SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) – California holds elections Tuesday that could resound across the country as voters decide the political dreams of millionaires and whether to hobble unions and alter the education of generations.
The state’s 14.6 million registered voters will be asked to cast ballots in gubernatorial and Senate primaries. They will also vote on two measures that could change California’s course into the 21st Century.
One initiative would scrap bilingual education in a state where, by 2040, almost two-thirds of the population could be Hispanic. The other would pull the plug on much of the political spending by unions, hindering labor in the political process that is dominated by corporations and wealthy individuals.
“It is going to be interesting,” said Steven Erie, a professor at the University of California, San Diego. “There are always a few wild cards that come out of California.”
The greatest attention has focused on the competition to succeed Republican Gov. Pete Wilson. It is a race with national implications — together with state legislators, California’s next governor will preside over redrawing boundaries of the state’s congressional districts, now numbering 52 but probably more by the next century.
The Tuesday vote also is important because it will mark California’s first open primary, where voters can select any candidate they like regardless of party affiliation. In a state where party politics have often taken a backseat to personalities, observers are watching closely for defections and fence jumpers in a new era of “strategic” voting.
Republicans have fielded Attorney General Dan Lungren, a rock-ribbed conservative, who is running virtually unopposed for his party’s nomination.
The Democrats, meanwhile, have three challengers — Lt. Gov. Gray Davis, multimillionaire Al Checchi and Rep. Jane Harman, a three-term congresswoman from southern California who has been aided by her say the measure’s slash-and-burn approach to bilingual programs could leave an estimated 1.4 million mostly Hispanic children stranded in classes they do not understand, further exacerbating Anglo-Hispanic tensions.
The other measure, Prop. 226, would force labor unions to get permission from individual members before spending their dues on political campaigns — a move both sides say could be repeated in other states if California takes the lead.
Supporters say this will hobble corrupt “union bosses” unwittingly financed by workers. Detractors say it is simply a big business ploy to crush the political power of unions, which often come out against Republican candidates.