Governor Breaks Ranks Toward Center

Times Staff Writer

In a challenge to both political parties, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger on Monday endorsed a ballot measure to drastically alter how Californians pick candidates for the Legislature, Congress and statewide office.

Both the Republican and Democratic parties “have asked me not to support Proposition 62,” the governor said. “I didn’t come to Sacramento to make political parties happy.”

The blanket primary measure would replace the current system with one similar to that in Louisiana. Under Proposition 62, voters could cast ballots for any candidate in a primary and the top two vote-getters would face each other in the general election, regardless of party.

That means that a general election race would not automatically include the top Republican vote-getter, the top Democratic vote-getter and any third-party candidates. Instead, the top two vote-getters -- in some cases, two Democrats or two Republicans -- would face each other in the general election.

Schwarzenegger said Californians “deserve to have an open primary so that they can vote for whomever they’d like, no matter what party a candidate represents.”


“An open primary is an important reform,” he said, “that will lead to more mainstream legislators from each party coming to the Capitol to solve California’s problems.”

Proposition 62 is backed by a bipartisan group of moderate politicians and a wide array of business groups whose members hope that it will reduce the partisan polarization in the Legislature by forcing candidates to appeal to a broader range of voters.

To combat Proposition 62, lawmakers placed on the ballot a competing measure, Proposition 60, which would enshrine the current election system in California’s Constitution.

Proposition 60 supporters include the leaders of six of California’s political parties, the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Assn. and the California School Employees Assn.

A poll released by the Field organization early this month showed Proposition 62 ahead 44% to 31%, with 25% of those polled undecided. Such widespread indecision worries the measure’s supporters, because experts say voters who are undecided on a ballot measure so late in a campaign tend to vote no.

Schwarzenegger has long said privately -- and at least once publicly -- that he supported the idea of open primaries.

He was swayed, he said Monday, by a joint telephone call from leaders of both parties.

“Whenever you have two parties call you and get on the conference call, Democrats and Republicans alike, saying, ‘Governor, please stay out of this,’ then you know there’s something fishy,” he said.

Under the current system, he said, “90% of the races are locked up.... Where’s the real democracy?”

Several Republican leaders in the Legislature could not be reached for comment. But the Yes on Proposition 60 campaign responded to Schwarzenegger’s announcement by saying that the governor “repeats a common misperception” that Proposition 62 stipulates an open primary.

“In fact Proposition 62 proposes a new and untested system that is neither an open or blanket primary, and would result in the fewest ballot choices of any state,” the campaign said.

Schwarzenegger called Proposition 62 one of two key steps to make Sacramento politicians more accountable.

A second reform, he said, would ban politicians from drawing district lines in a way that practically guarantees the reelection of incumbents. The governor said he would ask lawmakers to put a measure on the ballot to take redistricting away from politicians.

Schwarzenegger’s announcement put the California Republican Party, which has touted his ability to influence voters, in the unusual position of downplaying his endorsement.

“The Republican Party has more areas of agreement with Gov. Schwarzenegger than we have disagreement,” said party spokeswoman Karen Hanretty. She said the governor has taken no stance on the political parties’ alternative, Proposition 60.

“Voters are going to judge 60 and 62 on their merits,” said Hanretty, “and the fact that the governor has not taken a position on Proposition 60 bodes well for the current form of democracy in California.”

California Democratic Party Chairman Art Torres called Schwarzenegger’s endorsement purely selfish.

“It benefits him,” Torres said. “There’s no way that he could win a Republican primary. There was no way he could have been elected governor outside of a recall election, which was basically an open primary.”

Yes on Proposition 62 campaign manager Samantha Stevens called Schwarzenegger’s announcement “a significant endorsement because it exemplifies the bipartisan nature of the Proposition 62 campaign.”

The campaign has raised nearly $5 million. Backers of the alternative measure report having raised just $5,000 since January, although in mail sent to party members, both major parties advise voters to reject Proposition 62 and vote for Proposition 60.

Since the two measures conflict, whichever gets more votes will take effect in November 2006 -- barring lawsuits.

Californians approved an initiative similar to Proposition 62 in March 1996 and used a primary election system that allowed voters to cast ballots regardless of party registration in 1998 and 2000.

The U.S. Supreme Court, acting on a lawsuit filed by party leaders, declared that system unconstitutional in 2000. The court ruled that only political party members had a right to pick their party’s candidates.

Supporters of Proposition 62 said they have addressed the court’s concerns and believe this version of a blanket primary would survive a court test.

Times staff writer Joe Mathews contributed to this report.