The California primary is over, along with the rest of not-so-super Tuesday. Sen. John F. Kerry (D-Mass.) and President Bush need no longer pretend there's still a race on the Democratic side.
Now, let's get rid of the California primary. Not the whole thing, but the wretched March primary for state and local offices that leaves Californians with an eight-month general election campaign. It may be bearable for a presidential race, but for state and local offices it's absurd. Even potential city council candidates have to decide the year before if they are going to run. After a primary win they face months of invisibility -- and then, around September, have to remind voters what happened back in March.
Return the state primary to June, the month it was held from World War II days to 1996. The current primary mess was created eight years ago when legislators decided that an earlier presidential primary would give the state clout in picking presidential candidates. The strategy never worked. California switched from June to late March. A batch of other states moved their primaries to early March. Then California did too, but it still didn't have the effect party officials sought. Look at this year's contest: Even with a spirited, multi-candidate Democratic presidential race, the outcome held barely a doubt well before Tuesday.
When party officials and lawmakers moved the presidential primary to March, they dragged along state voting. Some called for keeping the state and local primary in June. But the argument that separate elections in presidential years would cost too much prevailed. The primary was stuck in March, even for nonpresidential years.
Sen. Ross Johnson (R-Irvine) has toiled to return the state primary to June or September. That would cost more, but only every four years. (Since California has yet to be a deciding factor in a presidential nomination, it and other big states would be better off with rotating regional primaries. So far, the national parties don't buy the idea.)
Johnson, another capable lawmaker termed out in his prime, is in his last year and can be forgiven for not wanting to fight again. Voters and candidates alike would be grateful to whoever may pick up the banner. The Senate voted last year to split the state and presidential primaries, and the effort failed in the Assembly only because then-Speaker Herb Wesson fatally sought to link it to a liberalization of legislative term limits. Now there's a new speaker and growing disenchantment in the Legislature with yearlong election campaigns. Secretary of State Kevin Shelley wants the change considered. It's a victory waiting for a general.