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.
The latest count shows people who register as "decline to state" account for 20.9 percent of the electorate, up from 17.9percent in 2005. Republican registration continues to tank, down to 28.9 percent from 34.5percent in 2005.
The campaign for secretary of state will take place as a corruption investigation proceeds into state Sen. Ron Calderon, the Montebello Democrat whose offices were searched by the FBI in June. If there are indictments, public attention could help an outsider's campaign that focuses on overhauling the political system.
Schnur's opponents include Sen. Alex Padilla, a Los Angeles Democrat, and Sen. Leland Yee, D-San Francisco. Each will be able to raise significant sums of money.
Another Democrat, Derek Cressman, is the former head of California Common Cause. Like Schnur, Cressman will talk about the need to clean up Sacramento. Unlike Cressman, Schnur will have some explaining to do in this Democratic state.
He supported the anti-illegal immigration Proposition 187 in 1994 when he was Wilson's communications director. His stand has changed. But for some voters, particularly Latinos, his association with Wilson, 187's most prominent backer, will be a problem.
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