Pete Peterson, the Republican candidate for secretary of state, would rather that voters see the “R” after his name as representing “resume.”
“I have the least partisan resume of anybody” who has sought this office before or since June’s primary election, said Peterson, who runs the Davenport Institute for Public Engagement and Civic Leadership at Pepperdine University. Peterson will face off in November’s general election against state Sen. Alex Padilla, D-Van Nuys.
Though Peterson is running as a Republican, he said his brand of partisan pride harkens back to when the GOP “was known for its reform-minded perspective on government,” and he believes the secretary of state’s office “definitely should be run in a nonpartisan way.”
Of course, he’s also smart enough to know what the Republican brand means in California, where only 28 percent of voters choose to affiliate with it.
Peterson stopped by the Oakland Tribune’s office late Tuesday afternoon before heading to Piedmont, where he was scheduled to do a joint fundraising event with controller candidate and Fresno Mayor Ashley Swearengin, hosted by the Lincoln Club of Northern California; tickets cost $300 to attend, $1,000 to co-host or $5,000 to host.
He said it’s the first time he’s done such an event with Swearengin, and while he’s open to doing more events with her and other statewide GOP candidates, “there will be a lot of flying solo out there on the campaign trail” as well.
We talked about his and Padilla’s views on limiting the schedule on which lawmakers can accept campaign contributions – he would ban all contributions during the entire legislative session, Padilla for the last 100 days of each session – but he confessed he doesn’t think it’s a major issue. “There are fairly easy ways around either of those.”
Instead, Peterson said, he wants to see California significantly improve the transparency of political contributions, given the current CalAccess system’s outdated technology and clunky user interface. He said he’s been meeting with people like Dan Newman, president and cofounder of Berkeley-based MAPLight.org, about the great work they’re doing in shining a light on money in politics. It may be better for government to partner with, validate and promote nonprofit and private-sector transparency outfits like this rather than remain perpetually behind the curve in adapting to new technology and data demands, Peterson said.
Lots more, after the jump…
We also talked about his plan to create a performance “dashboard” that can be placed on the secretary of state’s website so Californians can track how efficiently the office is working in various areas. Some criteria might be similar to those used by the Pew Charitable Trusts’ Elections Performance Index – such as number of mail ballots unreturned, number of provisional ballots cast, voting information lookup tools and so on – on which California has ranked toward the bottom among all states in recent years; other criteria would gauge the office’s performance on its business-registration duties.
Peterson believes the secretary of state’s office has been doing a pretty lousy job in that area, too, charging an unnecessarily heavy $800 minimum franchise tax while providing an unwieldy process for registrations. Nevada’s website, he said, has a “Start A Business” button leading to an intuitive process; California’s is a labyrinth.
“Design matters,” he said. “If you make it hard to use websites, you are saying something about yourself as an organization.”
And he spoke about what has been his career’s passion, increasing civic engagement – in this case, in the form of voter participation. He said the secretary of state should make better use of technology and private-sector partnerships to entice Californians to cast ballots, as well as working more collaboratively with county registrars to coordinate and consolidate elections whenever possible.
He acknowledged he might be something of an “outlier” in his party by emphasizing civic engagement so heavily. Asked about the GOP’s efforts in other states to impose voter ID laws that critics say raise barriers to many voters – especially minorities and seniors – he said he doesn’t see it happening here.
“I just don’t see it as a battle that’s going to be fought here in California, nor should it be,” he said – any fraud in the electoral process isn’t happening at polling places, but rather in voting by mail or in signature collection. He’d rather prioritize getting the statewide voter registration database project back on track; California is now the only state lacking one.
Asked if he realizes that his bid to become the state’s chief civic engagement officer will hinge on what might be the lowest general-election turnout in recent history, he laughed and replied, “That specific irony is not lost on me.”