Dan Schnur, who has said he is planning to run for California Secretary of State in 2014, will be taking a leave of absence as Director of the Jesse M. Unruh Institute of Politics in the beginning of January, Schnur said in an interview with the Daily Trojan.
News broke late Saturday night that the former GOP strategist and chairman of the California Fair Political Practices Commission plans to run for office as California’s chief election officer, although he has not yet filed an official statement of candidacy.
Schnur would run as an independent candidate, having changed his party affiliation from Republican to “decline to state” in 2011.
His campaign would focus on reforming campaign fundraising, increasing participation among younger voters and underrepresented minorities, as well as bolstering California’s political center.
“If Californians elect the first independent non-party-preference statewide candidate in modern political history, legislators of both parties will understand that voters are sending them a message,” Schnur said.
During his time at USC, Schnur said he has learned that students are committed to civic engagement, but oftentimes outside the realm of politics.
“The challenge,” Schnur said, “is getting young people to expand that commitment into a political process that most of them find to be irrelevant at best and unacceptable at worst.”
Schnur hopes to bring younger voters back into the political process, however, through the reforms he would advocate in a campaign.
“Dan is very fond of saying ‘politics is too important to be left up to the politicians,’” said Bret VandenBos, a recent alumnus who worked with Schnur as president of USC’s Students for Barack Obama and as an employee of the Unruh Institute. “I think for a job like Secretary of State, especially, that is very much the case.”
“If he chooses to run, I will enthusiastically support him and as a lifelong Democrat, he will be the first nonpartisan candidate I choose to support,” said VandenBos, who graduated in 2010 with a degree in writing for film and TV.
Schnur’s proposals include an automatic 24-hour disclosure of campaign contributions and making the Secretary of State a nonpartisan position.
“The superintendent of public schools shouldn’t be a partisan office, the sheriff shouldn’t be a partisan office and the person who oversees California’s elections shouldn’t be beholden to one party or the other,” Schnur said. “The referee shouldn’t be wearing a Trojan or a Bruin jersey. No matter how much you want one team to win or the other, you want someone on the field who can be an honest broker to call the game straight.”
A major component of his campaign, Schnur said, would be to continue advocating a ban on political contributions during the legislative session. Though Schnur said he expects a campaign fundraising bill to be introduced in January, he notes that legislatures have a poor history of reforming their own behavior.
“This candidacy should serve to shine a brighter light on the need for a fundraising ban during the legislative session,” Schnur said.
Within the next few weeks, USC will be naming an interim director for the Unruh Institute, Schnur said. Despite taking a leave of absence from his Unruh post, Schnur will continue to teach one class in the spring and has committed to teaching a class regardless of whether he makes the runoff. If elected, Schnur said he would teach one course per semester during his time in office.
Because of California’s recently instituted top-two primary, Schnur would need to place first or second during a June election to be included on the ballot for a runoff election in November.
With a run for Secretary of State, Schnur would join a field of candidates that includes Democratic State Senators Leland Yee (D-San Francisco) and Alex Padilla (D-Los Angeles), former Common Cause leader Derek Cressman, a Democrat, and Pete Peterson, a Republican who runs a public policy institute at Pepperdine University.
Follow Daniel Rothberg on Twitter @danielrothberg