California voters who harbor some hope of restoring accountability in the state Legislature are going to need each other more than ever next year.
Thanks to a number of new, wide-open races created by term limits and statewide redistricting, California's Legislature is expected to see historic turnover in 2012. An estimated 40 percent of the body's 120 seats will end up occupied by first-termers, up from the typical 30 percent, with several other "safe" seats suddenly in play. Robert Stern, president of the nonpartisan Center for Governmental Studies, says 2012 will likely see "the biggest turnover in modern memory."
With opportunities to buy themselves freshman legislators at a historic high, special-interest groups are hovering like buzzards. Voters ought to take their cue and proceed on a reciprocal course: They must keep their eyes open for new potential lawmakers who are willing to fight lobbyists' substantial influence.
Next year's elections have the potential to transform a Legislature whose partisan gridlock and politics-before-people mentality has rendered it almost completely ineffective. The opportunity for real change is knocking at our doors. But the special interests are way ahead of us. Advocacy groups have already started recruiting and training candidates, in some cases fundraising for them, The Sacramento Bee reports. Experts say special interest activity is happening earlier and with more organization than ever before.
A newly formed fundraising committee made up of labor, doctors, dentists and Realtors has already raised more than half a million dollars to spend next year. This summer, an education group hosted a Politics 101 training session for its preferred candidates, teaching them how to run for office. And the California Chamber of Commerce is launching a fundraising campaign based on the idea that more competitive races will require more money.
This all raises the stakes for voters. The best weapon against preformed, preapproved candidates: Stay informed ahead of the next election and, most importantly, turn out to vote. In spite of the money and influence wielded by special interests, corporations and other assorted lobbyists, we're the ones actually casting the votes.