May 29, 2014 By Nancy Phung
California’s top-two primary system, put into place in 2010 by the voter-approved Proposition 14, is in effect for the first time in a gubernatorial election year. Eric McGhee, Public Policy Institute of California research fellow and an expert in voting behavior and political participation, explains that this election is “a dearth of competitive races.”
Among these competitive races is in the 52nd Congressional District, where Democratic U.S. Rep. Scott Peters (D-San Diego) is expected to face Republican candidate Carl DeMaio in a too-close-to-call general election in November.
The nonpartisan, top-two open primary system allows all voters and candidates to participate on a single ballot, thus candidates in the upcoming June 3 primary must appeal to a much broader segment of the electorate. However, McGhee notes that “the absence of citizen initiatives and general voter apathy have changed the character” of the midterm primary.
McGhee adds that even with the installment of the new, more competitive primary system, this change in character will likely produce a record-low voter turnout next week. Nevertheless, the new system has undoubtedly shaped how candidates have campaigned during primary elections.
McGhee explains that the main virtue in passing the top-two primary system was to break up the power of the two parties and give more moderate candidates an opportunity to do well. Both Peters and DeMaio are evidence of the success the nonpartisan primary has already had producing candidates who are willing to reach across party lines and be more representative of the electoral district at large.
In previous interviews for IVN, both candidates expressed their support for the change in how primary elections are conducted in California.
Peters directly benefited from the new system in 2012 when he beat fellow Democrat Lori Saldaña in the primary by less than one percent. While he acknowledges that “Top-Two” makes winning re-election harder in a more competitive race, and though he says he is a proud Democrat, he believes that it would have been much harder for him to win under the semi-closed primary system because he is “considered too conservative by Democrats.”
The congressman prides himself on his record in working across party lines, and it can be seen as advantageously strategic that he highlights it throughout his primary campaign. One point from his record was putting aside political differences, “working with local delegations, Republican and Democrat,” and passing ‘No Budget, No Pay’ in the House of Representatives.
“And as a result of that, we got the first budget from Congress in over three years,” Peters said.
In his interview, Peters added that he has worked with Republicans like Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-Calif.) on a military budget to move $120 million off an earmark. With the help of Republicans, he also worked with “a contracting group to make sure small contractors have an opportunity to compete for defense contracts.”
In March 2013, Peters was ranked the fourth most independent Democrat in Congress by The National Journal. His work with the bipartisan group, No Labels, has also helped his image as a lawmaker that puts problem solving ahead of partisanship. He was even awarded the No Labels Problem Solver Seal of Approval in May for his pragmatic and successful approach to working with the other party.
No Labels is committed to breaking through gridlock and dysfunction to forge collaboration for shared success. Peters feels that the organization is an important fixture, and serves as a much needed movement because “it is a forum for [politicians] to meet and find areas of agreements.”
For Peters, No Labels enables politicians to “build relationships and from that [they] can get about the people’s business. Not just figuring out ways to snip at each other for political purposes.”
“Sometimes you have to fight, but usually you can do better if you listen and find a solution,” he adds.
In this new and growing Washington, D.C. atmosphere of problem solving, as pursued and advocated by No Labels, Peters believes the organization should also support nonpartisan election reform.
His statement for the movement:
“It’s hard for Washington to imagine what we have done here in California. California is more innovative than the rest of the country in general, and in this case too. A lot of people are afraid to give up what they know for something that they don’t know. But I think that every state should go to this, I think No Label should support it as it would reduce some of the effective partisanship.”
Peters first approached No Labels a week after he was elected in 2012. For him, it “is the most prominent forum for bipartisanship today, and [has] a pretty wide range of political views.” He says there are “some crazy liberals and there are some crazy right-wingers,” but as Problem Solvers who are dedicated to “common sense solutions,” they look beyond political perspectives for solutions.
According to Peters, this is the right approach.
The congressman is steadfast in his belief that a politician should put his country first, district second, and party third. It is a concept and personal ideology that Peters feels allows politicians to be partisan without being divisive, and that independents can turn to in a frustrating system “that makes money so prominent, and that in turn seems to emphasize and lift up the politics more than the policies.”