Gridlock and Partisanship

There’s a lengthy article in yesterday’s NYT talking about California’s new “post-partisan primary” law:

 One outgrowth of California’s budget agreement may have set the table for something the state does often and well: force a national re-examination of a public policy issue, in this case ridding state capitals of partisan gridlock.

In approving the budget early Thursday, California lawmakers also agreed to place on the ballot a proposed constitutional amendment that would do away with partisan primaries in favor of an open-primary system in which the top two vote-getters, regardless of party affiliation, would face off in a general election.

The article gushes about how this might be a possible solution to the sort of gridlock that nearly brought California down. 

There’s a lot of reasons why that’s wrong, (and why party-free primaries are a disaster for voters) but the simplest is this — what nearly destroyed California was not partisanship, but its requirement that the budget be passed by a supermajority, a horrible systemic flaw that California shares with only two other states.

Supermajority requirements replace majority rule with rule by minority centrists. And since minority centrists have little incentive to play with the majority party (and doubly so when the media lets minority centrists portray them as having a principled moderate stance), there is a hugely disproportionate influence that they end up wielding. This is why three Republican Senators could gut the stimulus bill, and it is why Abel Maldonado, a person that the NYT describes as a” moderate Republican”, was able to threaten California with bankruptcy if he did not get his “post-partisan” bill passed.

If you want to stop gridlock, the recipe is stronger parties, not weaker ones, and a system that allows the majority to rule.

Oh, and a media that stops romanticizing centrist blackmail. But I’m not holding my breath on that one.

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