Saturday, May 14, 2011

In the CA-36 Primary, Janice Hahn Observes The Law Of The " Jungle"


Abe Maldonado and Arnold Schwarzenegger must be laughing their butts off right about now.

This will be ancient history for almost all but the wonkiest of policy wonks reading this, but back in 2009 - in exchange for a vote to break the CA state budget impasse - the Democratically controlled legislature in Sacramento buckled under the demands of Republican Legislator Abe Maldonado and then-governor Arnold Schwarzenegger to put Prop 14, a so-called "open primary" initiative, on the ballot.

Sold to voters as a way to take partisanship out of elections, Prop 14 passed last summer.  The new law would create a "jungle primary", where all candidates regardless of party affiliation would have to run in the same race. If no single candidate received %50+1 of the vote,  the two-top vote-getters - again regardless of party affiliation - would advance to a runoff election.

Although there's been tons of speculation on how this would work in the real world, it wasn't until Jane Harman resigned last February and triggered a special election to replace her, that anyone would have a chance to see the process unfold.

So the CA-36 race is a lab rat of sorts.

Two front-runners in the race quickly emerged, Secretary of State Debra Bowen and LA City Councilwoman Janice Hahn, with 14 lesser-known or underfunded candidates vying for attention. The sheer number of candidates alone virtually ensured a runoff.

So anyone who wasn't Bowen or Hahn would have to get creative if they were going to have a shot.

One candidate, Tea Party Republican Craig Huey self-funded his campaign to the tune of $500,000 and plastered the district with campaign signs. Democratic candidate Dan Adler created web ads so weird the national media fell all over themselves to cover them.

Another Democratic candidate, Marcy Winograd, who had run two unsuccessful campaigns against Jane Harman, took a different tact. Her campaign attacked Debra Bowen, whom many supporters and campaign analysts saw as Winograd's closest competition.

On April 2nd, Peter Thottam - a former Assembly candidate - wrote a post on in support of Marcy Winograd. In it, he more or less accused Bowen of trading votes in exchange for Enron campaign contributions while she served in the State Senate.

Two days later, according to FEC reports, the Winograd campaign paid Peter Thottam a salary of $600.

Fast forward to yesterday, when attack mailers against Debra Bowen started showing up on voter's doorsteps courtesy of the Janice Hahn campaign.

One of those mailers (click on this link to see it) took the same line of attack Peter Thottam did, that Bowen traded votes in exchange for Enron campaign contributions, saying in the tag line, "Some people went to jail for this. Debra Bowen wants to go to Washington". 

But Janice Hahn's accusations weren't just similar to Thottam's they actually were Thottam's - the mailer prominently featured Thottam's Calitics post, even featuring his name.

Now, I don't for a second believe either Thottam or Winograd were in collusion with Hahn to attack Bowen. But they did open up a line of attack that was bound to used by Hahn, who sees Winograd as a helpful tool in her election campaign, not a threat. 

What I'm describing is endemic to all primaries -  accusations are made, loyalties are divided, feelings are hurt. But here's the thing, with a "jungle primary",  the fun never stops.

In Democratic-leaning districts, runoffs are almost guaranteed to be between Democrats. Loyalties remain divided and nobody heals. Party unity is eroded year after year,  and special interests will thrive as candidates need more and more money to get their message across in crowded fields.

As morally reprehensible and misleading as Hahn's attacks are, from a strategic perspective they make perfect sense.

Janice Hahn is only obeying the law of the "jungle"


  1. I think you're right, Marta. This whole thing is really sad. I think Marcy has the utmost integrity. I agree that she, Thottam and Hahn are not in cahoots. But I must say again that even if Hahn and Bowen are the "leading" candidates, Marcy is the only truly progressive candidate in this race. She is the only one taking strong positions on single payer health care, green jobs, getting out of the three wars immediately, campaign finance reform, education and the prison-industrial complex. She is the only one who understands that there needs to be systemic not incremental change. It will be a shame if she does not win because she is not supported by the corporate lobbyists and the party insiders. She is what we need in Washington now. The situation is that dire.

  2. Please say something that will make me stop being so angry at Winograd that I could scream. I'm also furious with my "progressive" friends who apparently think that it was classy and principled for Marcy to run in an election that she and they knew she couldn't win but in fact could never have done anything but sink Debra. I hope Debra will run for the senate when Dianne Feinstein steps down. I personally would like Debra to take the money I donated for a recount and use it to start a senate campaign fund. Two positive things came out of this campaign. 1) I got to meet you and your blog and 2) Debra is now free to run for the senate where she will be an even more powerful force. Hadassa