California secretary of state race

The crowded field of candidates for the office of secretary of state of California includes, from left: Derek Cressman, David S. Curtis, Alex Padilla, Pete Peterson, Dan Schnur and Leland Yee. The candidates are shown at a forum in downtown Los Angeles on March 3. (Los Angeles Times / March 3, 2014)

A Green Party candidate for secretary of state is planning to crash a debate Wednesday in Sacramento, after he and two other contenders were excluded from the event.

This is oddly amusing for a couple of reasons. First, when has there ever been so much interest in the race for secretary of state? It’s a job that largely involves overseeing election procedures and managing various business and political filings. Second, David Curtis, the Green Party candidate who was not invited to the debate, recently placed higher in a Field Poll voter survey than two other candidates who were invited to debate.

Curtis was the choice of 5% of survey respondents, compared with no-party-preference candidate Dan Schnur, who had 4% support, and Democrat Derek Cressman, who had 3% support. It’s worth noting that 41% of respondents were undecided, which is one reason Curtis might have been peeved to be excluded. There’s still a lot of opportunity for candidates to draw support in the race, which has drawn a uniquely diverse and deep pool of talent.

Wednesday’s debate is hosted by the Sacramento Press Club, which has taken some flak for leaving out Curtis. I feel some sympathy for the club, and for all the groups that host candidate forums. They’re performing a public service by giving voters an opportunity to see the candidates in action and giving the candidates a chance to share their messages. The groups work with a limited time schedule and, often, limited public interest, and they have to make choices. Invite all seven candidates in the race, which means fewer questions and fewer answers from each candidate? If they invite fewer candidates to allow for a more in-depth discussion, how do they decide who’s in and who’s not: Fundraising totals? Active campaigners? Which candidates are the most viable? And doesn’t the decision to exclude those nonviable candidates have some impact on their viability?

Yet, I also think forum organizers should try to be more inclusive, particularly given the state’s top-two primary system, which voters approved in 2010. Under the old system, Green Party candidate Curtis would end up in the general election no matter what. Under the new system, primary voters are free to choose any candidate they want, regardless of political party, and the top two vote-getters face off in the general election. So far, it’s been Democrats and Republicans in the top two slots, often with Democrats running against Democrats and Republicans running against Republicans in the general election. Third-party candidates have less visibility than before and fewer opportunities to present an alternative political vision, making the primary all the more important for these candidates and parties.

But there’s also an onus on the candidates. Just because they collected some signatures and paid the filing fee to get their names on the ballot doesn’t mean they’re entitled to be taken seriously as candidates. If candidates feel they’re not getting the attention they deserve, they should do what any good political organizer does: build a campaign and rally their supporters to show forum organizers and the news media that they cannot be ignored.

Can it work? I guess we’ll see when David Curtis shows up at the Sacramento debate.

Must-read headlines from L.A. to CA: 

Tougher ethics rules advance in California Senate committee, Los Angeles Times

Proposals include a fundraising ban near the end of legislative sessions, a reduction in the value and types of gifts allowed, and more frequent disclosures. Senators will get a refresher course.

Who was that fellow on the train? Fox & Hounds

Did I see a unicorn? Or was that really a California petition circulator being paid hourly?

Judge to hit-and-run perpetrator: Don’t do it again or it will be considered murder, Streetsblog LA

“If you drink and drive and kill someone again, [this time] it will carry a charge of murder with a minimum sentence of 15 years,” the judge told 21-year-old Wendy Villegas at her sentencing hearing. “Do you understand?” Her words had been meant to admonish Villegas — to convey the idea that slamming into a group of cyclists, killing Luis “Andy” Garcia and leaving Mario Lopez and Ulises Melgar for dead, was a very serious offense. Unfortunately, the judge’s warning that the book would be thrown at her next time only served to underscore the fact that our laws do not yet take drunk driving or hit-and-runs seriously enough.

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