The big one hits California

The California state legislature passed a budget this week. This was not expected because the fiscal problems that the state are so severe that the core interest groups in California could not be reconciled. Taxpayers and public employee unions can no longer even have the figleaf of agreement by issuing bonds, which had been Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger’s approach. And a 2/3rds majority is required by each body of the legislature to pass a budget.

Into the breach jumps State Senator Abel Maldonado (R-Santa Maria), a leader of one of the moderate factions in the state party. He supported — and brought votes along with him — the budget in exchange for a ballot initiative that would reform the primary system. The San Francisco Chronicle describes it:

A proposed constitutional amendment would go before voters in June 2010 instituting a "top-two" primary system, which would effectively eliminate party primary ballots, erase candidate party labels in primary elections and allow voters to choose the two candidates – of whatever party – who would compete in the general election.

In swing districts, it is likely that the top vote getters would be from each party. In districts that are highly partisan, as nearly all of the state legislative and Congressional districts are, there is the possibility that two Republicans or two Democrats could get on the general election ballot.

This could reduce the current party apparatus another interest group in the process, but not a dominant one. There is plenty of evidence that the parties hate it. Ron Nehring, the chair of the CA GOP said:

Ron Nehring, chairman of the state GOP, said the measure will "lead to further polarization."

Without a Republican or Democratic designated candidate on primary ballots, that means "in some areas, like San Francisco, you’ll never, never see a Republican candidate on the general election or November ballot – meaning the Republican perspective is missing from the dialogue," he said. "And in parts of Orange County, Inland Empire … you will never have a Democrat on the ballot," he said. "Is that a healthy thing? No, it’s not."

The difference is that moderates in either party are more likely to get through to the general election ballot and stand better chances of winning — assuming that they, in turn, don’t factionalize too much. Why? Because "Decline to State" voters, what California calls independents, will also be more likely to be involved in the primary process. Candidates will stand more of a chance of building coalitions across the entire ideological spectrum.

If this passes in 2010, and the state continues with another highly-partisan/highly-ideological redistricting, the 2012 election could be quite interesting.