Author: Tom Campbell
The Common Sense Party believes a new party in California is needed to empower the center. A majority of California voters agree.
When asked by the Public Policy Institute of California, 56% of Democrats, 53% of Republicans, and 75% of independents thought a third major party was needed in California.
This trend is evident especially among younger Californians. Pre-registration of 16- and 17-year-olds in California show 51.5% choosing no party preference; compared with 31.66% Democratic and 10.42% Republican.
There is a huge appetite for independent-minded politics in California. The growth in independents registering has far outstripped that of Democrats or Republicans in the last ten years.
The aversion expressed to the two major parties stems from their insistence on orthodoxy. For instance, if you want to be supported by the Republican Party, you can never support a tax. This takes off the table sensible approaches worthy of robust debate, such as a carbon tax to replace the present cap-and-trade system we have to combat greenhouse gases in California. (Almost all academic economists recognize the superiority of a carbon tax to an output quota.) The proceeds from the tax could be used to help workers most hurt by the restructuring needed in our economy to respond to climate change. But if you mention the word “tax,” you are ostracized from the Republican Party.
Similar orthodoxy reigns in the Democratic Party. Responsive to public employee unions, no Democratic Party candidate can suggest the contracting-out of government functions, even though that might be cost-effective for California taxpayers. No Democrat can expect party support if she or he supports charter schools, even though for many parents of modest income, a charter school may be the single-best opportunity their children will have for high quality education.
By contrast, the Common Sense Party is focused on principles, not a set of rigid policy prescriptions. We welcome policy positions based on facts, not ideology. We recognize that no one has a monopoly on good ideas and that people can disagree on some things but still find common ground on others. Sometimes the very best solutions are driven by the give-and-take of debate between alternative viewpoints.
The two major parties demand strict adherence to a uniformity of views. They demonize any dissent. That isn’t how Californians actually think and solve problems. In recent years, this has resulted in gridlock not common-sense problem solving.
A new political party is needed, rather than just an organization promoting public discourse, because of the tremendous advantage written into California campaign law favoring political parties over individuals.
The campaign-finance laws have clearly been created to benefit the two major political parties, disenfranchising candidates and voters. Under California’s existing campaign-finance laws, independents are at a 9-to-1 disadvantage in running for office, compared with candidates of a recognized political party. Candidates for the state legislature, for example, are limited to receiving $4,900 from an individual donor. But a political party can raise up to $40,500 from an individual donor and support the campaign of the candidate the donor supports. Candidates without a political party or candidates without their party’s endorsement are at a great disadvantage, because they are limited to individual donations of $4,900 rather than as much as $45,400.
Once the Common Sense Party becomes officially recognized, we can equalize that advantage—not only for candidates who run under our party’s name but candidates we support who run without a party label. The Common Sense Party believes that, with our support, more and more candidates will choose to run without a party label.
Californians are sick of party politics. A candidate who can say “I’m not a member of any party” or “I’m an independent-thinking member of a party. I just want to do right by California,” has a tremendous head start in popular appeal – and the Common Sense Party can equalize the financial and organizational support available to such a candidate.
In the general election, we might also choose to support the more independent-minded Democrat in a D vs. D race or the more independent-minded Republican in an R vs. R race, each of whom might be denied financial and organizational assistance from their own party because they don’t blindly adhere to party orthodoxy.
Once the campaign finance advantages are equalized, an independent candidate will have a huge opportunity in California found in only two other of the 50 states. In 2010 California voters passed Proposition 14, establishing the Top-Two Primary. All candidates, no matter their party, run at the same time in the first round of an election in June (or March if a Presidential election year). The top-two vote getters advance to the general election in November.
Before this change, each party would nominate its candidate in the primary, and then in the final election in November, each party’s candidate would run against the nominee of every other party. In California, 46.7% of all voters are Democrats 24.0% are Republicans, 22.9% are no party preference, and minor parties comprise 6.4%. The winner in November was always either a Democrat or a Republican.
In the Top-Two Primary, many Democrats, many Republicans, many independents, and many candidates of smaller parties all run in the first round. The split among Democrats creates the possibility that one of the top 2 vote-getters is actually an independent. If so, she will face only one opponent, likely a Democrat or a Republican, in November. In that situation, the independent has an excellent chance of winning the large percentage of California voters who are independent (statewide, that’s 22.9%), as well as the members of the major party whose candidate did not make it to the finals (either 46.7% or 24.0%).
The result of California’s campaign finance laws, and the top-2 primary system, make it possible for independent-minded candidates to win, whether members of the Common Sense Party, or independent-minded with the help of the Common Sense Party.
