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More Clout for California

California finally seems to have decided that the nation’s largest state should have some say in the selection of nominees for President every four years. Gov. George Deukmejian has dropped his opposition--which had been based on the added cost--to holding an early, separate presidential primary election. A coalition of Republican and Democratic lawmakers is prepared to move a bill that would have the California primary held on the second Tuesday in March rather than in June. The change is overdue.

Given the quirks of presidential politics, the move would not guarantee California the cloutthat state political leaders think it deserves. The big Southern regional primary in 1988 was a flop when compared with its designed goal: to make it possible, perhaps even likely, that a conservative-to-moderate Democrat from the South would win the nominating sweepstakes. The Southern primary now is being partly dismantled. But the California change would recognize the reality of presidential nominating politics--that in most election years the nominations are decided before anyone gets around to campaigning for California’s June vote. In the meantime, the office-seekers are quite content to milk wealthy California for millions of dollars in contributions to finance their campaigns in places like Iowa and New Hampshire. At the very least, the change would help keep some of California’s money in California.

Also in Sacramento, and also commendably, the Legislature now seems ready to support Deukmejian’s proposal that the governor and the lieutenant governor run as a ticket. The two top officeholders are elected separately at present, and the offices have been held by members of opposite political parties for a decade now. California voters often enjoy exercising their streak of electoral independence, but the present system can result in bizarre and unproductive relationships within the state’s executive branch. It is possible for a lieutenant governor to hold a governor of the opposing party virtually hostage by threatening to do all sorts of things any time the chief executive leaves the state. This wouldbe less likely to happen if the two had to run in the primary and general elections as a team. It would be more likely, on the other hand, that the governor would find a really useful role for his lieutenant governor.

The Legislature should approve the proposed constitutional amendment and put it to California voters in the 1990 elections. As it does so, lawmakers should also recognize reality and give the governor all his legal authority whether he is in California or elsewhere. With modern communications, the idea that gubernatorial authority falls to the lieutenant governor whenever the chief executive travels out of state is more than a trifle old-fashioned.

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