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California and the West | Capitol Journal

Plan by Small States Is Big on Chutzpah


SACRAMENTO — California the big chump! That's how we must look to some Republican muckey-mucks who want us to get back at the end of the line in the presidential nominating process and stay there.

They're actually serious about this.

These party pooh-bahs are trying to sell the GOP--and California--on a new "reform" that would empower all the tiny states and chain the gorillas, even a 900-pounder.

In their scheme, the smallest states would hold primaries first, in early March. A month later, the medium-size states could vote. Then the larger states. And finally in June, the biggest states would be allowed to speak up. After it really didn't matter.

In every presidential election starting in 2004.

In their dreams.

Done that. No thanks.

A June primary worked fine for California back when most states chose national convention delegates through caucuses or state conventions. The competition started later and lasted longer into the year. Then came "reform." In 1968, only 15 states held GOP primaries; this year 45 are, many of them "front-loaded" in early March. In 1980, 21% of the delegates were chosen by mid-March; this year, 63% were.

California primaries clinched nominations for Republican Barry Goldwater in 1964 and Democrat George McGovern in 1972. Then there were five meaningless yawners. Frustrated, California moved its primary up to March 26 for 1996. But that wasn't early enough. So this year we moved up to March 7.

Bingo. Live candidates. Voter excitement. The biggest primary turnout in 20 years. California had clout again. It helped clinch the nominations of both Republican George W. Bush and Democrat Al Gore.

Says Gov. Gray Davis: "After decades serving as the caboose on the presidential primary train, California finally got a chance to participate in a meaningful way. Now they want us to go to the back of the pack? Hello!"



This brainchild came out of Delaware, which for years has been peeved because candidates and the media fawn all over Iowa and New Hampshire, but ignore its primary. Under the "Delaware Plan," that weeny state would be in the first voting group and perhaps get some attention.

"Who can blame Delaware? It's an Amtrak stop," says California Democratic official Bob Mulholland, a member of the party's national committee. "But it's a stupid plan.

"Our response is drop dead. We've got an early primary and we're going to keep it."

Nobody will be forcing any Delaware Plan on California unless the Democratic Legislature and governor agree. A bill must be passed. And that's not going to happen--because state Republicans don't like the idea either.

"It's bonehead," says Senate GOP Leader Jim Brulte of Rancho Cucamonga. "Hey, you've got to applaud the smaller states for trying, but we'd be fools not to oppose it."

Leading the opposition is Secretary of State Bill Jones, an out-voted member of the Republican "blue-ribbon" commission that recommended the "reform."

"We're going to stay first or else have a fair system. And there's nothing about the Delaware Plan that's fair for California," Jones asserts. "It's first or fair. Period."



Jones has been advocating another proposal: regional primaries. The country would be divided into four regions. Each would hold a primary one month apart, with the order rotated every election cycle. To start, the East would vote first and the West last. The West would advance to the front in 2016.

Not only is this fair, Jones argues, but it makes sense logistically for candidates. It might even prompt a debate over regional issues, such as water.

Pampered Iowa and New Hampshire still could vote before anybody else.

The regional primary proposal has been endorsed by the National Assn. of Secretaries of State. It's also being pushed by state Sen. Jim Costa (D-Fresno), who's about to become president of the National Conference of State Legislators and will press that group for support.

But the Republican commission--chaired by former Tennessee Sen. William E. Brock-- considers the regional primary only an "alternative" to its preferred Delaware Plan. Its recommendation is headed to the Republican National Committee and, if adopted there, the GOP convention in August.

The goal is laudable: Stretch out the nominating process, build suspense and engage more voters. But there'd be trouble enough just selling California on a rotating, regional primary.

Two things Republicans and Democrats agree on here: Delaware should go pick on New Hampshire; lay off California. And some GOP muckey-mucks need a reality check.

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