Students discuss potential issues with open primary

Students and panelists gathered on Wednesday in The Forum at the Ronald Tutor Campus Center for the semester’s final installment of “Students Talk Back: A Politics and Public Policy Forum,” a semi-monthly forum presented in partnership with the Dornsife College of Letters, Art and Science’s Jesse M. Unruh Institute of Politics, College Democrats, College Republicans and the Daily Trojan.

The theme for the discussion was, “Battle for the Ballot: Democratic and Republican Responses to California’s New Top Two Primary.”

The discussion was moderated by Kerstyn Olson, interim director of the Jesse M. Unruh Institute of Politics, and Jordyn Holman, an opinion columnist at the Daily Trojan.

They were joined by a panel made up of political consultants Garry South and Allan Hoffenblum, Sam Dorn, a member of the USC College Democrats, and Jordan Tygh, a member of the USC College Republicans.

The Talk Back addressed an issue facing voters this election season: candidates running for statewide and congressional office in a top-two primary.

The measure that established the change to primary elections, Proposition 14, took effect in April 2011 after being passed by voters in the 2010 election. It ended the traditional closed primary, in which voters of each party nominate a candidate for the general election, and replaces it with an open primary, in which the top two candidates —  regardless of party affiliation, advance to the general election.

Proponents of the measure say the law will reduce polarization, especially in California’s state legislature, and that candidates will be forced to expand their views to appeal to a wider swath of voters, not just their traditional party base.

Opponents of the measure say the two-party system weakens the potential field of candidates and fails to combat gridlock. Critics often cite that since the measure passed, no independents have been elected to statewide or federal office and very few have made it out of the primary as a reason the law has failed to reduce polarization.

Hoffenblum, a Republican political consultant, said the old system of closed primaries drew the extremes of both Democrats and Republicans and that the top two system would open the door to more diversity. South, who originally suggested the top two primary in 2004 as Proposition 62, agreed.

“I’m a longtime believer in open primaries and the top two primary,” he said. “In 1998, I ran Gov. Grey Davis’s campaign for governor — I’m the first and only person in California history to run a successful campaign that came out of an open primary.”

Dorn disagreed, citing the Los Angeles mayoral election as proof that third party candidates are still excluded by voters.

“[The top two primary] denies people of the opposite party the chance to run in a particularly Democratic or particularly Republican election,” Dorn said.

Tygh, Dorn’s equivalent from the College Republicans, disagreed and cited former Republican-turned non-partisan Bill Bloomfield’s challenge to longtime Democratic Congressman Henry Waxman as proof that there is space for independent candidates.

For Laura Walsh, a senior majoring in political science and environmental studies, who was undecided on the benefits of the two-party system, the panel clarified what she perceived to be the media misrepresenting the disadvantages of the top two primary.

“In terms of election results and the way our elected officials will vote, I think it will work in our favor,” Walsh said. “I think that contrasts what a lot of pundits are wanting us to believe because we hear a lot about this jungle primary, and they make it sound like it’s going to be unfair.”