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Top-Two Primaries Bring Moderate Candidacies

February 27, 2012

Last June, Californians passed a ballot initiative instituting a top-two primary system. Under this system, the top two vote-getters in an open primary (i.e. including Democratic, Republican, third-party and independent candidates) would face off in the November general election. The reform was meant to encourage more moderate candidates by avoiding the polarizing effects of party primaries.

Anthony Adams is just the type of candidate that the initiative was meant to encourage. In 2009, then-Assemblyman Adams was one of a few Republicans crossed the aisle to join Democrats in voting for (modest) tax increases in order to balance the budget. After that vote, Adams narrowly avoided a recall election and, seeing the writing on the wall, decided not to attempt another Republican primary. All the other Republicans who crossed the aisle with him were also out of office the following year.

Now, Anthony Adams is returning to politics: today, he announced his candidacy for an Congressional seat in Southern California. In a statement, he said, “Because of the change in California law, my candidacy will not be targeted to the extremes of either party but to the base of both parties.” It’s good news that the top-two primary is encouraging pragmatic candidates like Adams. The truth is that party primaries combined with safe seats end up with polarized representatives beholden to their party’s base instead of the median voter in their constituency. Combined with the many veto points in California’s government, this polarization causes the gridlock that has gotten us in the trouble that we’re in. While the top-two system isn’t a silver bullet, it’s a good step in the right direction.

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