Voters Approve California Open Primary

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Proposition 14 victory changes future elections for
congressional, legislative and statewide offices. An experiment in
state-financed political campaigns and two propositions put on the
ballot by major corporations are all rejected.

Reporting from Sacramento — California voters went to the polls Tuesday and recast
future elections in the state by passing a ballot measure that creates
open primaries, one of five propositions on the ballot.

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, who championed
the open-primary measure
called its passage a "historic change"
that "sends a clear message that Californians are tired of partisan
gridlock and dysfunction."

At the same time, voters rejected an experiment in state-financed
political campaigns, while tax breaks for buildings retrofitted for
earthquake safety passed by a wide margin.

Two other initiatives put on the ballot by major corporations — Proposition 16
requiring voter approval before cities can get into the electricity
business, and Proposition
giving auto insurance companies more leeway in setting rates —
were rejected by voters.

Jamie Court, president of Consumer Watchdog, said he was heartened that
those propositions were so close despite tens of millions spent by
companies that would benefit.

"I think it says the electorate isn’t as stupid as the corporations
think it is," Court said.

Under an open primary system, voters will no longer be limited to
choosing among candidates from their own parties. Proposition 14
puts the top two vote-getters in primary races for congressional, state
legislative and statewide offices, regardless of political party, in a
face-off in the general election.

Backers of the measure said the shift would produce more moderate
candidates because they would have to appeal to a wider group of voters.

The state Democratic and Republican parties opposed the change, as did
minor parties.

"It will lead to a spike in backroom deal making [and] fewer candidates
to choose from," said Ron Nehring, state GOP chairman.

Voters were also asked to decide on another proposed change in
elections: Proposition
would have established an
experiment to test public funding for campaigns
. The measure,
pushed by Common Cause, would have allowed candidates for
secretary of state in the next two elections to receive government
funding for their campaigns if they agreed to spending limits.

Secretary of state candidates in the 2014 and 2018 elections who
demonstrated viability by receiving $5 donations from 7,500 registered
voters would have received at least $1 million in state funds for the
primary election.

The proposition also would have barred special interests from writing
big campaign checks to participating politicians, in an effort to reduce
the influence of those contributors.

The measure would have repealed a ban on the use of public funds for
state political campaigns, raising most of the money by increasing a
state fee charged to lobbyists and their clients.

The California Chamber of Commerce and the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Assn.
opposed Proposition 15, arguing that it would open the door to tapping
other public funding, beyond lobbyist fees, for political campaigns.

"With a $20-billion [state] budget shortfall, it’s a horrible idea,"
said Richard Wiebe, a spokesman for the opposition campaign.

Pacific Gas and Electric Co. spent $46 million on its campaign for
Proposition 16, which would have required local government agencies to obtain
approval of two-thirds of voters before providing electricity service
to new customers
. The measure also would have called for a
two-thirds vote before the expansion of service beyond current coverage
areas if public funds or bonds were used.

"We think people should have a right to vote when local governments
spend their money to go into the electric utility business," said Robin
Swanson, a spokeswoman for the campaign.

The measure was opposed by groups including Consumer Watchdog, which
said that PG&E was just protecting its turf and that electricity
customers would suffer.

Proposition 17 would have allowed automobile insurance companies to base
their prices in part on a driver’s history of insurance coverage, authorizing
discounts for those who have kept their coverage
even if they
changed insurance companies.

The measure, on which Mercury Insurance spent $16 million, would have
allowed insurance companies to increase the cost of insurance for
drivers who have not maintained continuous insurance coverage.

The least
controversial measure on Tuesday’s ballot
was Proposition 13
which provides that certain construction projects to make buildings
safer during earthquakes will not trigger reassessments that could
increase property taxes on the structures.

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Consumer Watchdog
Consumer Watchdog
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