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California: Open Primary Proposal Vexes Political Parties

Golden State voters will decide whether to adopt an open primary system for the 2010 elections and beyond in a statewide vote on May 19.

The proposal to change the state’s partisan primary system — and possibly boost moderate candidates — was part of a last-second flurry of compromises that came late last week as the Legislature looked to close the state’s $40 billion deficit. Several aspects of the budget deal will be voted on in statewide ballot questions on May 19.

Both the state Democratic and Republican parties oppose the open primary, which puts all candidates on one ballot, enables voters of all parties to select among them and sends the top two vote-getters, regardless of party, to the general election. The parties fear that by opening the primaries, voters from outside the parties will hold unfair sway over who the nominees are.

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger (R) has vowed to campaign for it.

The proposal was engineered by state Sen. Abel Maldonado, a Republican moderate who also proved the decisive vote in favor of a tax increase that was most Republicans considered toxic. Rep. Darrell Issa (R), according to the Sacramento Bee, suggested that Maldonado’s once-promising career is now over.

“Do you think Abel will have to pay those taxes now that he is an honorary Democrat?” Issa told the newspaper. “He is going to go back to private life to discover that yes he does.”

Although party leaders have largely been dismissive of the open primary proposal, one especially powerful Californian, Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D), has been silent so far. It will be interesting to see whether she actively supports — or even helps fund — efforts to defeat the measure.

Pelosi’s office did not respond to a request for comment on Monday.

Andal Takes Job, Won’t Run Against McNerney

Former state Assemblyman Dean Andal (R), who was contemplating a rematch with Rep. Jerry McNerney (D) in the swing 11th district, announced late last week that he would not run in 2010.

Andal said he had accepted a job at the financial consulting firm PricewaterhouseCoopers as a director focusing on California tax issues.

“It was a spirited campaign this last time around,” Andal said in a statement, “but I’ve decided on a different path — one that still gives me an opportunity to stand up for California taxpayers.”

Andal went into the 2008 cycle as one of national Republicans’ most prized recruits. McNerney’s victory in 2006 over then-Rep. Richard Pombo (R) was seen at the time as something of a fluke, fueled by environmentalists’ heavy spending on the race and Pombo’s own ethical troubles.

Republicans argued that McNerney was too liberal for a district that basically is conservative. But in the end, McNerney’s margin of victory only grew larger, and President Barack Obama won the district as well.

Now — especially with Andal out of the picture — the question becomes how aggressively will the GOP go after the district again?

Former state Assemblyman Guy Houston (R), who briefly considered a run for the House seat in 2008 and then lost a bid for Contra Costa County supervisor, is mentioned as a possible candidate. Some Republicans would like to see former Assemblyman Alan Nakanishi run, but he appears determined to seek a seat on the state Board of Equalization in 2010.

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