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Campaigning For and Against Open Primaries

September 25, 2004

Kevin Starr's wisdom and depth of knowledge of our state's history were evident again in "Saving California Centrism" (Opinion, Sept. 19). Most Californians, and even a few current officeholders, want a return to sensible, adult debate leading to rational state government. It's time we all united to sideline the ayatollahs of right and left who now control the political process by demanding open primaries to banish ideological gridlock. Managers of the major parties abhor the prospect. That, in itself, constitutes the best argument for the open primary.

William E. Duke

Pacific Palisades

*

Starr substitutes nostalgia for analysis when he suggests that a return to open primaries of the sort that nominated Earl Warren on both tickets might protect us from "our nation's divisive, mean-spirited politics" of today. The old California form of open primaries was called cross-filing, which meant that candidates of each party could run in both their own and the other party's primary. Until 1954, those candidates did not even have to indicate their own political affiliation on the ballot. In 1954, and until the voters abolished cross-filing, just the diminutive abbreviation Dem. or Rep. was placed after their names.

The effect of this kind of primary was not to promote moderation and centrism; it was to provide an enormous advantage to candidates, especially incumbents, with name recognition. In local races, incumbents could easily win both primaries in which there might be a dozen candidates of both parties, and hence no real debate, and leave the general election ballot with only one candidate, Soviet-style.

Whatever the faults of a two-party system, a general election should have a candidate from each who can focus on the issues and give voters a real choice. I think that if we are going to alleviate divisiveness, we ought to start by getting rid of term limits and legislation by initiative, so that we can have a Legislature with some long-term and comprehensive accountability for the welfare of our state.

Alan F. Charles

Los Angeles

*

Starr's feeble attempt to characterize California as a politically centrist state is downright laughable. Neither the headline, "Saving California Centrism," nor his use of various forms of the word "centrist" more than a dozen times in his article changes the reality of what California really is: extremely liberal.

California's commonly used moniker "Left Coast" is not a geographical description.

Donald Hirt

Paso Robles

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