Saturday, May 5, 2018

Green Power

California's open political structure opens the opportunity for the Green party to create a revolution.

A recent op-ed in the local paper by a Republican party official complained about California's open primary system. This system runs primaries and general elections without regard to party affiliation. The top two finishers in the primary run against each other in the general election. In California, this has resulted in many state-wide races being contested between two Democrats. The Republican party no longer has a lock on one position on the general election ballot as they used to, and this naturally rankles. The editorialist complained pathetically about lack of diversity (of all things!), and how the choice between two Democrats was so limited. It was whining at its most exquisite.

California has frequently been in the political vanguard, whether in tax revolts or in progressive climate change policy. The 60s were headquartered here. California has put redistricting on a non-partisan basis. The open primary system has been a dramatic success, giving the best two candidates a hearing before the voters in the general election, and reducing partisanship and cronyism in the state. One side benefit is that voters can register with a minor party without the penalty of being locked out of the key primary races, which are no longer parochial, but open to all. This new political landscape (which was the beneficent and ironic gift of Arnold Schwartzenegger) could lead to another progressive advance, in the form of a revitalized Green party.

Trends in party affiliation in California. Greens come in at 0.62%- currently negligible.

The Democratic regime in California has not been a bad thing on the whole. Under Jerry Brown, who operates as a centrist, the drama surrounding budget battles and other fringe issues has been sharply reduced. Except for the pension crisis, the state has been quite well run, if inefficient. Advances in climate change regulation, marajuana legalization, gun control, and formal resistance to the Trump administration are generally appreciated. Trump is reviled. Education and infrastructure funding remain dreadful. There is little stomach in the state for a return of Republicans as the opposition, (they are now legislatively locked out of veto power), which would bring back endless bickering and corrupt dealing. There is, however, room for less corporatism and more progressivism, which is what a stronger Green party could provide.

The Green party currently is not much healthier than the Republican party, unfortunately. In California, it fields a grand total of 60 office holders, none of which are statewide. Its web sites and organization seem moribund. Due to the two-party structure at the national level, it is unthinkable to support it in presidential races, where it would be a spoiler to benefit Republicans. But with open primaries in California, the party could cultivate a state-wide program and candidates, while vowing to back the Democratic party (or whichever party is more aligned with Green objectives) in races that are significantly contested by Republicans, which is to say, effectively support the left. That would provide a solid platform for activism within the state, building the movement and the party.

Each non-presidential race would have to be carefully evaluated for whether the participation of a Green candidate would raise the chances of Republican / Conservative victory significantly. In primaries, this is likely be a negligible risk as things stand. At least one Democrat will always win in non-rural districts. For the general election, if a Green candidate is not running, Greens would support the Democratic candidate, or whichever one most agreed with the Green agenda. This would make for a sort of mature, parliamentary-style politics, where coalitions are assembled in response to conditions.

Oddly, however, the Green party is officially against the open primary system, mistakenly thinking that the loss of a coveted (though pointless) automatic spot on the general election ballot outweighs the decisive gain of flexibility for their voters and sympathizers in the primary election. They want something still better, like proportional representation, logic that to me seems maybe nice in theory, but self-defeating and irrelevant in practice. Worse, the national Green party is a disaster, indeed a toxic blight on the left, pushing its presidential candidate in the teeth of all logic and experience. That is no way to succeed.

The Republican editorialist bemoaned the lack of competing perspectives and arguments in California politics. But the voters have decisively rejected the Republican program of meanness, business cronyism, labor expoitation, environmental degradation, and xenophobia, which has only become more extreme and blatant on the national level. Maybe the discussion that voters in the state really want is one between Democrats and those who want progress to go even faster- toward single payer health care, faster de-carbonization of the economy, more effective business (and internet) regulation, and more balanced housing and transportation growth, among many other issues. The climate is shifting.

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