June 4, 2014

Our View: Tuesday’s top-two primary had some disturbing results

Some disturbing lessons from state’s first top-two primary.

By now the residue from the victory parties following our first-ever top-two primary for statewide offices has been mopped up, so it’s a good time to ponder the results.

•  Low, lower, lowest turnout – The new top-two primary drew even fewer voters than the old party-specific version, only 17 percent in Stanislaus County. Primaries are a century-old “progressive era” reaction to party bosses choosing candidates in what really were smoke-filled rooms. Perhaps we’re past needing them. Clearly, the overwhelming majority of voters are past caring about them.
•  The Republican party saved itself – Despite two of the state’s more prominent GOP organizations trying to become irrelevant by endorsing Tim Donnelly, saner voters prevailed. We’re certain Jerry Brown would have preferred to have faced Donnelly, who seemed to be playing the part of Yosemite Sam in a cartoon version of the campaign. Instead, he’ll face an energetic, intelligent, well-connected foe in Neel Kashkari, who undoubtedly will mount a more formidable campaign by November.
•  Warm-up act – The next election will be different – fewer choices, more voters (hopefully), more propositions, final results and far more annoying campaign ads.
•  Dodging a bullet – How does anyone explain the embarrassment of Leland Yee? He got 9.8 percent of the vote statewide, third in a field of eight. Did voters not realize he gave up his campaign when arrested on suspicion of gun trafficking? Yee’s affiliation with someone nicknamed “Shrimp Boy,” with known criminal gang connections, might make Yee the least acceptable secretary of state ever. Anywhere. Our only consolation is that a smaller percentage of voters around here – Stanislaus (8.4 percent), Tuolumne (7.8) – chose Yee than did voters statewide (9.8 percent). Apparently, we’re smarter.

Speaking of local races, congratulations to the winners. But we also thank those whom the voters did not choose. Running a campaign is not easy, it’s not cheap and it’s not without substantial emotional investment. Those who put themselves under the microscope of public scrutiny must have shoulders broad enough to bear the burden of disappointment and skin thick enough to shed attacks that too often become personal. With no disrespect to candidates who ran unopposed, there is something less than democratic about races without choices. So those who did not win at least gave us that choice, and we appreciate it.

And that brings us to the local races in which winners were determined.

We start by congratulating Dick Monteith. The voters saw, and obviously valued, something The Bee overlooked in its endorsement for his race – the value of constancy. Don’t confuse constancy with consistency, which is less important than it sounds. Constancy implies loyalty, commitment, dedication, fidelity. Voters saw more of that in Monteith than in his opponent. And they simply saw more of Monteith, who, at age 82, was a walking machine – shaking hands and talking issues across his supervisorial district until election day. We’re certain that contributed to his 17-point victory.

Congratulations also to those whom The Bee endorsed. We’re glad voters saw in the candidates much of what we, too, valued. We are confident Adam Christianson, Birgit Fladager, Don Gaekle and Terry Withrow – incumbents all – will continue doing their jobs well.

For state and federal offices, winners are just getting started, but a few have head starts. Jeff Denham garnered far more votes than his two Democratic challengers put together. Assemblywoman Kristin Olsen and state Sen. Anthony Cannella also polled well, but get to repeat this exercise against the exact same opponents in six months. Assemblyman Adam Gray had no official foe, but will face four-time candidate Jack Mobley, who avoided having to knock on any doors by qualifying as a write-in candidate at the very last minute. He needed only his own vote to advance to November’s general. Sneaky, but effective.

We hope we’ll get a breather for at least a few weeks before we start seeing more political ads, more mailers, more urgent requests for more money. Meet you back here in November.

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