For ten years now my avocation has been independent politics. I’ve been cheer leading for a more independent election process in Oregon, while maintaining a realistic view of what can be done to improve our democracy. Here’s some of what I learned along the way, and what I’ve concluded is the only realistic path to saving our failing democracy.
The Democratic Party of Oregon is dominated by the public employee union leadership and has paid off Oregon’s largest traded sector businesses with tax breaks and tax incentives in order to sideline them from the main budget debates. LGBT and environmentalists make up the other main parts of the Democratic base coalition.
The Republican Party is dominated by gun advocates, social conservatives and Oregon based conservative lead medium and larger sized business. Those whose owners make at least $500,000/ year or more and who can and do make six figure contributions to political causes.
Neither Democrats nor Republicans want election reform or campaign finance reform. They like being the only two options for monied interests. The Democrats dominate the game under the current “money = speech” rules and Republicans are content with being in control of Red Oregon and awaiting what they see as their eventual return to power. And to the Republican’s credit, they have an honest philosophical objection to limiting money in politics. (Though the Democrats have a harder time explaining why their major donors and their party leaders continue to kill campaign finance reform bills)
The monied interests have no interest in any other political party. The interests of the Democratic and Republican elite, their operatives, and political interest are aligned. They wish to narrow, not expand, the number of people and interests that actually set policy. For instance Oregon’s closed primaries, Motor Voter (where 89% of registrants are assigned no political party), and get out the base drives all reduce the number of different voices during primaries and empower the most fervent tribalists. Then gerrymandering and our first past the post voting method does the rest because in 90% of Oregon legislative districts the winners of the primaries face no or nominal competition from the other major party.
A short summary of our Legislative elections in Oregon working backwards: First past the post voting, money and the media all assure us there are only two viable options in November. Gerrymander one of those choices away by making safe Democratic and Republican Districts. Narrow the May primary to the most partisan and the special interests.
I joined the Independent Party of Oregon (IPO) because I felt that the two main parties were not fairly representing the majority of voters because they had been captured by their coalition of narrow special interests. While the IPO may have originally started as a protest against the two major parties attempt to de-legitimize the word “Independent” as a description for non Democratic non Republican candidates, It has come to actually stand for a type of voter, party, and we hope soon, candidates.
First, before you accept the the Democratic operative promoted meme that Independent Party is an oxymoron, think about this question. When you think of an “independent voter” what values, inclinations and positions do you ascribe to that voter? Take a minute.
I suspect you visualize a voter who is pragmatic, doesn’t leaning way left or way right though may hold some positions on some issues that are further left (Medicaid buy in), or further right (more logging in rural counties). A voter who chooses candidates based on character, wisdom and practicality. A voter who wants solutions that work for the most people possible and that would do the greatest good even if that solution may not be the best solution for their own self interest.
Now imagine a party consisting of voters like that. Who would be against that party?
I’ll tell you who. Public employee union leaders who are looking out after the best interest of their members at the expense of all taxpayers. Social conservatives who want to impose their minority religious tests and beliefs as law. Traded sector businesses who have received billions of dollars in special tax breaks while small businesses continue to pay more. Gun sellers who’ve never seen a gun law they like.
I was talking to Bill Currier the Chairman of the Oregon Republican Party about the Independent Party of Oregon two years ago and he said to me that he couldn’t figure out what the Independent Party was. It seemed to him that there were far left and far right members and he didn’t understand how they could both be members of the same party. I told him that’s because the IPO wasn’t so much a traditional political party as it was an Independent Political Opportunity. the IPO wasn’t defined by the few far left or far right members. Most members were within one standard deviation of what political scientists say is the traditional mid point or moderate range. But there was one thing they all had in common. They were pissed off. Pissed off at the Democratic elite who protected wasteful spending and can’t seem to manage their way out of a paper bag and still catered to the large corporations. They are pissed off at the Republican elite who pandered to the worst elements of their coalition at the expense of good policy and winning elections.
Next: Dead ends and herding cats.
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