George Skelton

By George Skelton
Capitol Journal
January 5, 2012

From Sacramento– California’s distant spectator seat in the presidential nominating arena is, in part, the result of misplaced spending priorities in Sacramento.

We bought a ticket in the nosebleed section because Gov. Jerry Brown and the Legislature refused to spend an estimated $100 million for a separate presidential primary early in the nominating process.

Instead, they combined presidential balloting with the regular state primary on June 5, long after the Republican nomination surely will have been nailed down, most likely by former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney.

That means Republican voters in the nation’s most populous state will probably have no voice in whom the party nominates for president. They can only shout a meaningless cheer or catcall.

“Cost is always a problem,” says state Sen. Bob Dutton (R-Rancho Cucamonga), who stepped down Wednesday as Senate minority leader. “But sometimes you can be penny wise and pound foolish. It’s hard to put a price on democracy.

“Frankly, I don’t think we’re treating the voters of California the way they ought to be treated.”

Dutton was one of only a few lawmakers who advocated separating the primaries, holding one in early March for presidential nominating and a second in June for legislative and congressional races.

A bill consolidating the primaries in June sailed through the Legislature and was signed by Brown.

“It just made common sense to save $100 million,” says Assemblyman Paul Fong (D-Sunnyvale), chairman of the Assembly elections committee.

Sure. Times are tough.

But here’s the hypocrisy: While the Democratic governor balked at spending money so Californians could help select the Republican presidential candidate, he aggressively pushed GOP lawmakers to authorize a $100-million special election so he could ask voters for a tax increase.

Democratic legislators were just fine with that. A special election for state taxes, yes; a separate primary to help select a U.S. president, forget it. Never mind that the governor and Legislature are empowered to raise taxes all by themselves without hand holding by voters.

GOP lawmakers blocked the tax election. But they also have their hypocrisy history.

I didn’t hear a peep from Republicans in 2005 protesting then-Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s spending tens of millions for a special election on his flawed “reform” initiatives that all failed miserably. And they thought a costly special election to recall Democratic Gov. Gray Davis in 2003 was great sport.

Dutton argued that if a separate presidential primary wasn’t possible, the national and state contests should be combined in a March election when the White House nominations might still be unsettled.

That way, “California wouldn’t lose its importance,” Dutton says. “We wouldn’t be having presidential candidates come to California simply to raise money with voters not having a voice in who’s going to be nominated.”

To read entire story, click here.