Opinion Columns & Blogs

‘Open’ plan closes out third parties

When Abel Maldonado sold his vote on last year’s state budget for a stint as lieutenant governor, he also persuaded the Legislature to throw in a special goodie: a ballot measure that would turn November elections into two-candidate races.

Maldonado, the Central Coast’s state senator, wants a so-called “open primary” that would enable only the top two finishers to go forward to November.

Maldonado may see this as an “open primary,” but I see it as a “closed general election.”

Only the top two candidates emerge from the primary? We all can see what that means — no minor parties.

Adios, Green Party. Hasta la vista, Libertarians. It’s been nice knowing you, American Party. See you in some alternate political universe, Peace and Freedomers. Move along, Independents.

This “top two” general election, as disinterested observers refer to it, would be a disaster for the body politic, although Maldonado believes it will free the state from legislative gridlock.

When he spoke to The Tribune editorial board about this in December, he likened his proposal to the Super Bowl, in which, following a grueling regular season and playoffs, the best two teams emerge to duke it out. It seemed to me that he grew misty-eyed as he described the final shootout, although it may have just been the lighting in the room.

I’ll glide on past the offensive metaphor of freedom as a football game.

You can see why Maldonado, who describes himself as pragmatic and appears to have no unbendable convictions, would want to change the primary system. He can’t win a statewide office under the current system.

In its primary, the Republican Party is going to nominate conservative ideologues, as it did in 2006, when Maldonado failed to win his own party’s primary for state controller because Republican voters considered him too far to the center.

Democrats have the same problem, with those on the left dominating in the primary.

So why would I not want to change this?

Because parties should get to choose their candidates. Voters can sort them out in the general election. If Maldonado is not ideologically pure enough for his party, he can change parties, or become an independent, as Sens. Joe Lieberman and Bernie Sanders did on the national level.

Or maybe he can join with other self-described nonideologues and form a viable third political party, one that is in the middle.

In fact, I’ve wondered in the past several years why those in the center have not done exactly that. The national and state gridlock comes from rigidity on the edges that has crept inward and frozen the parties.

To answer my own question, third parties are unlikely to form because the system is heavily stacked against them, even as the Republican and Democratic parties become more similar, especially in their fealty to Big Money.

My own profession is as guilty of fomenting this as are other national institutions, freezing out Greens, Libertarians and others from televised presidential debates and day-to-day coverage.

From where I stand, the system needs more voices, not fewer. My own layman’s reading of American history tells me that significant progress originates on the margins of political society and moves inward.

Those ideas can’t spread if they are choked off at the source.

Maldonado apparently does not care for the cacophony of voices that has helped make this nation special.

He wants to advance his own career, by finagling an appointment to higher office, trading his vote or freezing out other voices.

That is a bad deal for those of us who like the raucous, but vibrant sounds of democracy.