Good People, Bad Ideas

Marc Abrams

I like Phil Keisling. A lot. He’s always been a straight shooter, supportive of schools, a good public servant. I’ve always supported him.

I like Charlie Ringo. A lot. He’s been a tireless advocate for workers and the environment. I phone banked for him in his race against Bill Witt.

But I don’t like either Phil or Charlie’s apparent and misguided obsessions with reducing the partisanship of our state. Phil suggests an open primary, in which anyone can vote for any candidate, regardless of party affiliation. Charlie wants a non-partisan legislature. Charlie’s idea is misguided and Phil’s is downright dangerous.

Now before I go further, I know some out there will say "Of course Marc is against these ideas – he was Chair of the Democratic Party of Oregon." I don’t oppose these ideas because I was a party chair. I was a party chair because I believe in the power of organizations, particularly of parties, to shape ideas and hold candidates accountable.

Let’s start with the idea of a non-partisan legislature. Charlie believes this will calm the fevered tensions in the Capitol and allow for more productivity. Sorry Charlie, all that will do is drive those partisan divides underground, where they will be harder to trace. Do you really think that caucuses will vanish? They may be called the "progressive" and the "conservative" caucus, but they will still be there. Karen Minnis isn’t going to suddenly give Carolyn Tomei the time of day because they aren’t officially sporting their elephant and donkey name tags. Take a look at the one non-partisan state legislature in the country: Nebraska. The Omaha and Lincoln Democrats (at least the real Democrats) are still frozen out of committee chairmanships, still caucusing in the men’s bathroom.

Being non-partisan won’t just fail to change the legislature’s behavior, it will confuse the voters. Voters, talking heads aside, do know what the parties stand for in broad and principled terms: Democrats are for the right to choose, the protection of civil liberties and the environment, the right to organize. Republicans are for eliminating most services (except farm subsidies), the erosion of the church-state boundary, and controlling women’s choices. Simply having that tag on you helps a voter identify who they will vote for. And, let’s face it, few of them spend a lot of time on the down-ticket, so that works in Democracy’s favor. Party identification may be shorthand, but it’s effective shorthand.

Without parties in the legislature, state parties would cease to have real meaning, as most local offices are already non-partisan. Other than unions, who would have the ability to collect funds and workers to direct to critical campaigns, and now you’d be forced to spend more on simple partisan identification, leaving less money to get across more responsible and complex messages.

But if Charlie’s idea is short-sighted, Phil’s is nothing if not looking to the long term, specifically to Keisling for Governor ‘10. Mind you, I may well be on that bandwagon when the time comes, but this isn’t the road it should take.

Open primaries serve one purpose: to increase the power of the moderate, muddled middle. It allows the GOP in Portland to swarm to the Democratic primary ands nominate a bland moderate so that liberals lose clout in the legislature, and allows Democrats in some GOP seats to do the reverse. Now Phil, a card carrying DLC member, may like that. I don’t.

What’s wrong with progressive ideas? If you believe in them, why moderate? I’m not saying that you don’t have to bow to reality, count to 16 and 31, and get something done in Salem, but you don’t have to eliminate the sources of great ideas in the process. What this idea says is "I don’t trust my own party members."

There are two ways to win elections. One is to move to the middle. The other is to articulate your ideas with vision, clarity and passion and convince the middle to move to you. I’ve always believed in the latter course.

These ideas will have Democrats beating up on Democrats. That’s what Al From of the DLC has long advocated – that he had to rid the Democratic Party of the liberals before he could take on the Republicans. I don’t think Phil or Charlie thinks that way, but that’s the practical effect of their suggestions: internal ideological cleansing.

If we become a "non-partisan" party, we will be devoid of voices, devoid of passion, devoid of meaningful ideas and opposition. We will be Republican lite. And, when faced between the real thing or a pale imitation, the voters will pick the real thing every time.

Comments

  • (Show?)

    Open primaries serve one purpose: to increase the power of the moderate, muddled middle.

    About Keisling's proposal- it's basically modeled after Louisiana's open primary system. Now, I LOVE Loiusiana. They've got great music. Some of the best food on the planet. Extremely hospitable people. When I'm down there, I usually eat and drink my body weight in Jambalya and Bourbon every 48 hours.

    But looking to Louisiana for good government ideas is just a little nuts. It's true that Keisling and Associated Oregon Industries are supporting the open primary system to elect more "moderates", but that certainly not has been the experience when actually put into place.

