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The ‘First, DO Harm’ Act – CA Prop 14

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I wont be nearly the first person to be writing about California’s Proposition 14. I’m coming late into the game, having only listened to the vague positive talking points of the California Independent Voter Network (CAIVN), and their allies, who have talked this proposition up. But I began to see some dissent, and took at a look at it myself. To be blunt, if this passes, partly because of support from CAIVN and their allies, I will genuinely be embarrassed to affiliate myself with these organizations that I hold in very high regard for their work fighting for the rights of independents.

Like so many other laws that make it through corrupt, and usually quite partisan, legislatures or ballot initiatives, this law violates the first rule that an ethical lawmaker or political organization ought to look at when drafting a bill or proposition; ‘first do no harm’.

Independents are doing two things that are inexcusable by supporting this proposition. They are supporting a change in the electoral system, only allowing the top two vote getters to make it through to the general election, that has flatly been shown to not accomplish the stated goals of lessening partisanship in the other states and areas that have, or have had, such rules in place.

I am personally quite familiar with these kinds of rules. In my home state of Nebraska, I considered running for state senate, as an independent, myself. This rule was not the only reason I decided not to do so, but looking at a short primary season where I would have had to overcome a huge money, organizational and manpower deficit… it certainly was one of the straws that broke the camel’s back. Had I had the entire campaign season to catch up, my decision could have been different.

In other words… we’re hurting our own chances, in trade for a rule that has no history of lowering partisanship, and actually has a track record of lowering the rate of incumbent turnover.

The second mistake is even more insidious, and the reason why I dub this bill the ‘First DO Harm’ Act. The first could be explained away as being duped, misinformed or (at best) perhaps blindly grasping for straws on a gamble. No… this is wholly deliberate. This is taking a page from the two party duopoly playbook. Its inexcusable and so hypocritical I cringe to think about how it might effect the future of independent movement types should this pass in California.

Independents have been the whipping boy of the political process for the dozen or so years that I’ve been really paying attention to politics. Its terribly hard to have an effect on primary elections, the hurdles to running for office as an independent are disturbingly high in most places and candidates from the two major parties pay attention to us only when races get close.

If there is any group of people that we have some common cause with on electoral reform, its third party organizations. Now, I think that both major parties are far too partisan, and I recognize that organizations like the Green Party and Libertarian Party are even more ideologically extreme in most cases. But my ideological differences with them don’t go so far as to impinge upon my higher conscientious support for basic democratic ideals, and fundamental fairness.

Richard Winger, over at Ballot Access News, hits the nail on the head in his op-ed in the San Francisco Bay Guardian:

“…since minor party candidates almost never place first or second in the June primary, minor party members would never be able to run for statewide office in November. And, the catch is that only the November vote counts for meeting the 2 percent vote test.

and…

“The real irony is that the big newspapers of California know about this problem with Prop. 14 but refuse to mention it. That’s ironic because back in 1981, when Democrats in the Legislature wanted to toughen the ballot-access requirements, the big newspapers of California denounced that bill with full fury. Forty of California’s biggest newspapers, TV stations, and radio stations editorialized against that measure.

lastly…

“Prop. 14 is supported by the Chamber of Commerce, the for-profit health insurance companies, the for-profit hospitals, and various multimillionaires, and the Yes on 14 campaign has a huge war chest. Why won’t the L.A. Times even mention this flaw in the measure? Who are the big dailies afraid of offending?”

And who are these independent organizations afraid of offending… or perhaps who are they pandering to?

This proposition flat out screws the minor parties. This glaring selfishness is made embarrassingly worse by the fact that several independent supporters I have communicated with, or read explanations of their reasoning for support, of the proposition have actually touted this as a way of further marginalizing these minor parties. This rings of a bully at school taking his anger out on even smaller kids because his bigger brothers have been beating on him for years. In fact, this is precisely what this is.

I’m not going to split hairs on this issue. Independents that support this bill should be ashamed of themselves.