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Next time, let California go first

Marketplace Staff Jan 29, 2008

Next time, let California go first

Marketplace Staff Jan 29, 2008


Kai Ryssdal: By the time the concession speeches are given tonight Florida’s going to be firmly in the political rear view mirror.

Next Tuesday, voters in 24 states will weigh in on the presidential field… or what’s left of it: The choices are getting narrower almost by the week, even though we’re still 10 months from Election Day.

Commentator Geoffrey Andersen says there’s nothing wrong with early primaries… as long as the right states go first.

Geoffrey Andersen: Critics of the primary calendar complain that early states don’t represent the country as a whole: New Hampshire is too white, South Carolina is too black, Nevada’s too seedy and Michigan’s just depressed.

I believe early primaries are a good thing. An extended process encourages greater deliberation by voters. We watch candidates campaign from state to state and week to week. We learn who they are. This helps us make better decisions.

But there’s a problem with the current calendar and it’s not about racial diversity. The early primary states lack economic diversity.

Farmers dominate Iowa’s economy. Automakers own Michigan. So it’s no surprise Iowans want more farm subsidies. Michigan and South Carolina demand trade protections. Politicians can pander to one set of voters without alienating another.

Somebody does have to go first, but it shouldn’t be a state that can be bought so cheaply.

We need a state above retail politics. A state with an economy as diverse as America’s.

We need California to go first.

California has twice Iowa’s agricultural output. Its manufacturing sector is larger than Michigan and South Carolina combined. California also profits from the import industry. Billions of dollars in goods pass through its ports each week. Silicon Valley sets the standards in high tech. Hollywood leads in entertainment. Disneyland practically embodies tourism. Immigrants, a quarter of the population, compete for low-wage service-sector jobs and high-end professional work. California is a major producer of both oil and alternative energy.

The California economy is so vast, so productive and so diverse that no politician can promise something for everyone. California is pander proof.

In 2012, let’s start the primary season in California. That would bring the full range of economic issues into an honest discussion: trade deficits, transportation infrastructure, oil dependence, intellectual property rights, immigrant labor.

I’d prefer to hear that conversation rather than listen again to what a few marginal states believe they deserve at America’s expense.

Ryssdal: Geoffrey Andersen is an editor at Slate. He lives in Los Angeles and Oakland, California.

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