Ashton: Broader campaigns in primary appealing

Democratic ballots around Modesto last week left a lot to be desired, but they held the promise for better choices in years ahead.

Forget the $100 million GOP primary. Democrats had their guy in Jerry Brown.

But they were on the sidelines for votes on their local representatives in the 25th Assembly District and 14th Senate District.

Those are bulletproof Republican seats, meaning Democrats never really have a meaningful vote to cast for a state lawmaker unless they fib and switch to the GOP.

The opposite's true for Republicans living in Democratic districts.

That's too bad, because there were quite a few good candidates running for the 25th Assembly District and 14th Senate district. Compelling them to appeal across parties would've benefited them, voters here and the houses where the winners are going to set policy.

Proposition 14, the ballot initiative that will bring open primaries to California, should change that dynamic.

Voters approved it Tuesday to get candidates talking to the center instead of the extreme wings of their parties.

Couple that with the work to be done by the nearly formed state redistricting commission -- designed to draw Assembly and Senate boundaries without the influence of lawmakers -- and the state could start seeing a less partisan Sacramento, possibly even one that could pass a budget on time.

Or, as New York Times columnist Gail Collins joked, the whole thing could fall apart.

"It's a good rule of thumb to figure that anything approved in a California referendum will make things worse," she wrote Saturday.

Dear Gail, how can I write like you? ...

LOOKING FOR THE MIDDLE ... The winners in the Republican primaries for the 25th Assembly District and 14th Senate District each adopted the "conservative" label for their advertisements but avoided some of the ultra-partisan language a few of their opponents espoused.

Senate winner Tom Berryhill said he'd continue to work across the aisle on his priorities despite criticism from other candidates who described blocking Democrats as their principal reason for seeking office. Assembly winner Kristin Olsen hit conservative themes but said she'd work to bridge partisan divides. ...

SPEAKING OF OLSEN ... It's anybody's guess as to when she'll resign from her seat on the Modesto City Council. She could synchronize her departure with an expected November ballot measure to change Modesto's runoff system, thus sparing the city the cost of a special election.

Some charges couldn't be avoided because of the city's move to district elections. That means the city would have to provide a ballot only for voters who live in the part of city she represents. Also, the changes to the runoff system wouldn't be in place yet, and a runoff could result from a special election.

Or the council could opt not to spend a dime on an election by appointing someone. ...

ONE MORE THING ... If Proposition 14 were the law of the land today, Olsen would be facing former Modesto Councilman Bill Conrad in November. Those are two conservative Republicans who got along well during the campaign but probably would have to campaign more aggressively in a one-on-one match.

As it is, the GOP primary wrapped up with mostly positive feelings all around.

"Everything happens for a reason," Conrad said. "Olsen's a good candidate. When our state's in trouble, a lot of good people come forward."

Bee Assistant City Editor Adam Ashton can be reached at or 578-2366.