Corporate Dems Like Schumer Aren't Done Wrecking The Democratic Party
A week ago, in a comparison between Netroots Nation and the New Music Seminar I was grumbling about the stature accorded to conservative corporate Democrats Joe Biden and Chuck Schumer. Why not invite Rahm Emanuel, Harold Ford, John Barrow or Robert Rubin? They're Democrats too. When it started the New Music Seminar was a place you could see live shows from REM, The Pixies, The Buzzcocks, My Bloody Valentine, RomeoVoid, 10,000 Maniacs, Smashing Pumpkins, Sonic Youth, Dinosaur Jr and Run DMC. Not Chuck Schumer. Oh I don't care if Chuck Schumers and Joe Bidens come to this kind of thing-- and it's none of my business anyway (and, of course, it is a business)-- but why elevate them and give them some kind of status among the cutting edge? Bleccchhh.
The Finance Sector, or what we affectionately call Wall Street, has given Schumer $20,385,339, more than any senator in history who hasn't been a presidential candidate-- and more than several who have! Like Biden who "only" took in $4,029,797. Schumer's never been a friend of progressives and never will be-- and I remember him from the 1960s at James Madison High School in Brroklyn! A day after he strutted around Netroots Nation, he was writing an OpEd for the NY Times that would make it easier for his Wall Street backers to own even more of the American political system than they already do. "Polarization and partisanship," he writes, "are a plague on American politics." He's sad that Eric Cantor was defeated by some scruffy teabagger and claims primaries poison the health of the political system. I remember when he was head of the DSCC and progressives fought him-- and beat him-- when he put some slimy Wall Street shill up for senator and we got behind populist John Tester, who beat Schumer's candidate and then beat a Wall Street-owned Republican incumbent.
Most of the response to Schumer's proposal to do away with partisan primaries has been very negative. 538: "Here’s the problem with Schumer’s argument: There isn’t much evidence to support it." Jonathan Bernstein for Bloomberg: Chuck Schumer Gets Primaries All Wrong. And California grassroots activist Paul Hogarth points out that Schumer's proposal would just duplicate California's dysfunction.
[I]t was Schumer’s defense of California’s top-two primary that revealed how clueless he is about my home state, and how getting rid of party primaries will only make things worse.The next day, Markos took a swing at the same proposition. "Let's be honest," he urged. "Just one party is polarized, and that's the GOP. That's their problem, not Chuck Schumer's or anyone else's. Let Reublicans fix their own shit. But even both parties were polarized, so what? Partisanship is deeply ingrained in the fabric of our nation's being. There's nothing wrong with it. It gives people without the time and inclination to research every single candidate a guidepost upon which to base their voting decisions. It gives people a flag to rally around, a cause to stir them to action. That's why parties exist. And voters should be allowed to determine the direction of their own parties. That's not a problem that needs solving, and even if it was, his solution does nothing to do so… But the biggest indictment? It kills voter participation."
California was racked by polarization until voters approved a constitutional amendment in 2010 that adopted a “top-two” primary system.Oy vey. Yes, it’s true that California’s government was dysfunctional before 2010, but that did not change because we passed the “top-two primary.” It was ending the two-thirds rule for passing a budget in 2010 that finally brought some sanity, and an increasingly blue legislature in 2012 changed things for the better.
But the “top-two” primary also created a whole new host of problems that has led to abysmal voter turnout, Republican-vs-Republican general elections and the rise of corporate Democrats in the state legislature. Oh, and the Tea Party is still a relevant factor in the state.
So no thanks, Chuck. Please don't export the Golden State's dysfunction. Lots more below the fold, written by someone who actually lives in California...
[A]s state Democratic chairman John Burton predicted at the state party’s 2010 convention in Los Angeles, it was really more about helping big business elect more of their Democrats-- with cross-over votes from Republicans.
Four years later, Burton’s prediction has proven right-- as we have witnessed the rise of the corporate Democrat in deep-blue districts that should be electing progressive champions.
