There are four competent, experienced candidates running for the job of California’s secretary of state in the June 3 primary election: two Democrats, one Republican and one independent. Any would do a better job than the current occupant of the position, Debra Bowen, who is termed out.
The race for secretary of state, the state’s chief elections officer, is one of the most interesting this spring as it coincides with nationwide concern about voter fraud and voter suppression and a series of corruption scandals that has rocked Sacramento. That’s one reason there are only four people in the running and not five. Sen. Leland Yee dropped out after being accused in a gun-smuggling case. His name is on the ballot, but he has been disqualified.
Sen. Alex Padilla, D-Los Angeles, and Republican Pete Peterson, who runs Pepperdine’s Davenport Institute of Public Engagement and Civic Leadership, are the presumed frontrunners because of their party affiliations. But they are getting vigorous challenges from Derek Cressman, a voting rights advocate formerly with Common Cause of California, and Dan Schnur, a Republican-turned-independent who is director of the Jesse M. Unruh Institute of Politics at USC.
The top two vote-getters, regardless of affiliation, will face one another in November. We recommend Schnur and Padilla.
A noted political observer, Schnur believes this job ought to be nonpartisan. He is so committed to that ideal that he is running as an independent, eschewing the advantages that come with having a “D” or “R” next to your name on the ballot. If voters look beyond the ballot designation, and we hope they do, they will see a man uniquely qualified for this job. As a consultant, he worked on the presidential campaigns of Ronald Reagan and John McCain, and for Gov. Pete Wilson. In 2010, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger named him chairman of the California Fair Political Practices Commission, which gave him a clear view of what needs to be fixed in the political process.
Schnur has specific, achievable ideas about improving voter engagement, such as expanding voting hours, improving the absentee ballot process and fighting corruption. Schnur intends to use the bully pulpit to push campaign reform, including a 24-hour disclosure rule for contributions.
– An MIT-trained engineer, Padilla would apply his methodical mind to fixing the clunky campaign finance database and reforming a business registration process stuck in the 19th century. His background would be a plus for a position that makes important and costly decisions about technology and numbers, from assessing voting machine processes to building databases. He has long been a thoughtful leader, starting with his election to the Los Angeles City Council. He is in his second term in the state Senate, where he authored bills to create of an earthquake early-alert system and streamline the process for school districts to fire problem teachers.
Yes, he has higher ambitions. It’s expected Padilla will run for U.S. Senate at some point. But that’s a plus: He will have to do more than a mediocre job as secretary of state if he wants voters to remember him, much less endorse him, for a more powerful position.
Padilla and Schnur have crafted campaign finance proposals to restrict fundraising, and both have the experience to accomplish the change this agency needs to meet the demands of elections for the 21st century.