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Restoring Common Sense to California

Tom Campbell on a Principled Third Party Alternative

Bob Zadek
19 min readApr 28, 2021


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In January of 1776, Thomas Paine anonymously penned a radical proposal for American independence. “Common Sense,” the title of his pamphlet, has been a rallying cry for American patriots since our founding and continues to unite a dissatisfied public in the pursuit of better governance.

Today, a new Common Sense Party of California — led by Quentin Kopp and Tom Campbell — aims to free Californians from the yoke of single-party rule.

Ending One-Party Rule, Once and For All

California has problems — from drought to fires, to a bankrupt pension system, to crises of housing, homelessness and unemployment. The only “solutions” our politicians have offered are more regulations, higher taxes, and the declaration of a permanent state of emergency.

The biggest crisis, though, is the lack of leadership.

The Democratic Party has failed liberal and conservative voters alike. Lacking serious competition from an increasingly irrelevant GOP, our legislature has let special interests write the laws — that is, when Governor Newsom isn’t exercising indefinite and constitutionally-dubious “emergency powers.”

Help is On the Way

Meanwhile, former U.S. Congressman and California state senator Tom Campbell has been laying the groundwork for an independent third party that could run serious contenders for the state office as soon as 2022. Outside of his political career, Campbell has served as Dean of Chapman University’s Fowler School of Law, a Dean and professor at UC Berkeley’s Haas School of Business, and Professor of Law at Stanford.

Campbell joined me to outline his vision of a party of principles and independence from political monopoly run by special interests.

After learning about the Common Sense Party from Judge Quentin Kopp last fall, I’ve been eager to get an update. Signature gathering to get on the ballot was put on hold by the pandemic, but Campbell and Kopp are finally getting back to work. If the recall movement is any indicator of Californian’s dissatisfaction with the status quo, they should have no trouble getting the 70,000 required signatures to get on the ballot.

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The Shot Heard Round the World

A couple hundred years ago, a shot was fired that was heard around the world in Massachusetts at the start of the American Revolution. From that shot heard around the world, we have the country we love and live in.

California is not Massachusetts. Sacramento is not a conquered bridge. Nevertheless, the country is about to hear and learn of another shot being fired that will be heard around the world. Only this one is a bit more positive and more life-affirming than a musket ball. It is the creation of a new political party in California.

The creation of the Common Sense Party of California has many parallels to the creation of our country from the colonies. Our country was the first and remains the only country ever formed around an ideal — around a set of principles. Principles are the uniting force.

Neither of the two major political parties in our country has any semblance of a political philosophy. There are no great living or dead “Democratic philosophers.” The Democratic Party has no philosophy other than self-preservation — getting reelected, and getting power over other people. Why have political parties become so important in American life? After all, they are just a marketing machine to get people elected, yet political parties have an exaggerated importance in our civic life.

The Common Sense Party of California starts with ideals that the overwhelming majority of Californians could easily embrace. It puts principles first, and if you like the principles, you should support the party.

A Lifetime of Service

Tom Campbell is one of the driving forces in California behind the Common Sense Party. Tom has spent a lifetime in public service in every aspect imaginable of important good government. He was the dean of the Fowler Law School at Chapman University. Before that he was the Dean of the Haas School of Business at University of California at Berkeley — one of the leading business schools. Tom also has been a law professor at Stanford and has a PhD in economics. He also has been a member of the United States Congress and of the California State Senate. He also served in the executive branch of the state of California and has seen and thought about government from every aspect imaginable. He now brings that knowledge, energy, that commitment to the growth of a new California political party, the Common Sense Party.

Tom, You have had a lifetime immersed in the intricacies and the complexities of government and have made a lifetime commitment to the study of economics as well as the study of government. What compelled you to pull together all the energy that you have, and do this job of giving birth to the Common Sense Party? What was so wrong with California?

You were kind to mention my economics as well as my government service background. Economics teaches that monopoly is inefficient. Monopoly results in fewer outputs and less opportunity. When I apply that economic learning to the world of the government, I find that we have a self-perpetuating monopoly.