What can a centrist legislator, for whom compromise is not a bad thing, accomplish in office? If even a small number of such legislators are put in office, they can hold the margin needed by the majority party (Democratic) to achieve a supermajority of 2/3. Today, Democrats hold 75% of the Assembly (California’s more populous legislative chamber) and 77.5% of the State Senate. Out of 80 Assembly Members, just changing seven Democratic seats to independent, or out of 40 State Senators, just changing five Democratic seats to independent, will bring those numbers below 2/3. Those independent members will have to be included in decision-making for anything requiring the super-majority that Democrats now control all on their own. In California, taxes require 2/3 vote. Constitutional amendments require 2/3 vote (and then a vote of the people). The power to deny the majority party its super-majority on those issues will require the independent members to be included in many other public policy decisions, on which today, they are frozen out.
Let me conclude with some concrete examples of where centrist compromise, made impossible by today’s political orthodoxy, can advance the welfare of Californians.
Gun control is a very divisive issue in California. The US Constitution protects the right of the people to keep and bear arms, but it does not prohibit reasonable regulation of that right. Different parts of the state, and of the country, have different situations regarding firearms. Families in farm country, far from a local sheriff’s office, need to protect themselves. For city-dwellers, however, publicly carrying a firearm might present a greater risk of harm. So we should defer to rules set by counties and cities rather than state-wide approaches. The orthodox Republican view objects to virtually any curbs on gun ownership; the orthodox Democratic view requires a legislator to support virtually any restriction on gun ownership or use.
Minimum wage laws in California exceed the national minimum. When government increases the minimum wage, some workers lose their jobs. Employers automate. Suppose we didn’t make employers pay the higher wage, but used the general tax base to plus-up the wages of low salaried workers instead? Those workers would earn as much more as if we increased the minimum wage, and fewer would be laid off. Low-income workers need a hand: it’s barely possible for a family to get by on a minimum wage. Expand the earned income tax credit instead of increasing the minimum wage. Democratic party chieftains, and their union supporters, demand support for virtually any increase in minimum wage levels that is proposed. Republican party leaders tend to oppose spending government budget dollars to increase the earned income tax credit.
Both natural causes and human causes account for warming temperatures. The costs of eliminating the human causes rise astronomically as we approach the last cc of carbon dioxide or methane. There is nothing wrong with cost-benefit analysis. Avoid setting goals at zero and include remediation as well as prevention in our thinking. Reinforcing retainers around our shores, for example, might be much more cost effective than the tremendous cost of preventing a millimeter rise in sea level. Democratic doctrine insists on prevention over mitigation. Republican doctrine tends to downplay the need for either.
The “fair share” that any group has to pay should have some basis other than our desire to take their wealth from them. If we made the rich pay the same percentage in taxes that they have of our country’s wealth, or that they receive of the total income earned, their taxes would actually be less than they pay today in California. We don’t need to engender class hostility to justify taxation, just the realization that taxes are necessary to help those who can’t help themselves, and we should collect that revenue in the way least damaging to economic growth. Democratic elected officials support increasing taxes on the wealthy, no matter the fact that 5% of all taxpayers pay more than 50% of all the individual income taxes in California. Republican legislators oppose any increase in taxes, even balking at a carbon tax, with the revenue used to help businesses and employees that are hurt by steps to reduce global warming.
Corporations don’t pay taxes: consumers, employees, or stockholders do. If we tax stockholders, less investment will result. Sometimes in our economic cycle, we are awash in money for investment, so such a policy does little harm. At other times, we need to encourage investment and discourage consumption, so the tax should fall on consumers. The right answer depends on where we are economically. The two major parties, once more, are rigid. Democrats see no economic harm in increasing taxes on corporations, and punishing companies that go overseas to avoid high levels of business tax in California. Republicans are doctrinaire against increasing corporate taxes, even to pay off the deficit.
Yes, there are “root causes,” but we need to insure speedy arrest, conviction, and punishment. Certainty of incarceration matters more than length of imprisonment. We can contract with other states and private prisons to house criminals less expensively. Setting a dollar value below which we won’t pursue criminals is wrong: it invites theft up to that limit. Making some depressant drugs available to addicts in a government-controlled setting reduces crime, overdose deaths, and the spread of disease. Democrats are keen to reduce law enforcement for what they consider petty crimes; Republican leaders view any departure from severe minimum sentences as being “soft on crime.”
We have adversaries. We have limits, too. Identify America’s allies and let the world know we’ll defend them, but don’t try to create and defend democracies everywhere. Avoid civil wars. Open our markets on a reciprocal basis. Trade is a great alternative to war; so be very careful about imposing tariffs. They are taxes, and they deprive Americans of the benefit of the economic law of comparative advantage. Democratic party leaders (especially President Biden) insist on buy-America rules; Republicans (especially former President Trump) see tariffs as beneficial to America.
What these proposals have in common is not that they are all perfect, but that they don’t neatly fit into the orthodox menu of either polar position. The center has much to offer, if we can be heard.