Mitch Perry Report 6.2.14 - Making elections more competitive



California has been the trendsetter for so much of our culture over the decades — and our politics as well. Some of its influences have been positive, some negative, depending on your political persuasion. But as Golden State voters prepare to vote tomorrow in their state primary election, it might be worth considering what they've done in recent years to make primaries more competitive, and not just exercises in re-electing incumbents.

For one thing, while a court in Tallahassee will ultimately decide if state Republicans did not follow the law when they drew up the most recent legislative and congressional districts in Florida two years, California (and several other states) have removed lawmakers altogether from drawing those lines and created an independent commission to create them instead. Redistricting is generally considered (regardless of political party) to be an incumbent protection program; that why, for instance, Democrat Corrine Brown has been on the side of Republicans in their battle with the Florida League of Voters regarding the Florida Fair District Amendments (her extremely gerrymandered district was drawn in a way that would pack as many Democrats as possible into it, cementing her incumbency while making adjoining districts more favorable to Republicans. The same thing happened with Kathy Castor's district, which includes the liberal enclaves of downtown and the South side of St. Pete along with much of Hillsborough County. While an independent commission would not be completely immune from politics, the whole point is to get decisions about district boundaries out of the control of those with a vested interest (i.e., state lawmakers themselves).

California has also replaced traditional party primaries with a new "open primary" system that puts candidates from all parties on the same ballot, with the top two vote-getters advancing to the general election.

The changes have made for much more competitive elections. As the Wall Street Journal's Janet Hook reports today, 12 of the state's 53 congressional seats are competitive this year. Compare that with conditions when the last redistricting took place a decade before, when only one party seat changed over the course of the next ten years.

There is also a push with the open primary to get more centrist lawmakers elected, since the idea is the candidates have to appeal to everyone and not just their narrower political base. That's open for debate, as is the case that more centrists would make for a better Congress (though lots of people do think that would be the case).

The point of all of this is that such reforms to our electoral system aren't unique to California, they're actually happening in many other parts of the country. Not in Florida yet, where the passing of the Fair District Amendments was considered a breakthrough of sorts — though the fact that you would still allow politicians to draw up the lines meant you weren't really taking the politics out of it all.

Meanwhile, Republicans are accusing Hillary Clinton of playing politics with her take that the GOP is playing politics regarding Benghazi. A chapter in Mrs. Clinton's new memoir on the 2012 incident in Libya was leaked on Friday, and RNC Chair Reince Priebus now says her behavior during that period "disqualifies" her from running for office.

And former disgraced Democratic Congressman Jim Traficant speaks tonight and tomorrow night in Oldsmar regarding his plan for a new federal flat tax (and my bad labeling him as a Republican, in my original post. Traficant's a Dem).

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