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Commentary: ‘Top-two’ system makes primary a whole new ballgame

Issue Date: May 9, 2012
By Casey Gudel
The June 5 election marks the first time Californians have been able to vote in a “top-two” primary.
Casey Gudel

The campaign advertisements and mail pieces are starting to hit, signaling the June primary election is right around the corner. By now, you have likely received your sample ballot or vote-by-mail ballot and may have noticed that things don't look quite the same.

The upcoming June 5 election marks the first time in California in which the "top-two," open primary is in place. Proposition 14, a measure supported by Farm Bureau and passed by voters in 2010, replaced the traditional ballot that listed candidates according to party with a new system that places every candidate on the primary ballot, regardless of party affiliation.

The two candidates who receive the most votes in the primary will advance to the general election.

Unlike local elections, even if one candidate earns 50 percent or more of the primary vote, that candidate will still face the second-place candidate in the general election.

Farm Bureau supports the "top-two," open primary as a way of changing the face of government at the state Capitol and in Washington, D.C. All too often, we see partisan bickering get in the way of making the decisions needed to jumpstart the economy and get our fiscal house in order. The new primary system allows voters to choose candidates who will best represent their district.

This new system will create races where two Democrats or two Republicans could face off in the general election. Recent reports indicate up to 35 seats in Congress, the state Assembly and state Senate will have a runoff election in November between two candidates of the same party. This is one area where Farm Bureau finds an opportunity to create change.

A number of candidates, who would have been receptive to issues important to family farmers and ranchers, lost by just a few votes in the last primary election. Had the top-two primary system been in place, Farm Bureau and allied organizations could have worked on behalf of those business-friendly candidates in the general election.

When you combine the new top-two primary system with changes to legislative districts as drawn by the Citizen's Redistricting Commission, you find no shortage of candidates this year. Redistricting caused a number of retirements in Congress, which opened up a game of musical chairs that also involves seats in the state Assembly and Senate.

Of the 120 state legislative seats, 35 Assembly and nine Senate seats are open. Additionally, nine of the 53 California congressional seats are open. These counts don't include races where incumbents face serious challenges. Should those incumbents lose, it would make the incoming class of new legislators even larger.

Though the primary election turnout is expected to be low, voters—and especially Farm Bureau members—need to get out and vote. For years, California's state legislative and congressional districts were drawn so that very few races were competitive. But things are different this year. Between the new primary system and redistricting, there are competitive seats and a number of candidates to choose from.

Family farmers and ranchers have a stake in the outcome of elections statewide. Many of the elected representatives—who make decisions on a daily basis that will impact the way you live your life and run your business—have little knowledge or concern about agriculture.

So, while some voters take the primary elections for granted and think they will wait to weigh in during the general election instead, it is important to make sure the best candidate advances to the next stage. This means taking the time to vote in June, when your vote could be more influential than ever.

California Farm Bureau Voter Guide

Vote Tuesday, June 5, 2012 • Primary Election
The California Farm Bureau Federation Board of Directors discussed the two ballot measures on the June 5 primary election ballot and did not find sufficient grounds to take a support or oppose position on either measure. Here is background on the measures:

Proposition 28 – Term Limits

Reduces the total amount of time a person may serve in the state Legislature from 14 years to 12 years in the Assembly, the Senate or a combination of both.
Supporting Argument
Proposition 28 will make legislators more accountable by removing their need to seek office in the other house to exhaust their lifetime limits, thus allowing legislators more time to gain experience in the office they already hold.
Sponsors: Los Angeles Chamber of Commerce and Los Angeles County Labor Federation.
Opposing Argument
Proposition 28 weakens term limits by allowing legislators to serve many more years than current law allows.  Legislators will be able to serve 12 years as opposed to six years in the Assembly, or 12 years as opposed to eight years in the Senate.
Opponents: California Republican Party, US Term Limits and National Tax Limitation Committee.

Proposition 29 – Cigarette Tax

Imposes an additional tax on tobacco products to fund cancer research, research facilities and prevention programs. 
Supporting Argument
Proposition 29 supports cancer research directed by California research doctors and scientists and is funded only by those who choose to use tobacco products.
Sponsors: American Cancer Society, American Heart Association and American Lung Association.
Opposing Argument
Proposition 29 raises taxes without addressing wasteful state spending or balancing the state budget, while creating a new government spending bureaucracy.
Opponents: California Taxpayers Association, California Chamber of Commerce and Small Business Action Committee.

The California Farm Bureau Federation Board of Directors endorses the following candidates in the open primary election:

U.S. Congress
Senator – Dianne Feinstein (D)
1st Congressional District – Doug LaMalfa (R)

California State Legislature
1st Assembly District – Brian Dahle (R)
5th Assembly District – Frank Bigelow (R)

For more information on  Farm Bureau-endorsed candidates, see the CFBF website at:

(Casey Gudel is manager of political affairs for the California Farm Bureau Federation. She may be contacted at

Permission for use is granted, however, credit must be made to the California Farm Bureau Federation when reprinting this item.

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