Morain: Candidate as village scold

  • FILE--Dan Schnur, the former communications director for California Gov. Pete Wilson, was named communications director to Sen. John McCain's presidential campaign, Thursday, June 17, 1999. Schnur, seen in 1998 file photo, worked on the 1984 Reagan-Bush campaign and the1988 Bush-Quayle campaign. (AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli)

Campaigns for California secretary of state probably don't come to mind when you think of riveting political races.

Sure, there was the 1974 donnybrook in which March Fong Eu declared she wasn't a one-tissue candidate, a reference to her legislation banning pay public toilets, a landmark if ever there was one.

That aberration aside, the secretary of state race will be one of the more intriguing campaigns in the 2014 election season. Likely candidates include a Common Cause reformer, two Democratic state senators who have significant bases from which to run, and perhaps a Republican academic.

Now, Dan Schnur, a former Republican communications and campaign operative turned academic who took a detour as chairman of the California Fair Political Practices Commission, is on the verge of getting into the race.

Past secretaries of state have been tired politicians seeking sinecures, or ambitious pols who think they can use it to seek some grander position. The post rarely has been held by someone who actually aspires to be the state's chief election officer, improve voter access and expand disclosure of campaign money.

Although Schnur has not yet taken out candidate papers, he is talking about key issues: enhancing the rickety website on which the public can view campaign donations and spending, instilling in young people the need to vote, and changing the law so that the office itself is nonpartisan.

The secretary of state has limited power to enforce election law. But Schnur says he believes he could use the bully pulpit to cajole politicians into restricting their fundraising and opening the process. Secretary of state as village scold.

"The umpire shouldn't wear a Giants or a Dodgers jersey," Schnur said over lunch at the Red Rabbit restaurant in midtown Sacramento. "The person overseeing elections shouldn't be beholden to any party."

Schnur's Republican pedigree includes work for Ronald Reagan's 1984 re-election, George H.W. Bush's 1988 campaign, Gov. Pete Wilson's administration, and John McCain's 2000 Straight Talk Express campaign.

He quit the GOP after leaving the Fair Political Practices Commission in 2011, and intends to run as a no-party-preference candidate. He'd be the first serious candidate to seek statewide office under California's top-two primary system without stating a party preference. He won't be the last.

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