Dan Schnur makes a nonpartisan pitch

The former GOP strategist and spokesman is waging an independent run for secretary of state, hoping to capitalize on voter discontent with the major parties.

SACRAMENTO — Dan Schnur may represent a new trend and the embodiment of California political reform. Then again, he may be just another wannabe officeholder living in fantasy land.

Schnur, 50, a former Republican strategist and spokesman — hack and flack — is running for California secretary of state, or chief elections officer.

What makes this noteworthy is that Schnur — most recently a reformer and educator — is trying to become the first nonpartisan to win a partisan statewide office. He's running as an independent.

Schnur's pitch: "The umpire shouldn't be wearing a Dodgers or a Giants jersey. The chief elections officer should not be playing for the Democrats or the Republicans."

That makes sense.

Another noteworthy aspect is that Schnur's candidacy is viable only because of a new reform, the "top-two" open primary. It will be in place for the first time in statewide races on June 3.

Under the new system, the top two vote-getters advance to the general election runoff, regardless of their party. Also a voter, regardless of party registration, can choose any candidate.

Gone are the old-style party nominations. You could have two members of the same party — and probably will — running against each other in November. Or, say, a Democrat could be pitted against an independent.

The goal is to give pragmatic moderates a better shot because their fates won't be decided mostly by the extremist lefties or righties who have been dominating party primaries.

But Schnur, never before a candidate for anything, has some tough competition.

Also running are two Democratic legislators with solid records: Sen. Alex Padilla, a former Los Angeles city councilman, and Sen. Leland Yee, an ex-San Francisco supervisor.

A third Democrat in the race is a career political reformer, Derek Cressman, former head of California Common Cause.

So far there's only one Republican running: political neophyte Pete Peterson, who heads the Davenport public policy institute at Pepperdine University.

It would be to Schnur's advantage if another Republican jumped into the race and split the GOP vote. And the way these political games are played, don't be surprised if that happens.

The candidate filing period ends March 7.

With the current field, there are several scenarios pegged mainly to political, geographic and ethnic demographics.

Offhand, you'd expect Padilla to finish first among Democrats because he's from the biggest population center and a Latino, an ethnic group rising fast politically. And if Peterson is the only Republican, he should dominate GOP voting. So a logical bet for November would be Padilla vs. Peterson.

But independents are the fastest growing voter group. And a lot of voters are disgusted with both parties. So Schnur could squeeze into the runoff.

"Voters clearly want more choices than a Democrat or a Republican," says Darry Sragow, a longtime Democratic strategist who is co-managing the campaign with Republican consultant Rob Stutzman.

"There is a very deep distrust today of our governmental institutions. And collectively, the two parties are in charge."