    David Duke's probably the best known example of the type of wingnut this system helps. It actually does the precise opposite of the goal, and aids candidates most at the fringes.

    Also, I am yet to hear Keisling articulate on what issues are Oregon Democrats out of step. If I was a Republican, I would embrace this plan, just as an opportunity to reshuffle the deck after losing statewide eelection after statewide election. And I can see how AOI's opposition to "anti-business" initiatives like mental health parity and Willamette River clean-up would be further served. But I don't see much benefit for Oregon progressives.

  • (Show?)

    OK, Marc, you've kind of stolen my thunder because I just sent in a guest piece on Keisling's init, but I've shortened it here to throw into the mix:

    Should Oregon Democrats Shift to the Right?

    There are several <href= http:="" www.blueoregon.com="" 2005="" 02="" legislative_cha.html=""> “good government” measures proposed for statewide vote in ‘06, but fundraising support from traditional G.O.P. sources like AOI seems to be giving Phil Keisling’s “open primary” initiative some traction recently.

    One aim of the init is to prevent “ideological extremes” from controlling the party nominating process and result in “in more moderates being elected to office, breaking up partisan logjams."

    To date, a lot of the opposition has focused on fears of unintended consequences of the measure including, briefly:

    • Increasing the power of money and incumbency:
    • Rewarding party discipline:
    • Increasing an already formidable GOP fundraising advantage:

    The proposal’s untested here, so let’s put aside those concerns for a moment. But what about the central premise: that the Republican and Democratic parties have moved to polar extremes.

    Now, I doubt many here would disagree that the Republican leadership has basically turned over their party to the Christian right. The GOP’s enthusiasm for fetus empowerment, feeding tube activism, and crusades against underwater gay sponges has been pretty well documented, so I won’t go too much into that here.

    But our existing system has consistently punished statewide Republicans viewed as out of the mainstream- as a result Democrats hold four out of five Congressional seats and the vast majority of statewide offices.

    If we’re only talking about the Republican Party moving too far to the right, it would seem that just removing them from office- not radically reworking our electoral system- would be the most appropriate response.

    But what about the Dems-- is Keisling’s premise of equally ideologically out-of-step Democratic party accurate? Is this is a bi-partisan problem? Are Governor Ted Kulongoski, Senator Ron Wyden, and the Senate Democrats too far to the left?

    Do people agree with AOI that the Dems have become too anti-business in seeking to return to “the Democratic wing of the Democratic Party?”

  • David Wright (unverified)
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    Marc, I agree with you on the non-partisan legislature idea. Life isn't non-partisan, trying to pretend like our legislators aren't partisan is a mistake.

    But I must say, your generic list of what each party stands for actually makes the case for the other view -- because there are many people in both parties who do not fall 100% in line with that simplistic characterization (nice spin, by the way -- Democrats all positive, Republicans all negative). In fact, I'm a Republican who holds exactly the opposite position from what you stated -- I'm not for eliminating all services except for farm subsidies, I'm not for breaking down the boundary between church and state, and I'm not for controlling a woman's choice -- all within reason, of course. And I know several Democrats who are pro-life and who do not particularly favor unions. The positions you chose to define the parties are not universal to all members of those parties.

    So the problem with discouraging voters to pay attention to the actual candidate and not just the party tag, is that such voters are more likely to be mislead by some vague conception of what that party tag means. You say it's more convenient for voters to not have to think about who they're voting for and instead just pick the party, I say it's more dangerous to make assumptions like that.

    As to the open primaries, they do create opportunities for strategic voting. But if I understand the proposal correctly, the primary is non-partisan, meaning everybody votes on all candidates at the same time, and the top 2 (or whatever the number) move on to the general election? In that case, a Republican voting for a weak Democrat also takes a vote away from his own candidate. So the strategic voting problem is largely mitigated in such a system.

    Your other point about moving candidates to the middle makes sense, though. You end up with candidates who appeal to the broadest possible range of voters, to get the broadest possible support.

    And what's wrong with that, exactly? It's not good for the extreme left or the extreme right, but it's a lot better for most of the people. I have voted for moderate Democrats in the past, several times, when they were the most moderate and centrist candidate. If you'd like to clearly articulate a vision that is not moderate and centrist, knock yourself out. I'll take my vote elsewhere, thanks. <nobr>;-)</nobr>

  • Randy2 (unverified)
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    David:

    "Your other point about moving candidates to the middle makes sense, though. You end up with candidates who appeal to the broadest possible range of voters, to get the broadest possible support."

