The Independent Party has seen it’s ups and downs. It was just two years ago that it achieved major party status. Then a flawed Motor Voter law was passed that opted all motor voter registrants out of party affiliation, and the growth of the IPO slowed while the growth of total voters surged. That change now threatens to relegate the IPO back to minor party status, even though it has the biggest growth rate of any political party in Oregon.
But a funny thing happened this past few months. IPO leadership started getting contacted by Republican and Democratic operatives and elected officials. At one meeting an operative from one legacy party told party officials that he believed the IPO nomination could be worth up to a 10% swing. An official from the other legacy Party believed is was 3%-5%.
One things for certain. The Independent Party influence is greater than zero in Oregon elections. It may not be 10% , it may be closer to 3%-7%. We know it’s more than zero because right now both Kate Brown and Knute Buehler are actively soliciting IPO members to write in their name for the IPO nomination for Governor.
How did the IPO achieve it’s status? I think it has several things going right.
- It has been able to get opinion pieces written by its leadership published in newspapers and online.
- It has built a more robust social media presence over the past 2 years, and linked social media to Oregon Outpost for longer analysis or news pieces
- It has some real experts in areas such as election reform, the law, campaign finance reform, government processes, public utilities and consumer protection. And these experts are consistently and often submitting testimony to the Legislature.
- We have a few friends who are well placed politically who at least privately sympathize with us. I suspect it’s the more moderates within the legacy parties who are concerned about the growing partisanship within their own ranks.
- Julie Parrish – though she’s still a loyal Republican she has been a trusted friend and adviser when she can do so without undermining her own party.
- We’ve started to adopt widely popular policies that neither legacy party really wants passed, and linked them to our bedrock platform policies of election and process reform, protecting and empowering the little guys, and general interests over special interests.
- The Party’s decision to endorse in select local non partisan races.
Becoming a Trusted Brand
Voters are coming around to trust the IPO brand more every day. And frankly it helps every time a Democratic or Republican operative (or quite often an alliance of Democratic and Republican operatives) denigrate or attack the IPO. Americans root for underdogs and don’t trust the Democratic and Republican operatives.
The IPO has also hit a groove in how it’s going about endorsing non IPO candidates. You’re likely to see more endorsements using some consistent guidelines. You can see that in the recent endorsement of Jo Ann Hardesty for Portland City Council. While Ms. Hardesty is more liberal/progressive than the vast majority of IPO members statewide, her values and policies are a good match her community. And she has been a vocal supporter of campaign finance reform, a keystone IPO policy. Values match. Support for reforms that empower more voters.
The IPO’s niche is to endorse based on community values and reform, and it can do so at least partly because unlike the Democratic and Republican Parties, the IPO has no large donor base to please. Public employee unions don’t agree with our government reform and efficiency policies. Heavy industry doesn’t like our clean air/clean water plank. Tech industry is concerned about our insistence that “economic development” tax breaks actually deliver the family wage jobs promised and are completely transparent. Being free of large donors also frees the IPO to endorse candidates whom it believes will actually best represent the goals, values and interest of the entire community.
So perhaps lack of large donors is also a strength for the IPO.
The Responsibility Side
The ability to sway even a small percentage of voters by being a trusted source also carries responsibilities. The IPO needs to make sure that its criteria for endorsements is clear. And the IPO cannot under any circumstances compromise the endorsement process by accepting financing as a quid pro quo from any special interest that seeks a policy contrary to our criteria and values.
Finally, in order to continue to build a trusted relationship with the public and reward IPO members who actively support the Independent voter mission, the IPO must continue to recruit IPO member candidates to run under it’s banner. It must continue to offer candidates who represent their community values – whether they are from Beaverton or Medford or St. Johns – and who believe in a renewed and reformed democratic process.
The IPO has actually taken a big step forward, not just because it has survived for 10 years, but has grown into a major political party, and is becoming a trusted source of information and recommendations to more and more voters. It’s a role that leadership takes very seriously and will be expanding over the next few weeks, months and years.