In order to perpetuate the monopoly, the dominant political party (Democrats) in California insists that candidates adhere to an orthodoxy that doesn’t admit sensible other points of view. And the Republican Party has become largely irrelevant. Originally, when I was a state senator, they served as a check that the majority party had to consider. That’s all gone now. The monopoly party has 77.5% of the assembly and 75% of the state senate — and every state-wide office. That is what compels me.

I thought there was a need for a party for the rest of us to be heard as individuals. If you take any particular important public policy issue and ask, “Are you satisfied with the way this is being addressed?” The overwhelming majority of Californians say, “No!”

The Public Policy Institute of California’s most recent poll of registered voters in California on their political preferences found that 56% of Democrats said a third party was needed. 53% of Republicans and 75% of Independents think that a third party is needed. It’s a party for the rest of us. It’s driven by love of country, love of our home in California, and the perception that people with tremendous amounts to give and to advise don’t have the means of doing so because of the monopoly political structure.

Will the Real California Please Stand Up? Introducing the Top-Two Primary

Ronald Reagan was one of our prior governors. California has not always been as dark blue as it is now. We had a Republican Party, which was comfortably in control. Is the 76% voting control that the Democrats have in California reflective of the political breakup of the state? If you were to analyze the large number of citizens, 38 to 39 million Californians, are 76% of them extremely progressive? If not, how did we get to a position that the legislature is so unrepresentative of the political breakup of the state as a whole?

Up until four years ago, Democrats and Republicans would run in their own primaries. The winners would run in November. As a result, you had the most active in each party, which would be to the left, the Democratic Party and to the right, and the Republican Party, winning the nominations.

Thus, you had a legislature composed of candidates from the far left and the far right. When I was a congressman, the congressional representation or delegation from California included Bob Dornan and Maxine Waters. It made it difficult for folks to get together and find something that they could work on together for California. In the Bay Area, I was the only Republican elected to Congress in those days but I got along fine with Anna Eshoo, Zoe Lofgren, and Tom Lantos.

If you look at the registration in California, Democrats are dominant at 46%, Republicans at 24.1%. Independents are 23.7%. That has switched back and forth over the last couple of years with Independents or no party preferences actually being higher in registration than the Republican Party. The parties move to the extremes in their primaries. That results in more leftist and more rightist incumbent legislators. The result being that it’s more difficult to admit helpful centrist discussion.

The solution is to empower the rest of us. One of the steps in that regard was “the top two primary,” which we adopted only in recent memory. It has not yet fully had its effect because of many continuing incumbents. Under the old system, there would be a Democrat, a Republican, a Libertarian, a Green and a Peace and Freedom candidate all on the ballot in November. The Democrat would win or the Republican would win.

Now, if you run as an Independent or as a Common Sense Party candidate, and you make it to the runoff in November, there’s only two people on the ballot in November for a state legislative district. If a Democrat and a Common Sense Party candidate is on the ballot, the Common Sense Party candidate is able to pick up all of the support that the Republican and libertarian might have had, and have a real chance of winning. If we can identify and run an independent-minded candidate in seven assembly districts out of 80 — someone who thinks for herself or himself and doesn’t genuflect before the requirements of the major party — we can undo the chokehold, because seven assembly members out of 80 will bring the monopoly party below two thirds. As long as they have two thirds, they can and have put ballot initiatives to amend the Constitution to change Prop 13 without having to pay a dime to gather signatures. They can raise taxes without getting the people’s approval. A two-thirds vote can raise taxes.

“If we can identify and run an independent-minded candidate in seven assembly districts out of 80 — someone who thinks for herself or himself and doesn’t genuflect before the requirements of the major party — we can undo the chokehold because [that] will bring the monopoly party below two thirds.”

We have a very achievable goal. It reflects the fact that most Californians overwhelmingly want another voice. The Common Sense provides the rest of us with that voice.

The Five Fundamental Principles of the Common Sense Party

It sounds like you want to elect seven Joe Manchins — a tiebreaker elected official who will have more power. Now that the Senate is welcoming back earmarking, Joe Manchin will end up with more bridges in West Virginia from earmarking. West Virginia will have more airports than houses, and more federal buildings doing federal chores. Joe Manchin is going to put West Virginia on the map. I wouldn’t be surprised if the District of Columbia moves to West Virginia in the next four years.

