Today's elections in San Francisco reminds us of three common problems in California politics--and suggests an innovative solution.
The first problem is that, while everyone closely follows a top-of-the-ticket race like the contest for San Francisco mayor, no one pays attention at all to down-ticket races like district attorney or sheriff.
Which accounts for the second problem: that the outcome of those races is determined less by ideas but more by money and name recognition.
With money flowing into races that don't attract attention and scrutiny, there is a high potential for corruption.
At the state level, we've seen this dynamic over the past decade with scandals involving down-ticket executive offices such as lieutenant governor, secretary of state, and insurance commissioner.
What to do?
We might all be better off simply auctioning off down-ticket offices to the highest bidder.
This, of course, isn't much different than the system we have now.
But at the very least, it would make crystal clear who bought the office. And it might attract more attention than the elections voters now ignore.
The other benefit: producing funds for California's cash-strapped governments. Instead of donations going to a campaign, the proceeds of the auctions could flow to local or state budgets.
Sure, there might be some public distaste at the selling of public offices. And it might be cleaner if we simply abolished elections entirely for such down-ticket offices and made those positions appointed ones.
But that would mean giving more power to elected officials to make the appointment -- and the rule of all California political reform is that politicians should never, ever be given power or the discretion to make decisions.
So the auction represents a modest, middle path. And with that, i'd like to start our bidding for state treasurer at $1 milllion....