Overcooking California’s election process

That Uncle Leo from “Seinfeld” once accused a cook at Monk’s of anti-Semitism because he overcooked a hamburger. Imagine how he would characterize California’s new election system, which by chance or conspiracy has caused Jewish Angelenos unspeakable horrors.

…With apologies to the late, great actor Len Lesser who portrayed Uncle Leo and lived near Los Angeles.

Poor Jewish Angelenos.

California’s new “top-two” primary must be an anti-Semitic plot. Uncle Leo of “Seinfeld” would conclude nothing less, especially since an Austrian-born governor signed off on it. Recall that Uncle Leo once accused a cook of anti-Semitism for overcooking a hamburger.
The state’s first “top-two” primary should be its last. It produced two general election contests that must be torture for every voter who lives in the newly-drawn 30th and 33rd congressional districts – where the vast majority of Jewish Angelenos live. Many a righteous gentile is suffering along with them.

Two veteran Jewish Democratic representatives – Howard Berman and Brad Sherman – are fighting (now, almost literally) for much of the San Fermando Valley, the 30th, because their districts are being merged. Democrat Henry Waxman, by all accounts a highly respected representative, faces a Republican-turned-independent who will not give straight answers on domestic issues. Both Waxman and his rival, Bill Bloomfield, are Jewish.

More after the jump.
I swiftly came to envy Jewish Angelenos during a much-too-brief visit to L.A. last December. Loved the beaches, appreciated the courtesy of most Angelenos and enjoyed the vitality.

Now a plague has fallen over the landscape that is almost as disastrous as a….okay, so it is not quite so horrid as a 7.5-scale earthquake.

Both the Waxman and Berman-Sherman elections exemplify why the “top-two” primary was, is and will be a bad idea.
Had the designers of this plan surveyed past elections, they would have learned that fewer voters turn out in primaries than general elections. Put another way: Who doesn’t know that primary turnout is much lower than general election turnout? That means fewer people determine the line-up.

The intention of the new process is laudatory. The “top-two” primary is intended to dilute partisan influence. The system allows candidates of all stripes – Democrat, Republican, third party or independent – to run in a single open primary in congressional elections and other contests. The two candidates with the greatest number of votes will face off in the general election.

It opens the door for independent candidates, but the results of the first primary last June 5 were underwhelming. Four independents broke through, but three eked out low numbers allowing them to face incumbents who each won large majorities (two Democrats and a Republican).

The exception is Henry Waxman. He has won every election since 1975 with a minimum of 60 percent of the vote, yet he emerged from the primary with 45 percent. He faces an independent who calls Congress “hyper-partisan.”
Whether Waxman is “hyper-partisan” is open to question, but he is no doubt accomplished. He is the ranking Democrat on the House Committee on Energy and Commerce, passed major anti-pollution legislation and helped initiate early versions of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.

Health-care reform would hardly be a personal priority for his constituents in Malibu, Beverly Hills and other ultra-wealthy communities. Redistricting removed 45 percent of his constituents, mostly on L.A.’s west side, and added expensive coastal real estate south of Los Angeles International Airport, a.k.a. LAX.

I watched Waxman chair a committee meeting in 2008 on complicated financial matters, yet after awhile it was clear that the Bush administration was vulnerable to criminal prosecution. It takes an intelligent, diligent worker bee to accomplish that much.

Bloomfield is running as an independent who previously contributed $285,000 to Republicans. His stated reason for running: “You’ve got people in Congress who basically think that their job is to politick 24/7. The hyper-partisanship is causing the gridlock.”

How does Waxman contribute to that concern? In a Jewish Journal article, Bloomfield makes no case and Waxman’s record, in fact, suggests otherwise.

The Journal piece describes Bloomfield as having “avoided picking sides on a number of issues that have divided Congress” and lamented passage of health-reform without support from any Republicans, but refused to say how he would have voted.

We need independents because Congress and other political offices need average citizens with lots of fresh ideas who are not held back by partisan influence. One would think Bloomfield is full of new attitudes and reflects the perspective of people who lack a political home.

Jews in the Valley have been compelled to endure an election contest between Berman and Sherman not once but twice. They were the main players during the primary and now they are engaged in what amounts to a rematch.
As Democrats with similar liberal voting records, these guys have as much in common politically as any pair of contestants. Incredibly, $11 million has been spent on this election, which The Los Angeles Times described as one of the nation’s most expensive.

It almost turned into a literal slugfest earlier during a debate this month when Sherman disputed Berman’s lead sponsorship of the Dream Act, an immigration reform bill, and Berman called his rival “delusional.” Berman appeared to approach Sherman, who yelled, “Don’t you dare stand up here in the west San Fernando Valley and get in my face! Get away from me!”

As the Jewish Telegraphic Agency reported, Sherman put his arm around Berman and said, “You want to get into this? You want to put your face in mine?”

Sherman is 57 and Bermain is 71. This incident occurred in Woodland Hills, which The Jewish Journal tagged as the most populous Jewish community in Los Angeles. A sheriff separated them.

The general-election line-up was determined by a minority of voters because of low turnout during primaries. General election voters could respond to their choice with anger and confusion.

It is too late to relieve the current suffering of our California brethren, but a repeat can be avoided. Revert to closed primaries and establish a ranked preference process in the general election known as Instant Runoff Voting.
On its Web site, the Center for Voting and Democracy describes how Instant Runoff Voting would work: “IRV allows voters to rank candidates in order of preference. Voters have the option to rank as many or as few candidates as they wish, but can vote without fear that ranking less favored candidates will harm the chances of their more preferred candidates.

“First choices are then tabulated, and if a candidate receives a majority of first choices, he or she is elected. If nobody has a clear majority of votes on the first count, a series of runoffs are simulated, using each voter’s preferences indicated on the ballot. The weakest candidates are successively eliminated and their voters’ ballots are redistributed to next choices until a candidate earns a majority of votes.”

Time for Sacramento to cease overcooking elections. Let my people (and all righteous gentiles) vote…in an election process that makes sense.



  1. Publisher says

    While it is sad to know that we are going to lose one of California’s fine Congressmen — Brad Sherman and Howard Berman — the rules which pit them against each other in this November election is not a “plot”.

    California just switched to a new non-partisan redistricting system, so it is no surprise that the old lines have little to do with the old gerrymandered lines across the state. The new 30th district is an extremely blue district and the incumbents from the 27th and 28th districts took a combined total of 75% of the vote. Another Democrat took 1% of the vote. Three Republicans split 22% of the vote and the Green candidate took 2% of the vote. Thus, it is clear that the district under any election rules would be represented by a Democratic Congressman.

    The only question is which one.

    With the old rules, only the voters who register as Democrats and then show up at the sparsely attended primary can weigh in on this question. Under the new rules, everyone gets a voice.

    Democracy means that everyone should have a voice, and that is not a “plot”.  

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