I noticed that our country allows and indeed embodies strong statutory protection. It locks in this monopoly, this anti-competitive environment in politics. If they did the same thing in business, the Sherman and the Clayton Antitrust Act would come down on them. The FTC would be on their back. We give Americans a choice in breakfast cereal, but we don’t give them a choice in ideas. It’s astonishing to me that we value breakfast cereal diversity more than we value political diversity — that in a country that so cherishes democracy, we do so little to encourage the sound functioning of democracy.

We give Americans a choice in breakfast cereal, but we don’t give them a choice in ideas.

From the debate commissions to ballot access, political parties have been unbelievably efficient at locking in the market. There is talk about barriers to entry. The barrier to entry of a new political party is evidently stronger than the barrier to entry of any business into what business activity.

That’s why this movement is so important. The majority who are more centrist don’t get a vote. They are all orphans. You have built this political party orphanage for all of the people who now have been abandoned by their political parties. The majority of people who are self-identified as Democrats or Republicans are doing so absolutely as a lesser of two evils rather than as an affirmative voice. Voting for the lesser of two evils is to use a technical phrase, kinda yucky. Who wants the vote for the person who is less horrible?

Your party has founding principles other than “how do we put together 50.01% of the voting public?” That’s not a principle, that’s a survival tool. That’s a way to achieve power. You will have the task of drawing people to your party. While there is strong dissatisfaction by Democrats and Republicans of their party, what is the positive motivation? What does one get by supporting the Common Sense Party that you don’t get by supporting the other two?

First, we start with the fundamental importance of the individual — that the individual should be heard, and given the maximum opportunity to participate in political activity in America without having to sign on to a list of orthodox points of view.

Number two, local decisions are better. The more decisions can be made by folks close to the people, the better — particularly empowering parents in decisions regarding education. That’s as local as you can get.

Number three, spend no more than you get. The federal government and the state governments are different. The federal government can print money that the state and local government cannot. To the maximum extent possible, make do with what you have. It’s intellectually very lazy to say, “Well, here’s the problem. What we should do is just spend more money to solve it.”

It’s far more challenging to say, “If we have a set amount of money that we are prepared to give to solve our common problems, how will we allocate it?” You have to make trade-offs, you have to be a thoughtful manager.

Number four, protect the environment and other public goods that we receive from our parents and pass along to the next generation. A good economist realizes that there are what are called externalities.

Number five, the efficiency of government and transparency of government are sorely in need of improvement. For example, we now know that many checks intended for the stimulus of business because of COVID going instead to prisoners in state penitentiaries and otherwise fraudulently diverted. Consider as well the billions of dollars that are unaccounted for in state government no-bid contracts. Substantial amounts of government expenditure are allocated on the basis of contracts that are not competitive.

When I look at the two major parties, I’ve seen that the individual is squeezed out. One can identify any number of issues where there’s a reasonable point of view but you have to choose all from column A if you’re a Democrat, and all from column B if you’re a Republican.

Now, my best illustration of that is, I happen to be pro-choice for a woman to make that decision regarding abortion or not, in her own particular case. I’m for charter schools: the parents should be allowed to have choice for their children’s schooling even if they don’t have a lot of money. Wealthy parents can choose where their children go to school. Folks who aren’t that wealthy should have that same right. So I’m pro-choice in both schools and in a woman’s decision over an abortion.

There’s no more pro-choice Republicans in the House of Representatives. When I was there, there used to be some. There’s no more. If you’re a Democrat and you favor school choice, you’ll not receive the support of the teachers union. That’s enough to kill you politically in California. Why not just let that individual put forward what she or he thinks is best and not be scared of losing the endorsement of the monopoly party? You can go right down the list on environmental issues: should there be a cap and trade or a carbon tax, minimum wage or earned income tax credit, reasonable gun control? All of these issues should invite people who have their own thoughts.

As it is now, if you want to get the endorsement of the Democratic Party, you essentially have to be pro-choice on abortion, anti-choice on schools, in favor of a cap on emissions, in favor of increasing the minimum wage rather than the earned income tax credit, even though the earned income tax credit is a much more efficient way to help people of low income. You cannot possibly support outsourcing even to achieve less expensive and more efficient government, and you pretty much have to support any gun control measure that comes along.

