Twenty-term incumbent Pete Stark has a well developed get-out-the-vote operation, but his opponent, Eric Swalwell, is capitalizing on Stark's reported negative attributes. (Photo: Cy Musiker)
Pete Stark has specialized in health care during much of his 40 years in Congress. He’s helped pass some of the nation’s most far-reaching laws in that area, including the Affordable Care Act (“Obamacare” to some); a law that says emergency rooms are required to admit patients who can’t pay; and COBRA, which lets workers and their families temporarily remain covered under an employer’s health plan even after leaving their job.
Stark says he considers himself a health care “expert.”
“But there’s lots to be done,” he adds. “I would like to work until we see that every resident of the United States has access to health care regardless of their income or health status.”
In a normal year, voters would probably have granted him yet another term to do that work. But in this election cycle, he has to fight to be re-elected because of the state’s “Top Two” primary system and newly drawn congressional districts that have changed business as usual.
“In a Democrat vs. Democrat race, there’s a very reasonable chance [Stark] could end up out of Congress.”
Stark is now running in the redrawn but mostly Democratic 15th Congressional District — a sprawl of suburban cities, stretching from Hayward to Pleasanton, to the south and east of Oakland. In June he finished ahead of his Democratic primary opponent; had it been a traditional primary, Stark would be facing almost certain-victory over a weak Republican in November.
The "top-two" primary will be tested in a California state-wide election for the first time in June. Illustration: Getty Images
If you open your Sample Ballot for the June 5 primary election, you’ll find a big difference.
Take the race for the U.S. Senate: Instead of a roster of candidates for the one political party to with you belong, you’ll see all 24 candidates in a big long list (including 14 Republicans, 6 Democrats, 2 Peace and Freedom, 1 American Independent and 1 Libertarian). Even if you don’t have a party affiliation, you can now vote in the primary.
Pick your one choice from that long list. The two candidates who get the most votes will go to the general election in November.
Once you understand how to vote using the new system, you may want to know more about how it’s going to change California politics. KQED’s Forum devoted an hour to the topic earlier this week. It was a lively — even heated — debate.
Former California Democratic legislator Steve Peace is the co-chairman of the California Independent Voter Project, which authored the Top Two Candidates Open Primary Act. He thinks the new primary system is good for Democracy:
Bottom line is, open primary means competition. Competition means a healthier system…. Seventy-three percent of Californians say that partisanship is at the root of our problems. (Yet) we’re run by the other 27 percent.
But Jon Fleischman, a GOP strategist and publisher of FlashReport.org, a website on California politics, hates it:
As I watch the practical application of Proposition 14, the amount of money that it takes to compete now is just absolutely staggering and stunning. The effect of that is that I’m watching the special interests from Sacramento, whether it’s the labor unions on the Democrat side, whether it’s certain business PACs on the Republican side or certain major donors are now weighing in and coming into these districts and they’re going to cherry pick the candidates.