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Op-Ed: Californians Deserve a Meaningful Role in Picking Presidents

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Californians Deserve a Meaningful Role in Picking Presidents

It has been decades since California voters had any meaningful say in the selection of the Democratic and Republican nominees for president. It's time for that to change.

We haven't been totally ignored. Presidential candidates know that we are the Golden State because they swarm here like '49ers to tap into the rich vein of wealthy Californians to help bankroll their campaigns. But they don't give California voters the attention they deserve because nominations are long-since sewn up by the time our June primary rolls around. We should make our ballots count more than our bank accounts. We should move the California primary as close as permissible to the New Hampshire primary, now scheduled for January 22, 2008.

With support from Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, California lawmakers from both parties have backed a plan to move up the primary by four months to February 5. That is the earliest date California and all but four other states may schedule a primary or caucus under the latest reform in the presidential nominating process by the Democratic National Committee. The only states that may vote before then are Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina and Nevada.

Giving minorities in South Carolina a say in a process is a step in the right direction, and the addition of Nevada will bring a handful of western voters into the process. But tinkering at the margins in the way we pick our presidents will front-load the nomination process even more, while making California voters, and issues important to us, count for even less.

For now, party rules dictate a calendar of caucuses and primaries in 2008 that begins in Iowa on January 14. Nevada Democrats will caucus the following Saturday, January 19. New Hampshire's first-in-the-nation primary gets its customary moment in the spotlight on January 22. One week later, South Carolina voters will go to the polls on January 29. The window opens for the rest of the country to schedule elections on February 5.

Several other western states - Arizona, New Mexico and Utah - already are laying the groundwork to move up their primary election dates to February 5, and some eastern states also are contemplating the same move. The nomination may virtually be determined on that day, with or without Californians having a say. That being the case, we should move the California primary to the earliest date possible under the rules - February 5, 2008. If you can't beat 'em, join 'em.

Otherwise, issues that are important to Californians will continue to get overlooked when the table is tilted in favor of small, rural states.

There is no mystery why urban issues (freeway congestion, mass-transit, air pollution, housing, big-city schools) are all but ignored in the early contests. There are no urban voters in those early primary and caucus states.

Other issues that count for Californians - such as intellectual property and off-shore oil drilling - are all but ignored as presidential candidates cater to the concerns of Iowa caucus goers and New Hampshire voters.

True, we tried moving up our California primary before. The lesson from March, 2004 was that we didn't set the date early enough. Because the nominations already were clinched, voters stayed away from the polls in droves. The result was the lowest turnout for any presidential primary in California history. It was so anticlimactic that the Los Angeles Times buried news of yet another victory for Sen. John Kerry in the third paragraph of a story that virtually yawned with the results on ballot measures dealing with state fiscal policy.

Next time, let's make California count. Let's give voters here a chance to have a real say in selecting the next president of the United States of America.

http://www.house.gov/list/speech/ca27_sherman/op_070124.html

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