Cynicism behind the early primary 

California voters expect from their political leaders a reasonably modest set of virtues. Among them: candor, directness, fair and honest dealing. Likewise, people who’ve just cast their ballots don’t want to leave their polling places in search of a cleansing shower. They don’t appreciate disingenuous politicians, hidden agendas, legerdemain. If memory serves, that’s what that recall election — you know, the event that made Arnold Schwarzenegger governor — was all about.

Recent surveys show that voters also appreciate cooperation — another minimum standard — between Republican Gov. Schwarzenegger and the Democratic Legislature. The governor even coined a forward-sounding term for it, "post-partisanship."

But such gauzy terms can cover a multitude of sins, which, once they surface in public view, can bite the powerful folks who first uttered them. That is because of an ageless verity that is not "post-" anything: When politicians start cooperating among themselves, inevitably weakening the principles that animated their early public lives, they act as a political class.

Political classes, we needn’t remind anyone, act primarily in the interest of power: pursuing it, preserving it, enlarging it. If their interest coincides with the interests of the people, it’s well and good. But such instances are chancy, and diminishing.

Last week Sacramento took what it advertised as a great stride toward building the Golden State’s muscle nationwide. It did so by joining the parade of states large and small to schedule their presidential primary elections as early as possible, each one hoping to beat all the others in attracting candidate appearances, choosing delegates, generating campaign revenues.

It is not readily apparent why holding California’s primary earlier, by moving it from June to February as plotted, should advantage the people of this already great state. But that is what legislators did, the Assembly giving final approval 46-28.

Speaker Fabian Núñez, pleased with his success, even claimed Californians "ought to get a first bite of the apple." We’ll let his Edenic imagery pass, but we wonder if he remembers the biblical scope of what happened after that first bite was taken.

What voters are about to find out — if they were not already watching it unfold as the votes were tallied — is that the early primary plan masks a scheme to extend these politicians’ holds on their offices. If one fact of political life rankles them, it is the prospect of being termed out of their seats just as they were making imprints on the cushions. Seventeen years ago the voters asserted their ultimate sovereignty and fixed term limits into the state constitution.

The politicians see an opportunity to revise the voters’ will. They’ve arranged to include on the new Feb. 8, 2008, primary ballot an initiative to extend term limits, thereby giving incumbents new leases on their jobs. It’s an open secret this was the real reason for the new primary date.As the politicians congratulate themselves on their cynicism, we trust the voters will find a way to rein them in again.

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Staff Report

Staff Report

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A daily newspaper covering San Francisco, San Mateo County and serving Alameda, Marin and Santa Clara counties.
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