best represent all the constituencies in a district, not just the majority. At least in the 42nd State Assembly District race, the voters have a choice.