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NYT CA Op-Ed FAIL

June 8, 2010

It always exciting when the New York Times publishes something about California on its Op-Ed page. It did so today with a piece titled The Golden (State) Mean. Unfortunately, the piece is, well, completely wrong. Here’s how it opens:

Barring a major upset in today’s primary, Meg Whitman, the former chief executive of eBay, will be chosen over Steve Poizner, California’s insurance commissioner, as the Republican nominee for governor.

If this comes to pass, it will show once again California’s ability to defy — or maybe set? — national trends. While fringe candidates and extreme positions are winning races nationwide, in California, the gubernatorial primary this year has been about wooing and holding the center.

The author goes on to say that “Ms. Whitman drove straight for the center with a saturation campaign highly focused on jobs, schools and government overspending” and that Poizner’s attempt to outflank her on the right was unsuccessful.

Though I’d love to say it was, California is not setting any trends here. The GOP gubernatorial race has followed the oppressively common political pattern of candidates racing to the right (or left) in order to gain their party’s base and subsequently its nomination. What really happened was that Whitman moved to the right just like Poizner and kept him from outflanking her by outspending him 3-1. Both candidates started pumping their anti-immigration and anti-abortion credentials and maligning California’s landmark environmental legislation, AB 32.

So, aside from all the money being spent, the defining characteristic of the GOP primary was a race to the right. Every news outlet knows this, including the NY Times (twice). How the author of this piece (who works for the LA Weekly) doesn’t is a mystery and it does a disservice to the NYT’s readers by neglecting to expose the deleterious effects of party primaries in California. With more than 20% of voters registered as decline-to-state, the current system elects candidates that don’t represent the mainstream of California. Thankfully, voters can pass Prop. 14 today, which would change the primary system to encourage more moderate candidates. Then, this campaign’s true story – candidates racing towards the fringe – won’t be repeated.

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