This year's raucous and often bizarre campaign for president and other public offices has for most Californians remained a spectator sport, played out in other states, remarked on and marveled at from a distance, viewed here online and on television as if it were a series of Super Bowls or Final Fours. Spectator season now nears its end and voters are about to pour onto the field for the June 7 California primary — for which balloting actually begins in just three weeks, for the growing percentage of voters who weigh in by mail.
At The Times we call on voters to vote, and we practice what we preach by making recommendations in the form of endorsements and backing them up to the best of our ability with reasoning that we offer up for scrutiny, engagement, discussion, agreement and dissent. Look for the first of those endorsements in coming days, and continuing as ballots and campaign materials arrive in the mailbox.
In the process of vetting candidates in the current primary and listening to the concerns of voters (and of those who could and should be voters, but currently are not), it is impossible to miss two contrary but tightly interwoven strands of thought and emotion.
One is a sort of quiescence — a disengagement from electoral politics and a weary acknowledgment, if perhaps not an acceptance, of the political status quo and a belief that there is little of importance an election can change. That fatalism may help explain abysmal voter turnouts in non-presidential election years, and may even play a role today in the oddly sleepy campaigns by candidates who are vying to succeed Barbara Boxer for what ought to be a coveted seat in the U.S. Senate.
The competing strand is an angry rebellion by voters who believe that for too long, political parties and big-money donors have tried to limit their choice of candidates or preordain election outcomes. That rebellion is at play in Republican primaries and particularly in the front-runner status of Donald Trump, who is hardly an exemplar of the shrinking middle class or the workers left behind by the new economy but is nevertheless embraced by many voters precisely because of his open contempt for the political establishment and traditional campaign decorum. And it is evident on the Democratic side, where many voters believed they were being presented an already crowned Hillary Clinton and an accompanying set of policies and positions, pre-selected for them by party elites. Those voters have responded by handing Bernie Sanders victories in 17 primaries and caucuses (so far).
The contest between the establishment and the upstarts may play out in curious ways all the way up and down the ballot. In the Senate race, for example, which of the two leading Democrats — state Attorney General Kamala Harris and Rep. Loretta Sanchez — represents the Empire and which is the Rebel Alliance? Or are they both the establishment Empire, challenged by several astonishingly low-profile Republican rebels? And does it make any difference for now, given that California's shrinking Republican electorate and its top-two primary system may very well serve only to eliminate the Republicans and pit Harris and Sanchez against each other, all over again, in November?
Even on the L.A. County Board of Supervisors — the little-watched panel with more life-changing impact on more lives (10 million people, 2 million in each district) than any mayor or city council, and often any senator — which candidate best embodies the departure from the status quo, if anyone does? In one race the candidates include the termed-out supervisor's aide and the daughter of a former supervisor whose name adorns the building from which the board governs. In another, the incumbent's chief of staff, a mayor, a councilman, a state senator and several others are trying to succeed a supervisor who already has a courthouse, two parks and a trail named for him. In what for many is the ballot's most obscure territory — the races for Los Angeles Superior Court judge — why have three lawyers challenged sitting judges? In the other three judicial races, why are so many prosecutors running against each other? And how are voters to decide?
Who should succeed Janice Hahn in Congress? And what on earth is Proposition 50?
The Times endorses in these races out of a conviction that the process of studying the candidates, their records, their values, their quirks and their positions and then making a choice — and doing our best to justify that choice in writing — can help voters as they go through their own decision-making process. Of course we try to be persuasive. But the days are long past in which newspaper endorsements had the king-making (or queen-making) power of the sort against which so many voters now chafe. The Times news pages provide voters with the raw materials of voter decisions in the form of news and political analysis. The editorial page is an effort to put those materials to use, and an invitation to our readers to do the same, by engaging in thoughtful debate, weighing our reasoning against theirs, and making deliberate, well-considered choices.
The Times will endorse candidates in the primary for Boxer's Senate seat, Hahn's House seat, the state ballot measure, the Superior Court, district attorney and the three Board of Supervisors seats on the ballot. And we will make recommendations for president in both the Democratic and Republican Party primaries.
Our pages are not blank slates. We have made it clear what we think of Trump as a presidential candidate (a reminder: we are not fans). We express our values and policy choices through editorials. In recent elections we have endorsed Republicans, but we tend more often to endorse Democrats because their positions on important issues more often align with ours. As we recommend one of each in this year's California presidential primary, our goal is to clearly lay out the reasons we believe those choices are the best ones.