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Change in voting process put greater importance on primary elections

The June primary election may prove to be pivotal for candidates across the board in California’s 41st District assembly race as a new 2-tiered voting system takes full effect. The state primaries will draw locals to the polls on Tuesday, June 5.

The effects are two-fold for voters across the state, one of which is this will be the first election based on the newly redrawn district maps. The district lines were changed in an attempt to increase voter participation in the elections, according to Peter Yao, commissioner of the California Citizens’ Redistricting Commission and former Claremont City Council member, in an interview earlier this year.

This primary will also be the first election that integrates the new voting system, in which the top 2 candidates will make their way to the final November election regardless of political affiliation. Local candidates and voters expect the system may prove to be a game-changer where anything can happen, but will hopefully increase participation.

“It really makes everyone work a lot harder because there is a lot more risk,” said Carolyn Gonzales, immediate past president of the Mountain View Republican Club. “There is no guaranteed representation, and in this way I see a great challenge.”

Ms. Gonzales admitted she is unsure whether or not the new system will reap positive results, given one party may not have representation in November. Gar Byrum of the Democratic Club of Claremont agrees, admitting his displeasure with the amount of money candidates are spending in advance of the June primaries, which he believes takes the focus away from the election itself.

“I don’t like the idea that the money just keeps skyrocketing, and running the primary becomes much more important,” Mr. Byrum said. “Before you would only need to focus on winning your own political primary. Now you have to worry about how a person who is in the other party will vote.”

California Proposition 14, or the California Top Two Primaries Act, was on the ballot in the state’s June 2010 election, and approved with 53.8 percent of votes. Its purpose was to provide a “voter-nominated primary election,” allowing voters the opportunity to vote for candidates regardless of political affiliation. In addition, candidates can decide whether or not to have their political party displayed on the ballot.

Supporters of Proposition 14 argue the new system will encourage more moderate members to be elected to the California State Legislature. Critics argue that the system will not actually result in moderate politicians, and may destroy minor and independent political parties.  

Mr. Byrum’s reasons for displeasure with the system center around the fact that it might encourage an influx of campaign spending and the fear of a split vote, thereby causing one political party to lose representation in the November election. He is also particularly concerned that candidates do not have to state their political affiliation on the ballot.

“Mischief is more likely to be afoot with an open primary. You are not sure what you are getting,” Mr. Byrum said. “I think if you want someone to represent your values, it’s better to have a primary system where you know who you are voting for.”

Despite the possible repercussions, Ms. Gonzales is hopeful it will encourage greater voter and candidate participation in this election.  

“Because of the risk, both parties will be vetting our candidates much more closely and with much more intensity,” she said.

District 41 Assembly candidates have clear differences

Five candidates will vie for the 2 slots in the newly-redistricted 41st Assembly District. Michael Cacciotti, Chris Holden and Victoria Rusnak will be running under the Democratic ticket, with Ed Colton and Donna Lowe for the Republican Party.

Mr. Cacciotti is currently serving his third term as mayor in South Pasadena, where he has also been a member of the city council for the past 11 years. In addition to local experience, Mr. Cacciotti feels his knowledge and background working at the capitol for 20 years uniquely qualifies him to be District 41’s assemblyman.

“It won’t take me 3 or 4 years. I’ve been there. I know how to get things done immediately,” Mr. Cacciotti said.

Mr. Cacciotti believes he brings with him a distinct skill set and experience in auditing and managing resources at the local level and at the state level, having served as a Deputy Attorney General with the State of California Department of Justice and formerly working for the Speaker Pro Tem of the California Assembly.

“The state is spending hundreds of millions of dollars and we are losing that money because it doesn’t manage those resources well. We are spending more money on prisons than on schools,” he said. “I really think the state needs to go in a new direction. I know how to do audits, I know the management skills needed to get the job done.”

Mr. Holden, an executive member of the California Democratic Party, believes his 23 years in local government will provide a strong backbone needed in the California State Assembly.

“I want to take my experience to Sacramento and get things working again, whether that is just through my experience of working in nonpartisan government at the local level or solving difficult problems at the municipal level,” he said.

Mr. Holden was elected to the Pasadena City Council at age 28, where he also served as mayor and continues to serve as a council member. During his time on council, Mr. Holden’s accomplishments include helping Pasadena acquire its water and power systems as well as providing health clinics for the uninsured and underinsured.

“I’ve been able to do a good job at the local level and I plan to take that experience to Sacramento,” Mr. Holden said. “Let’s see what we can do to fix and prioritize our budget, meet the expectations of taxpayers and address our vision for job creation and education going forward.”

Ms. Rusnak, president and general counsel of the Rusnak Group with over 700 employees and a payroll of over $700 million group-wide, feels she has the leadership necessary to re-prioritize in Sacramento.

“I am focused on job creation and fixing the budget mess we are in, and mostly returning funding to our schools and protecting the environment,” Ms. Rusnak said. “I’d like to get our budget in better order and then try to bring some money locally into our school districts to better manage the money.”

Ms. Rusnak’s focus on the environment and schools is inspired by her own career and personal endeavors. She has worked as an environmental attorney for the past 6 years, which includes work with the Sierra Club Legal Defense Fund on wildlife issues in the Everglades. She is also the founder of Artworks, helping to empower at-risk youth with creative development through employment, education and civic engagement.

“I know how to do projections, manage money, negotiate and not spend what you don’t have. I’m trained to review and understand law and I think those skills translate to being a legislator,” Ms. Rusnak said. “Being a lawyer, [having] the practical experience of running a large business and understanding the realities of operating within the system the government puts us in will allow me to be an effective legislator, because I will be able to weigh the cost-benefit analysis.”

Ms. Lowe, one of Claremont’s own, looks to lead California back to its “glory days” by focusing on rebuilding the state’s education and job creation, and fostering a business-friendly attitude among others.

“I am absolutely sick and tired of coming in last place for virtually everything in California that is of importance,” Ms. Lowe said.

To change that, the Claremont Community and Human Services Commissioner, businesswoman and proud mother of 2 suggested changing the types of elected officials headed to the state capitol. Ms. Lowe feels her experience with presenting the facts and helping to build consensus will help drive this.  

“I don’t like to do fear-mongering. I like to bring out the facts and talk about the numbers,” said Ms. Lowe, whose professional experiences includes working as sales manager for the western region of SafeNet. “When we sit down and debate the merits of everything, I am very level-headed, very pragmatic and that’s the type of approach that needs to happen in Sacramento right now.”

Mr. Colton, a resident of Pasadena, feels his business-savvy background will help provide change at the state level. His 30 years working in business include positions as President, CFO, General Counsel and Tax Counsel for various companies, including 2 Fortune 500 companies. His educational experience includes serving as vice chairman of Cathedral High School’s Board of Trustees and former president of the Los Angeles Boys and Girls Club.

“I still believe in the future of California and its people,” Mr. Colton wrote in his campaign statement. “Today I run to provide that new independent voice based on many years of business experience along with a multifaceted academic discipline.”

If elected, Mr. Colton will focus on providing innovative approaches to ending further cuts to the California school system and to the job market.

“What we need to do is to correctly allocate our limited resources from areas of administration at the State level and at the county level back to the student,” Mr. Colton continued in his campaign statement. He did not respond to repeated requests for an interview with the COURIER.

The deadline to register to vote in the June Primary is this Monday, May 21. General information can be found from the County Registrar of Voters between 8 a.m. and 5 p.m. Monday through Friday, at 1-800-345-8683 or elections@sos.ca.gov.

—Beth Hartnett

news@claremont-courier.com

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