The rise of what might be called the Corporate Democrat can only be partly explained by shrinking GOP delegations in Sacramento. It is also the product of redistricting and effects of the “top-two primary,” by which members of the same political party can win the top two primary positions and then face off in November. Since then, powerful corporations, agricultural associations and other political high rollers have been turning away from their traditional Republican partners and placing more and more of their chips on the Democratic end of the table-- specifically, on candidates like Marc Levine [of Marin County.]Under the new rules, Silicon Valley Rep. Mike Honda may have easily bested Ro Khanna in the June 2014 primary-- but the “top-two” primary means that corporate Democrat Khanna still has a second bite at the apple, and will attempt to beat Honda with Republican votes. Under the new rules, Republicans can even cross over and pick their Democrat.
We saw this happen in June in legislative races, such as California’s 4th Assembly district—a deep blue district in wine country (Napa County and surroundings), where Democrats enjoy a 20-point registration edge. Progressive champion Mariko Yamada was elected under the old system, and is stepping down due to term limits. But her replacement in November will now be a choice between a Republican-- and an ex-Republican turned corporate Democrat.
That’s because there were 3 Democrats and 1 Republican on the June ballot, and the top two finishers regardless of party moved on to November. The Republican came in first with 26 percent of the vote, followed by Democrat Bill Dodd-- an ex-Republican Napa County Supervisor with heavy funding from the Chamber of Commerce, who benefited because Republicans could now choose which Democrat moved ahead. Progressive Democrat (and labor-backed) candidate Dan Wolk came in a close third, and a fourth Democrat in the race played spoiler.
California will still have a solidly Democratic legislature, but enough corporate Democrats elected under the top-two primary recently colluded with Republicans to kill a fracking moratorium. Expect more of these losses in Sacramento, as Democrats from even deep-blue districts side with their corporate donors.
Sometimes, the top-two primary allows for what could be winnable seats for Democrats into a November match-up between two Republicans. GOP Rep. Gary Miller of California’s 31st Congressional District (San Bernardino) dodged a bullet in 2012, when a crowded field of Democrats on the June ballot meant that he ended up facing another Republican.
Voters in that district, by the way, preferred Barack Obama over Mitt Romney-- so coat-tails could have netted the blue team an extra House seat. But there was no Democrat on the November ballot, so it was a wasted opportunity.
Miller is retiring this year, and we almost had a repeat in that district. But Democrat Pete Aguilar managed to score a second-place finish in June (by less than 400 votes), so the blue team will at least have a Democrat on the ballot and have a potential pick-up opportunity.
But in California’s 25th Congressional District, where another Republican (Buck McKeon) is retiring, what could have been a possible pick-up for Democrats is now assured GOP representation until at least 2016 (if not further) in a district that is trending blue.
No, Chuck, top-two primary does not mean higher voter turnout
While there are no guarantees, it seems likely that a top-two primary system would encourage more participation in primaries and undo tendencies toward default extremism.
Sen. Schumer alleges that a top-two primary would result in higher turnout. That's exactly what Arnold Schwarzenegger and Abel Maldonado promised back in 2010 when California voters were asked to pass it.
But unlike Schumer, they didn’t have the hindsight to know its effects. Now we know the answer.
The 2014 California Primary Election will go down as the worst ever in terms of voter turnout.
Voter turnout in June was an abysmal 18 percent, which of course turns out the most committed and comfortable voters-- who are disproportionately white, old and conservative.
In California’s race for state controller, we came dangerously close to another November run-off between two Republicans: Fresno Mayor Ashley Swearengin, and conservative David Evans-- who spent practically no money, and benefited from a healthy Tea Party turnout.
Before Schwarzenegger and other corporate politicians got the dysfunctional new system passed in California, primary turnout was 30%-- pretty awful… but not as awful as it was with the new system: 18%. Schumer is tired and whatever sharpness he hever ad is long dulled by time. He shouldn't run again; he should make room for fresh new ideas in the Senate.