On the Republican side, you’d see the same sort of orthodoxy. Never ever mention the word tax, even though a carbon tax is a much more efficient way to control greenhouse gases than cap and trade. Virtually all Chicago School economists will tell you that. That’s what we stand for. Empowering the individual is the dominant guiding principle.

The Importance of Principled Representation

I believe that almost every voter in the country is a single issue voter. The issue will vary. It may be public service unions. It may be abortion. It may be a robust, muscular foreign policy. It may be immigration. The brain has to focus on one thing that’s important. You say, “This is most important to me, and I will support the party that feels the way I do about this my most important issue.”

Otherwise, individuals are required to have this political algorithm in their brain where they can give a weighted average of support to the myriad of issues and see which candidate or party comes out ahead. No one can do that. It’s impossible. Therefore, they’re single issue voters.

The Common Sense Party, as it grows, has as its single issue: the founding principles of the country first, even if that means on a particular sub-issue, you the voter might not be happy, you the public service teacher might not be happy, you the pro- or anti-open borders might not be happy, but in balance, you will embrace the process. Is that the calculation that the Common Sense Party makes?

The opposite of what you’re doing is pandering. The Democrats and Republicans have no single founding principle. They have a bunch of principles, which have been carefully calculated to combine to produce 50.01% of the popular vote. There’s no unifying principle — it’s simply a marketing cooperative that accumulates a majority. Is that an unfair summary of how you see the role of a party?

The Common Sense Party wants to empower the rest of us. There is no obligatory adherence to a preset menu. You can pick any issue and go to the two parties and you’ll see whether it’s on their orthodox list or not, and how they come to those views. You are critical that they came to them from a position of popularity as opposed to committing to a fundamental principle. Every representative in Congress who is a Democrat is going to say, “I’ve got to stick with these basic issues, or I won’t get the support of my party.” And the same is true in Sacramento.

Whereas they should say, “I’ve thought this out, I’ve listened to the evidence and I’ve listened to my constituents. My best view on this happens to be Y or Z, not X, even though X is on the party list.”

Your general point that everyone’s a single issue voter is a sad artifact of the current system.

It’s a sad artifact that you have a choice of menu A or menu B, you consider the single most important issue to you. You go with the party because of that one issue, probably knowing very little about the individual candidate — you just vote because of the “D” or the “R” next to somebody’s name. I think that’s sad.

The concept of representative democracy and a republic is that we entrust individuals for a short period of time to make decisions on the basis of their judgment for the benefit of all. If you pander to the party in order to get reelected, you’re betraying that trust.

What made it so easy for me to associate myself with principles such as the Common Sense Party is just what you have said about representative government. You have to ask yourself, “What is my relationship to my representative? I am sending this representative to represent me.”

You shouldn’t make that decision lightly, because when that elected official speaks, it is you speaking. If you wince at what your representative is saying or doing, it’s uncomfortable because it’s you doing something that makes yourself wince. It’s like when your child does something that embarrasses you, it indicts you as well. You will be comfortable a much higher percentage of the time with a representative who adheres to your broad principles.

I cannot go to Washington. I have a life. Therefore, I have to find the person who much more often than not, will do what I would do if I had the time. You’re voting for a person and a set of principles rather than voting for immigration, or abortion, or taxation, or public service unions, or right to try, or legalizing drugs. You’re not voting for an issue, you’re voting for a person. The Common Sense Party says, “You can trust us. We will not embarrass you.”

Having been a congressman, a state senator, and finance director of California, I can say that thousands of decisions are made by public officials which the public never hears about. You make a thousand decisions in the course of a two-year term for Congress, and only a very small percent of those ever get public attention. What you do when no one’s looking becomes critical. That’s conscience, that’s integrity. The decisions that are made when no one’s looking far outnumber the decisions that get public attention. That’s integrity.

