Weekend Open Thread: This Tuesday, Everything Starts Going to Hell

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Finally, the speculation of who’s running for what office is ending — and it’s time for the horrifying reality to sink in.

Here’s a link to a long PDF of the schedule for events preceding and following this year’s primary election for federal and state executive and legislative offices (and for judicial offices).

The most pressing thing to know about that schedule is that February 13 through March 9 is when candidates can go to the Orange County Registrar of Voters Office and lock in their decision to run for a particular office.  (If an incumbent doesn’t run for reelection to their office, the filing period is extended by five days.)  Once a filing is made, it is locked in: the candidate cannot switch to any other race for the primary election (although there are some boards for which they may still be able to run simultaneously) and if they make it to the runoff — even if they’ve been swamped 99% to 1% in the primary, they won’t be able to run for local offices either.  In other words, it’s a serious and consequential decision — which is one reason why many people wait until late in the filing period to file.

This year, though, with “Congress fever” having swept over the land and the Democratic Party (probably accompanied by the Republicans) scrambling to winnow down the field of candidates for each given race so they don’t split the vote enough to prevent any of them from making the runoff, the dynamic is likely to be different.  Parties will likely be pushing anyone who hasn’t entered one of the crowded races from doing so.  The only way one is liable to being pushed not to run is if one has already filed.  So it seems likely that everyone will rush to get their applications in right away — who has filed is reported every evening — so that others rather than oneself are subject to such pressure.

This will likely lead to what I’m delicately calling “the clustercrash” — the result of a multiway game of chicken.  For those of you know don’t know that game –perhaps from movies such as Rebel Without a Cause, an image from which is above — it’s when two enormously stupid drivers drive their cars directly towards one another at high speed.  If one of them swerves out of the way while the other doesn’t, the person who swerves loses and becomes the “chicken.”  If neither swerves, both lose — and it’s more than just their pride and swagger.

Everyone wants everyone else to avoid the impending crash — so a crash becomes almost inevitable.

The game of chicken quickly became a leading topic in the area of academic study known as “game theory” — which is applies to everything from animal behavior to theories of nuclear deterrence.  In a “jungle primary” system like ours, if two strong Republicans run against six strong Democrats in a given district — even a Democratic-leaning district — the likelihood becomes high that no Democrat will get a larger share of the vote than the second-best Republican.  Thus, the contestants on one side of the aisle crash into one another and blow up — if enough of them can’t be convinced to swerve into another race.

A strong party can make this pile-up less likely.  Local Republicans have a fairly strong party, capable of doling out punishment to those who transgress against the party’s wishes.  Local Democrats don’t — largely because the party generally doesn’t do much for its candidates, and partly because it has squandered its influence in the past.

The most striking recent example of the latter was when DPOC Chair Henry Vandermeir tried to push Josh Newman out of the SD-29 race against the party insiders’ favorite, carpetbagger Sukhee Kang.  That went poorly and many candidates cite it as a reason why they won’t give in to even legitimate pressure.  There was no reason not to let Newman run in 2016 — an R vs. R primary was never a serious threat — other than that the party establishment wanted their candidate to take the seat.  This year, there’s a very good reason to want no more than two Democratic candidates running in any race (or maybe three if Republicans have already filed that many) —  but we’re seeing what happens when a party squanders its credibility with candidates and offers no strong fair measurable evidence (such as truly independent polls, focus groups, or a series of conventions) that could be used to convince weaker candidates to drop out.

I’ve been pushing for the Democratic party to do this literally since our first public meeting of the election cycle in January 2017.  It hasn’t happened — and I’ve been told privately not to worry about it, even though publicly the fear is acknowledged.  Well, I’m still worrying about it.

What’s happening now is that candidates run their own polls which somehow all show their guy or gal doing very well compared to other candidates — that’s one way that pollsters stay in business — leading every candidate to believe in their own evidence that should scare everyone else out of the race.  But they can’t all be right — in fact, it’s doubtful that even one of them is.

As I’ve said at various meetings: if you think that conducting polls and focus groups is expensive, see how expensive not getting a Democrat into the runoff in one (or more) of the most strongly targeted seats in the nation.  OC will be a laughingstock if and when that happens — and just blaming the candidates for the problem is something convincing only to party insiders themselves.  Parties are supposed to LEAD, and that means having the ability to be what’s called a FAIR BROKER, an actor who will find and convey only the truth, with favoritism towards no one.  With the anti-leftist bias of the local Democratic Party — this year most evident in trying to hijack the amazing success of Doug Applegate in CA-49 in the 2016 cycle for the glory of business-oriented moderate party insider Mike Levin — there’s no pretense of fairness.  And that’s why we’ve had no way to avoid a cluster-crash starting on Tuesday.

I don’t intend to be especially critical here of the current DPOC Chair, Fran Sdao, who for all of our sometimes conflicts I’ve acknowledged as the best of the three Chairs under which I’ve served in OC.  It took a long time for the Democratic Party to build up a reputation of not being a fair broker — and it will take a long time to dismantle it, even if we ever are willing to take the necessary steps.

For my part, as I weigh candidate’s positives and negatives, I’m giving a big negative mark towards any candidate who files the first day — maybe even the first two days.  That’s just screaming out “I don’t care if we all crash and burn!” — and if that’s what someone is going to do, they shouldn’t expect to be treated nicely.

If you “bring hell” upon your party by freezing it out of the general election, you should expect to roast in it for a long while.

About Greg Diamond

Somewhat verbose attorney, semi-retired due to disability, residing in northwest Brea. Occasionally runs for office against bad people who would otherwise go unopposed. Got 45% of the vote against Bob Huff for State Senate in 2012; Josh Newman then won the seat in 2016. In 2014 became the first attorney to challenge OCDA Tony Rackauckas since 2002; Todd Spitzer then won that seat in 2018. Every time he's run against some rotten incumbent, the *next* person to challenge them wins! He's OK with that. Deposed as Northern Vice Chair of DPOC in April 2014 (in violation of Roberts Rules) when his anti-corruption and pro-consumer work in Anaheim infuriated the Building Trades and Teamsters in spring 2014, who then worked with the lawless and power-mad DPOC Chair to eliminate his internal oversight. Expelled from DPOC in October 2018 (in violation of Roberts Rules) for having endorsed Spitzer over Rackauckas -- which needed to be done. None of his pre-putsch writings ever spoke for the Democratic Party at the local, county, state, national, or galactic level, nor do they now. One of his daughters co-owns a business offering campaign treasurer services to Democratic candidates and the odd independent. He is very proud of her. He doesn't directly profit from her work and it doesn't affect his coverage. (He does not always favor her clients, though she might hesitate to take one that he truly hated.) He does advise some local campaigns informally and (so far) without compensation. (If that last bit changes, he will declare the interest.)