'Can't do' spirit moves primary to June
There is a new spirit afoot in California. Call it "can't-do." It's the very reverse of the ethos that made California into America's largest state, the center of world technical innovation and social progress.
No political move of the last few months epitomizes this new attitude better than the decision by state legislators and Gov. Jerry Brown to consolidate the state's legislative and congressional primaries into the traditional early June date.
The switch means most Californians will have no influence over the selection of presidential candidates by either major political party. There's not likely to be much of a challenge to President Obama, but half a dozen major Republicans are now contesting for their party's nomination, and California could have had enormous influence there.
Under rules of both parties, California could not have voted first in the nation even if it wanted to. The first Tuesday in February was the earliest possible date to vote in 2008, and something similar would have applied next year. California did vote on the first February Tuesday last time around, and went for Democrat Hillary Clinton and Republican John McCain.
McCain's California victory cemented his GOP nomination. The Clinton win here revived her candidacy after Obama shocked her in Iowa and almost beat her in New Hampshire. With it, she stayed alive well into May.
So California was important three years ago, and it could have been as decisive for Republicans next year, chiefly because the GOP has a winner-take-all system here, giving all its California national convention delegates to the leading primary vote-getter.
But Brown and the Legislature took a defeatist view, figuring California will never be anything but a presidential piggy bank. Candidates drop in here to raise money, the logic goes, then leave to spend it elsewhere.
The state aimed to stop that in 1996, when its primary moved up from the traditional June date to March. Only after other states made their votes even earlier did California move into February.
Next year, though, Californians will be mere spectators during the presidential nomination process, as the tail wags the big dog of national politics. That's what it amounts to when small states like New Hampshire and Iowa and South Carolina decide races that have enormous impact on places with which they have little in common. Only the super-wealthy in California will have influence, paying thousands of dollars to hobnob with presidential possibilities during the private sessions where they raise millions of dollars.
This decision drew some clearly uninformed comment from so-called experts. "We've learned that shifting a date doesn't matter," said Jaime Regalado, executive director of the Pat Brown Institute of Public Affairs. One hopes the rest of the institute's work is better informed than this comment, which completely ignored the major impact California had in 2008. Decisive for McCain, major-league influential for the Democrats.
• • •
Email Thomas Elias at email@example.com. His book, "The Burzynski Breakthrough," is now available in a soft cover fourth edition. For more Elias columns, visit www.californiafocus.net.