This month, California will actually follow a trend, for once.
And for once, it’s a trend Mississippi would do well to emulate.
Last year, California voters passed a referendum making California an “open primary” state. In an open primary, all voters — regardless of party affiliation — can vote in the primary elections. The top two vote-getters, regardless of party affiliation, meet in the general election. It could be two Republicans, two Democrats or, theoretically, Ron Paul and his brother, RuPaul. Hey, it’s California, after all.
Louisiana has had what it calls a “nonpartisan blanket primary” since 1976. In Hawaii, all state and local races are conducted in open primaries. Washington adopted the open primary in 2008.
But, believe it or not, the best argument for open primaries came after the 2010 National Football League season.
That season, the Seattle Seahawks earned a spot in the playoffs with a 7-9 won-loss record while the New York Giants and Tampa Bay Buccaneers missed the playoffs despite having 10-6 records.
As you might imagine, there was wailing and gnashing of teeth in New York and Florida and rather sheepish grins in the Pacific Northwest. Elsewhere, the circumstances that created this injustice was widely criticized. Seattle was unworthy of the playoff spot, was the general consensus. The Seahawks did earn a measure of redemption by beating New Orleans in the opening round of the playoffs, but that has little to do with the main point.
The situation that allowed a 7-9 team to make the playoffs while two 10-6 teams did not is essentially the scenario that can play out in a closed primary. The NFL is a closed primary. Win your division and you make the playoffs, regardless of your record. It doesn’t matter if there are more deserving teams with better records.
There seemed to be an inherent unfairness about the system.
It’s that way in politics, too. Often, the best two candidates meet in a primary with one emerging to meet a lesser foe in the general election.
In states where there is a dominant party affiliation, the general matchups can be almost comical.
But the best aspect of an open primary is that candidates don’t spend time licking the boots of the extremists in their party in order to advance to the general election. This is particularly true today.
As everyone knows, we have a two-party system in America: The Democratic Party and the Tea Party. The only place you will find the Republican Party is on a milk carton.
Under this system, candidates become human chameleons. While it’s amusing to watch Mitt Romney drive himself furiously to the right during the primary season then try to ease back toward the middle heading into the general election, the net result is that nobody really knows what the candidate really believes in.
It was the same delicate dance that Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton danced to in 2008.
It’s demeaning and confusing and serves no good purpose.
And it’s even more ridiculous on the local and state level, where coroners and state auditors are elected not on their credentials but on their dubious connections to a political party. After all, you never hear anyone lament, “If only there was a Democratic candidate for constable that I could really believe in!”
We would all be much better off as a state if we flung the primaries open and let the best two candidates duke it out for the real prize.
It’s doubtful that could happen in Mississippi, of course. The idea would be considered too progressive. That would never do, of course.
So we’ll go on electing Seahawks instead of Giants.
California, for once, has it right.
The Dispatch Editorial Board is made up of publisher Peter Imes, columnist Slim Smith, managing editor Zack Plair and senior newsroom staff.