Civics lesson

Party poopers: Just when Bites was ready to forgive and forget, the California Republican Party has landed right back on the shit list. For nearly a year, this space has extolled the merits of Rep. Ron Paul, the only antiwar Republican candidate running in the upcoming California presidential primary. In fact, Bites, a lifelong Democrat, re-registered as an unaffiliated voter last year for the expressed purpose of voting for Paul. As it turns out, Bites should have read the fine print.

A brief history lesson is in order. In 1996, Californians passed Proposition 198, an initiative permitting voters, regardless of political affiliation, to select any candidate they want in a primary election. That was the law of the land for the elections held in 1998 and 2000. Then in stepped the U.S. Supreme Court, which agreed with the major and minor political parties that Proposition 198 violated their First Amendment rights to freedom of association. The decision transformed California’s primaries from “open” to what the California Voter Foundation terms “slightly ajar.”

Under the new scheme of things, unaffiliated voters may select another party’s candidate in a primary only if that party has granted permission prior to the election. So it was with nervous fingers that Bites tore into the official voter pamphlet that landed in the mailbox shortly after New Year’s. Had California’s Republicans, anticipating Paul’s crossover appeal, shrewdly left the door open for potential future party members?

Split decision: Sadly, the answer is no. Only the Democratic and American Independent Parties are permitting unaffiliated voters to select their candidates this time around. But if it’s any consolation, the California Republican Party did not make the decision lightly, says spokesman Hector Barajas. “There was a quite a bit of discussion at the board meeting,” Barajas told Bites. “It was a split vote, eight to seven.”

One Republican Party insider who favored allowing the unaffiliated to vote Republican told Bites that in addition to potential crossover voters, Republicans were writing off the growing unaffiliated voter demographic, the biggest segment of which is female Hispanics. “We want to be more inclusive,” the source said. “We might be able to do it sometime in the future.”

On the other hand, Barajas suggested the party was simply deferring to rank-and-file Republicans, who this year will assign delegates based on how candidates perform in each congressional district. If, for example, gastric bypass poster child Mike Huckabee wins California’s 5th Congressional District, he’ll be granted all of the district’s delegates. In the past, the statewide winner was granted all of the state’s delegates. How that played into the party’s decision to exclude unaffiliated voters remains a mystery, at least to Bites.

Jury’s out: Bites has never been one to shirk civic duty. Ask not what the country can do for Bites, ask what Bites can do for the country. That includes jury duty, which until recently Bites had never received so much as a summons. In addition to questioning why said summons has never been received, Bites has always wondered why so many people try to avoid serving jury duty. What form of public service could be more sacred?

Last month, Bites finally got the chance to find out when lo and behold, the long-awaited summons to jury duty arrived in the mail. Visions of 12 Angry Men, Judgment at Nuremberg and A Few Good Men danced through Bites’ head. The secrets of the greatest criminal-justice system the world has ever known were about to be revealed.

There was a hitch, of course. Bites discovered that like most employers, SN&R does not compensate employees for serving jury duty. So that’s why people avoid it! As a sole breadwinner, Bites was entitled to and accepted a free pass. But it still seems a little odd that the greatest system of justice the world has ever known leaves most of its major decisions to the unemployed.