Abel Maldonado: “Top Two” Success Story

With few exceptions, the "Top Two" primary system reform adopted by the voters in 2010 was a bust in 2012.

Proponents hoped that the new process would produce more moderate candidates and fewer candidates at the political extremes. When the votes were counted, the usual suspects from both major parties remained in place, and third party candidates have virtually disappeared.

One exception occurred in the new 24th Congressional district, where moderate Republican Abel Maldonado finished in second place behind Democratic incumbent Lois Capps. Conservative Republican Chris Mitchum finished third.

Under the old system, Mitchum might have won a Republican primary in which more conservative voters turned out. But with the "Top Two" model, voters of any party (or no party) could choose whomever they wanted, with the two candidates receiving the most votes competing in November.

That takes us to Maldonado.

Historically the odd man out in California's conservative-dominated Republican party, Maldonado is a departure from the norm.

The son of Latino immigrant farm workers-turned-farm owners,  Maldonado occasionally bucked the direction of his Republican colleagues by voting for an assault weapons ban, opposing off-shore oil drilling, and supporting abortion rights.

Most significantly, he was among a handful of legislators to vote for tax increases under then-Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger.

In 2009, Maldonado's last full year in the state senate, Capitol Weekly, a non-partisan observer of state politics, gave him a score of 55 on the conservative-to-liberal continuum, with 0 being the most conservative and 100 being the most liberal.

Maldonado's relatively moderate posture puts him in good stead in a district that is radically different than the one Capps has served over the past 14 years.

After the 2000 census, Democrats had an 11 point advantage in Capps' district. After the 2010 census and work of the Citizens' Independent Redistricting Commission, the Democratic majority in Capps' district fell to three percent.

Interestingly enough, it was Maldonado who extracted a commitment from the legislature to place the "Top Two" primary system on the ballot in 2010 as part of his price for voting for more taxes. Now he may be in position to cash in.

Larry Gerston teaches political science at San Jose State University and is the political analyst for NBC Bay Area.

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