Come November, CA voters may be forced to choose between two Democratic candidates for U.S. Senate...
By Ernest A. Canning on 5/30/2012, 1:19pm PT  

Guest blogged by Ernest A. Canning

Recently, The BRAD BLOG criticized the undemocratic features of the new "Top Two" open primary system (aka the "Cajun Primary") in California. The new system, approved via a ballot initiative in 2010, changes the state's primary to system to allow a single, open primary in which the two candidates who receive the highest numbers of votes, go on to face each other in the November general election even if the combined totals of the 'Top Two' do not amount to a majority of votes cast in the primary.

In our critique, we cited the race for the newly created CA-26 Congressional seat where, despite a Democratic Party voter registration advantage, come November, voters may be forced to choose between a 'Tea Party' Republican and a stealth Republican who changed her party registration to independent just days prior to the candidate filing deadline because the two are matched against four Democrats on the June 5 "Top Two" primary ballot.

Our analysis drew criticism in comments from some right-leaning readers claiming our critique was simply a case of sour grapes by a progressive author. But, the state's upcoming U.S. Senate race reveals that the undemocratic potential of the 'Cajun Primary' cuts both ways; that there is a distinct possibility that all Californians, come November, will be forced to choose between the incumbent corporate Democratic Sen. Diane Feinstein, and the Occupy Wall Street-connected, computer scientist David Levitt (see video below), who is also a Democrat...

Again a numbers game

Where the numbers in the CA-26 race --- four Democrats vs. one Republican and a stealth Republican running as an independent --- favor the GOP, the CA U.S. Senate primary, in which six Democrats are competing with fourteen Republicans, two Peace & Freedom Party candidates, one American Independent Party candidate and one Libertarian candidate, provides a very good chance that none of the GOP candidates will end up qualifying for the November ballot this year.

As Levitt explains at his campaign website:

There are 14 Republicans competing in the race --- with, at last count, none polling at better than 2%. After all, California is a blue state that went for Obama over McCain, 61% - 37%. The Republicans ideas are fairly uniform, unpopular with the majority, and tailored for their base --- ideas like firing teachers, cutting Social Security and Medicare benefits, and reducing taxes on corporations and the wealthy.

The Republicans often endorse and fund one strong candidate. But this year, thanks to Senator Feinstein's strength, they didn't bother. They endorsed a candidate who has been tied for last place among Republicans. And actually, the best known Republican in the race is proud to be known as the Queen of the Birthers: Orly Taitz has been questioning the president's birth certificate and fighting to have him removed from the Presidential ballot.

If his appearance at a recent GOP debate in San Mateo provides any indication, Levitt may well garner support from rank-and-file Republicans as well as progressive Democrats and Independents.

In describing the debate, Levitt writes:

The [GOP] candidates threw plenty of red meat to the audience --- rich in homophobia, Islamophobia, contempt for teachers and public education, a sprinkle of racism...They practically booed the Peace and Freedom candidate off the stage.

But when I spoke, without rancor or partisanship, challenging their party's conventional wisdom and the other speakers' misleading misstatements and with hard facts, they listened with rapt attention and concluded with a round of applause.

The two videos of that debate (posted below) lend credence to Levitt's self-assessment of his performance.

Classic corporate vs. progressive Democratic general election?

"Instead of wasting trillions on war and giving $7 trillion for too-big-to-fail banks to gamble with as we have the past 4 years, we need to invest in education, infrastructure, and 21st century energy jobs," Levitt says in defining his positions.

Those positions stand in stark contrast to Feinstein, whose husband, Richard Blum, made millions off the Iraq war. Feinstein supported the 2002 Iraq war resolution, warned Republicans not to oppose Bush's Iraq troop escalation in 2007, co-sponsored the USA PATRIOT Act, joined Republicans in voting to limit the scope of privacy protections in the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, and supported the Obama administration's troop escalation in Afghanistan.

Levitt, on the other hand, calls for an immediate end to the DOE/DOJ raids on CA medical marijuana clinics and for a single-payer Medicare-for-All healthcare system. He not only decries the fraudulent Wall Street schemes that led to the 2008 economic meltdown, but calls for specific solutions, including a break up of the big banks, prosecutions of bank and rating agency executives, restoration of Glass-Steagall, and "a moratorium on foreclosures and evictions by any bank that received bail outs or low interest Fed loans."

Back in 1998, Feinstein was amongst the group of Senate Democrats who opened the door to the Wall Street credit default swaps casino by voting to repeal Glass-Steagall, the Great Depression era banking reform that, for decades, had disallowed investment firms from gambling with the funds of private depositors held in commercial banks.

In an email exchange, Levitt, who says he admires Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT), informed The BRAD BLOG that he not only opposes the infamous Citizens United decision but supports Vermont's proposed Constitutional Amendment which would end corporate personhood and establish that money does not equate to free speech under the First Amendment.

Should Levitt succeed in achieving the second highest primary vote totals in next week's CA primary election, this could potentially create a far more significant challenge to Feinstein than any that could be mustered by a Republican --- provided Levitt's substantive positions could cut through the cloud of paid-for political propaganda that only corporate money can buy.

As revealed by an October 9, 2011 Time Magazine poll 89% of Americans agree that Wall Street exerts too much influence on our political system, 79% believe the gap between rich and poor is too large, and 71 percent wanted prosecutions for "executives of financial institutions responsible for the financial meltdown in 2008". Other polls reveal that 83% of Americans oppose Citizens United.

A March 2012 Rassmussen poll revealed that 53% of likely U.S. voters supported an immediate and complete withdrawal from Afghanistan, as compared to only 31% who are opposed. Polls taken during the healthcare debate revealed that, at the end of 2009, 2/3 of all Americans supported a single-payer, Medicare-for-All healthcare system.

Thus, in this instance, the 'Cajun Primary' system may reduce what Noam Chomsky describes as "the democracy deficit" by providing voters the ability to choose between candidates whose substantive differences may be far greater than those which would otherwise be presented by a traditional Republican/Democratic electoral contest.

That said...

It's still undemocratic

While, from a progressive standpoint, the numbers game under the upcoming U.S. Senate primary raises the possibility of a progressive vs. corporate Democratic general election that may offer voters a rare opportunity to escape the "lesser evil" paradigm, it could still deprive Republicans, members of third parties and true independents of the ability to choose anyone other than a Democrat to represent the entire state in the U.S. Senate come November.

The one saving grace is that where the GOP has used the deceptive and substance-free campaign of the stealth Republican, Linda Parks, in seeking a run-off between two GOP candidates who represent a minority of CA-26 voters, as discussed last week, the CA U.S. Senate race may provide a unique opportunity for a candidate who represents the policies of a vast majority of the citizenry to confront the status quo.

As the options for democracy have generally been narrowing over the past 30 years, one ironic element of the first "Top Two" primary in CA could be a greater contrast of candidates, albeit by members of the very same party.

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David Levitt campaign video follows...

San Mateo GOP Senate debate video containing troubling, radical-right candidate statements follows…

Video reflecting Levitt’s remarks at San Mateo GOP Senate debate…

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Ernest A. Canning has been an active member of the California state bar since 1977. Mr. Canning has received both undergraduate and graduate degrees in political science as well as a juris doctor. He is also a Vietnam vet (4th Infantry, Central Highlands 1968). Follow him on Twitter: @Cann4ing.

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