The most interesting thing about this year’s primary election is the lack of
interest. Californians are all electioned out–we have had major elections in
each of the past three years and it is getting to be like the basketball
playoffs, enough already.
Less than a month from the June primary, the outlook is for an historic low
turnout–perhaps even lower than the 34.6 percent who turned out for the 2002
primary. Gubernatorial-year primary elections usually have a lower turnout
than in presidential years, although in 1998, the hard-fought, three-way
Democratic race for governor brought out 42.5 percent.
This year seems more like 1994. That year, only 35 percent of registered
voters went to the polls. That year’s Democratic race for governor, won by
then State Treasurer Kathleen Brown, never caught the voters’ imagination,
and they did what voters do when politics is boring: They stayed home.
The 2006 Democratic primary for governor has been described as two
uninteresting people talking about uninteresting things. And the down-ballot
races are real snoozers. That is part of the problem this year, but it goes
Like him or loathe him, there is one thing about Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger:
He draws the political oxygen out of an election. The 2005 special election
that saw a 50 percent turnout was “all about Arnold”; he called it and his
enemies wrapped it around his neck and then squeezed all the oxygen out of
him. The 2003 recall started out about then-Gov. Gray Davis but ended up
being pretty much “all about Arnold” when it became clear the voters were
going to oust Davis.
So there will be plenty of interest come November, although it may not quite
match the worldwide hysteria that greeted Schwarzenegger and the recall. But
November 2006 will be about Schwarzenegger. That’s one more reason there is
so little interest in the Democratic primary. Whether the nominee is
Treasurer Phil Angelides or Controller Steve Westly, he will never be more
than the alternative; the voters will be deciding to keep Schwarzenegger or
send him back to the movie set.
That decision has become more complicated given a series of recent events
that are overshadowing the primary. The most important is the bipartisan
decision to place four multi-billion infrastructure bonds on the November
ballot, and the love feast between Schwarzenegger and Democratic legislative
By flying around the state with the Republican governor and promising to
campaign with him in the fall, Speaker Fabian N