As the official Election Day approached while millions of voters were casting ballots by mail, in deposit boxes and at early voting centers during the last month, it looked distinctly possible that this might be the last election of its precise kind.
This wasn’t just because President Trump threatened not to recognize the outcome, which bears the possibility of throwing America into unprecedented, almost unbearable constitutional crisis. But in California, there was the strong possibility that votes cast this fall might be the last in a two-party system that has become almost an unbreakable tradition.
That’s because a move is afoot to begin a new tradition, this one involving a new, centrist political party founders call the “Common Sense Party.”
Possessing clear potential to become a major party, it’s headed by Tom Campbell, a former five-term moderate Republican congressman from the Silicon Valley area who lost two bids for the U.S. Senate and has been dean of the business school at UC Berkeley and the law school at Orange County’s Chapman University, where he now teaches law and economics.
Before the coronavirus pandemic hit last March, Campbell’s new middle-of-the-road party had gathered more than 20,000 voter signatures toward the 68,000 needed for official state recognition and the accompanying ability to raise individual contributions of up to $38,800 for distribution to candidates it favors.
The signature drive ended abruptly, and Campbell has since sued and otherwise pressured state officials like Gov. Gavin Newsom, Attorney General Xavier Becerra and Secretary of State Alex Padilla to lower the signature threshold in recognition of the current virtual impossibility of gathering names in person.
Those officials, like all others in statewide office, are Democrats jealous of their party’s power and thus unlikely to oblige anytime soon even though several other states have lowered the numbers needed for new party recognition.
For sure, this party had few problems attracting signatures while its drive persisted. One reason: it really doesn’t matter functionally which party voters register with; California’s top two primary system lets everyone vote for anybody they like in any party, except in presidential primaries.
There’s also the clear reality that a significant middle-ground party has been needed here for decades. That’s the deeper meaning of the ongoing shift by voters from the rolls of both Republicans and Democrats to no party preference. NPPs almost match Republicans in California now, while Democratic numbers have not grown much even as population rose somewhat in the last few years.
One reason for this is the drift toward extremism by both Republicans and Democrats. GOP adherence to anything Trump wants has driven away thousands of voters, while Democrats aren’t gaining many by sticking with a left-wing agenda not embraced by the majority of party voters. That was evidenced during last spring’s primary election season, when Vermont Sen. Bernard Sanders drew a consistent 35 percent or so of the vote in virtually every state other than those with caucuses. Other Democratic voters went for more centrist candidates, but the party’s apparatus is increasingly run by Berniecrats, thanks to their packing local caucuses where delegates to state party conventions are chosen.
Said Campbell via Zoom, “Most Californians are dismayed by the two major parties’ movement to their extremes. The Public Policy Institute of California reports that 55 percent of adult Californians believe a third party is needed.”
Usually it takes a charismatic, prominent figure to bring a party into prominence. Abraham Lincoln did that for Republicans in the 1850s. Thomas Jefferson did it earlier for Democrats. The extreme but prominent Jean-Marie le Pen and his daughter Marine did it for their far-right party in France.
Campbell has never been accused of having charisma, but he does have a record of not toeing any party’s line and says he would not expect that of Common Sense candidates if the party becomes real.
His new party, he said, “will support candidates of any party – so long as they are willing to think for themselves.”
Only time will tell if this proposed party will materialize and survive longer than the 1990s Reform Party begun by former wild card presidential candidate Ross Perot. If it does, it has major potential to change California elections.
Email Thomas Elias at firstname.lastname@example.org. His book, "The Burzynski Breakthrough: The Most Promising Cancer Treatment and the Government’s Campaign to Squelch It," is now available in a soft cover fourth edition. For more Elias columns, visit www.californiafocus.net
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