I want to emphasize we’re not officially recognized yet. The Common Sense Party is in the process of getting registered. Under the state law of California, we need 73,000 registrations. That’s not a huge number when you consider we have almost 40 million people in our state. 73,000 registrations, and then we will be an official party. We had to stop gathering registrations during COVID. We announced our party, we got started, and we were getting 10,000 registrations a month — then COVID hit, and we had to stop the in person registration. We’re just now in the month of May getting back to it. You may very well see folks sitting outside a grocery store or shopping center with a sign saying, “Register here for the Common Sense Party.”

We will succeed. I’m quite optimistic that we will receive 73,000 registrations before the end of the year. That’s our deadline. We’ll be in a position to matter for the assembly elections, the state senate elections, and congressional elections in 2022.

Is Compromise a Virtue?

One of the published principles of the Common Sense Party is that you believe that compromise is good. You further believe it is not a sellout to principle. I’m now gonna invite myself to the marketing analysis meeting. To my profound detriment, I believe in black and white. Everything is black and white, there is an answer for everything.

I don’t embrace compromise warmly because I’m convinced of the point of view that I’ve arrived at. In reading your party principles, I don’t find any compromise. The fact that your position might be midway between two other extreme principles doesn’t mean your principle is a compromise. It’s simply its own free-standing principle, which has similarities to other principles. To say it’s a compromise is almost to say, “Well, it’s not quite the ideal, but it’s good enough.” No, I found your principles to not be compromises at all. The others are extreme versions of your principle, but yours is the starting point, not the compromise point. I don’t find anything you have written about to be a compromise. It’s a full-blown principle on its own.

Here’s how I’d come at it: Take an issue, let’s say gun control. We welcome people to think for themselves. I think reasonable gun control makes sense. The Second Amendment does guarantee individuals the right to keep and bear arms. You cannot ignore that nor the principles that were behind it. I’m not in favor of an individual walking down the street in downtown San Jose with an AK-47. Is it a compromise to say, limit the capacity of the magazine and firearm that you’re allowed to own and carry, particularly in an urban setting? I don’t think that’s a compromise. I agree with you — I think that’s the right solution.

The Democratic and Republican parties have increasingly gone to the edge. On the Republican side, if you don’t oppose gun control, you will run the risk of being primaried. On the Democratic side, they seem to support any restriction on guns — including what the District of Columbia proposed that you could not own handguns, which the Supreme Court eventually struck down.

When I speak of compromise, I say that the two major parties have this list, and you’ve got to adhere to every point on the list, or you will be driven out of the party. The best answer is oftentimes one that’s not on the list.

Joe Manchin is a good example of who a Common Sense Party candidate might be. He’s probably the most powerful person in Washington right now — short of the President. We should empower more people like that. He’s not choosing from the Democratic list. His own history and popularity in West Virginia allow him to step aside from the orthodox list. That’s not true for California. Most people don’t know the name of their assembly member, the name of a state senator, the name of their congressperson. As a result, they’re going to vote “D” or “R.” And that, to me, is a tragedy, you shouldn’t vote for D or R, you should vote for a person of integrity.

You shouldn’t vote for D or R, you should vote for a person of integrity.

The Importance of the Individual Candidate

How do you woo away passionate, single-issue voters: members of the teachers union, passionate Second Amendment advocates, open (or closed) borders advocates who are passionate, etc.? To them, that’s the most important issue. How do you get them to surrender the party that represents how they feel about this most important issue and to become loyal to the Common Sense Party that doesn’t feel as passionately as they do about this issue? They will be doing so in favor of some greater good of better government.

You focus on the individual candidate.

Now, you no longer need to vote Democratic if you’re in favor of taxing carbon for climate change purposes. You don’t have to vote “D” in order to get someone who supports that because I happen to be such a person. Suppose your issue is to choose where your children go to school. That’s generally identified on the Republican side — school vouchers originally, school choice now. You don’t have to vote Republican for that because there’s an individual candidate who believes in the choice to be exercised by parents, and who wants to see monopoly control of schools contested by charter schools and individual educational alternatives. The key is to build this party from the local level up from focusing on individuals.

How do we find out about the Common Sense Party? On that website, you can register. You can also learn more about supporting the party’s registration efforts by helping us get the folks out to sit at those tables and to register.

Thank you so much. We have fired the shot heard around the world.

My pleasure. Thank you.