Our View: Tuesday’s top-two primary had some disturbing results

June 4, 2014 

By now the residue from the victory parties following our first-ever, top-two primary has all been mopped up, so it’s a good time to ponder the results.

•  Low, lower, lowest turnout – The new top-two primary drew even fewer voters than the old party-specific version, only 21 percent in Merced County – which was better than the statewide total (so far) of 18.3 percent. Primaries are a century-old “progressive era” reaction to party bosses choosing candidates in what really were smoke-filled rooms. Perhaps we’re past needing them. Clearly, the overwhelming majority of voters are past caring about them.

•  The Republican party saved itself – Despite two of the state’s most prominent GOP organizations trying to become irrelevant by endorsing Tim Donnelly, saner voters prevailed. We’re certain Jerry Brown would have preferred to have faced Donnelly, who seemed to be playing the part of Yosemite Sam in a cartoon version of the campaign. Instead, he’ll face an energetic, intelligent, well-connected foe in Neel Kashkari, who undoubtedly will mount a more formidable campaign by November. Here in Merced County, Donnelly was more popular than Kashkari but clearly lost to Brown.

•  Warm-up act – The next election will be different – fewer choices, more voters (hopefully), more propositions, final results and far more annoying campaign ads.

•  Dodging a bullet – How does anyone explain the embarrassment of Leland Yee? He got 9.8 percent of the vote statewide, third in a field of eight. Did voters not realize he gave up his campaign when arrested for gun trafficking? Yee’s affiliation with someone nicknamed “Shrimp Boy,” with known criminal gang connections, might make Yee the least acceptable Secretary of State ever. Anywhere.

It was worse here in Merced County; Yee got 10.7 percent of the total votes – or 2,001 of the 18,633 cast. Maybe some thought he would bring his alleged gun-running business to the Valley.

Speaking of local races, congratulations to the winners. But we also thank those the voters did not choose. Running a campaign is not easy, it’s not cheap and it’s not without substantial emotional investment. Anyone who puts themselves under the microscope of public scrutiny must have shoulders broad enough to bear the burden of disappointment and skin thick enough to shed attacks that too often become personal. With no disrespect to many candidates who ran unopposed, there is something less than democratic about races without choices. So those who ran but did not win at least gave us a choice, and we appreciate it.

And that brings us to the local races in which winners were determined.

Congratulations to Karen Adams. The voters saw, and obviously valued, some elements of her candidacy more than did The Sun-Star. As we pointed out in our endorsement of her opponent, Adams knows finance and has been a good steward of the county’s money. We trust she will continue that excellent work.

Congratulations also to Vern Warnke, who holds a 240-vote lead over Pat Lunney in the race for sheriff. The two will square off in the general election in a race that provides voters two good choices. Frank Swiggart Jr. came in a close third and ran an admirable campaign.

Linn Davis won’t keep his seat on the county Board of Supervisors. Tony Dossetti and Daron McDaniel will decide it in November.

For state and federal offices, winners won’t be chosen until November, but Tuesday’s results gave a few head starts. Republican state Sen. Anthony Cannella got two votes for every one cast for his Democratic challenger, Shawn Bagley. Jim Costa had more trouble the Merced portion of his 16th Congressional district, but led all candidates with 37.6 percent. He will face Johnny Tacherra in the general in November.

Finally, Assemblyman Adam Gray had no official foe but got the lowest number of votes of any unopposed candidate. That’s because four-time candidate Jack Mobley avoided all the usual ways of signing up, registering as a write-in candidate at the very last minute. He needed only his own vote to advance to November’s general. He got it, and 1,700 others.

We hope we’ll get a breather for a few weeks before we start seeing more political ads, more mailers, more urgent requests for more money. Meet you back here in November.

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