Louisiana: A model of civic virtue?

(I swore I wouldn’t talk politics on this blog, and this is the only time I’m going to break my self-imposed restriction! Really.)

Irritating Republicans and Democrats alike, California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger has thrown his weight behind a proposal for an open primary system similar to that used in elections in my home state of Louisiana. I’m thrilled that, after so many years of political ridicule, Louisiana is finally being held up as an example of something positive.

Though it’s regarded as a conservative state, Louisiana actually has sent a number of fairly moderate legislators (such as Sen. John Breaux and Rep. Billy Tauzin) to Washington over the years. That’s partly because the Louisiana system, unlike the closed primaries used in most states, does not compel candidates to run to the right or left at the outset of their campaigns. By not having to compete for a party’s nomination, candidates are spared the awkwardness of playing to the party faithful during primary season only to moderate their views a few weeks later for the broader electorate. It’s no wonder voters think politicians will say anything to get elected when the prevailing electoral system in this country encourages candidates to take two positions on everything.

Open primaries strike me as a sensible step toward reducing partisanship at a time when the country is dangerously polarized. In California, a state that prides itself on empowering voters, open primaries could help us judge candidates by the virtue of their ideas and the strength of their character rather than their fluency in doubletalk and their aptitude for political sleight of hand.