    So it boils down to do we want a bland, generic "middle" - based legislature or one with people from a broader range of ideas? Instead of leadership on government issues (which is what we elect these people for), we get a reflection of the status quo. I'd rather have some "outside-the-box" members than a group that looks exclusively to the middle for new ideas and visions.

    "You end up with candidates who appeal to the broadest possible range of voters"

    "Range of voters?" Or the least common denominator that is a hot button -- and probably not an essential issue to this state's future (gay marriage, anyone?).

    Randy

  • Suzii (unverified)
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    Can anybody articulate the similarities and differences between Keisling's open primaries proposal and the various constructions Washington has considered? From what I've read, their everyone-can-vote-for-anyone plan, which the courts shot down at the request of the parties, had pretty non-negligible voter support.

  • (Show?)

    Here's a link to a short bit about the origins of Louisiana's open primary system, designed by convicted felon Ed Edwards, which was not struck down by the courts.

    I had the opportunity to organize down there for a US Senate race in 2002 under the system (after Oregon's general election) and speaking to spending concerns raised by the init's opponents, the Dems were outspent by at least $14 million. In a small state like La., that's serious money.

    No matter what folks think about Ringo's plan, give him credit for at least going to Nebraska to see what it looks like in action. I don't know for a fact that Keisling hasn't visited Louisiana, but it's pretty hard to imagine a good government reformer visiting their legislature and concluding, "Now that's what we need for our state."

    The Louisiana system does succeed in one respect: making our legislators look like statesman by comparison. I will now stop with this thread for a while and turn to a more difficult target, JJ's plan to get more guns in the classroom.

  • LT (unverified)
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    About that "moderate muddled middle". I was a registered Indep./NAV for 6 years because I didn't like being told in 1996 that having supported a loser in a primary I owed my unquestioning allegiance to the primary winner. THAT is the way to win votes??

    The most polite word I have for that attitude (which luckily has gone away with the rise of the independent voter registration) is hogwash.

    I have been active in partisan politics, and do not think it is the answer to everything. I think the Keisling and Ringo ideas deserve full debate, and here is why: There are those who say "but Independents can't vote in primaries" and are startled at the idea that someone might register for a primary in March or April and re-register Indep. in June. They find it hard to imagine anyone would do such a thing, but with postcard registration it is quite easy.

    My brother and his wife were both registered Independent for years--in a state where they could choose which primary to vote in. In 2004 he was really offended by the GOP convention "slanderfest" (his term). The local Republican party sent him a letter with what apparently was a registration form like our postcard registration. He sent them a letter saying "thank you for making it easy for me to re-register as a Democrat" and why he was doing that.

    But most of the time most people don't see that big a difference, or think neither party really reflects their views.

  • David Wright (unverified)
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    Randy,

    I'm all for "leadership" from our elected officials. But the point of an election is to find somebody that most people can trust to make those decisions, to lead in the right direction. And the farther to either extreme a given candidate might be, the fewer people will feel comfortable trusting that candidate.

    So yes, I do want leaders who look to the middle of the road. I wouldn't trust a die-hard "progressive" candidate to lead the country in the right direction, and I wouldn't trust a die-hard "conservative" candidate either. Oh, either of them might provide "leadership" as you say, telling the public what to do rather than vice versa. But I think both of them would be wrong.

    And that's really what it boils down to. The middle-of-the-road candidate may not be exciting, but he or she is not offensive either. There's nothing wrong with compromise, it's a way to get something done without hard feelings that might get in the way of future progress. Nobody gets everything they want, but everybody gets something they want.

    And that is a sort of government that works for the people as a whole. It doesn't work so well for the ideologues on both ends of the spectrum, but I'm pretty much fine with that. <nobr>;-)</nobr>

  • (Show?)

    Just for the sake of argument, let me make a case that a nonpartisan legislature actually does benefit progressives.

    Because of the knee-jerk polarity in the voting population, it doesn't really matter what your politics are: being identified with a party is enough for our sound-bite cable-screamer politics. Whether you're Lieberman conservative or DeFazio liberal, the Larses of the world still call you culture-of-death clutching baby killers.

    Remove that hyper-simplistic rhetorical tool, and all of a sudden politics are highlighted again. Now, progressive ideas, rather than being framed by the opposition--because there isn't one--actually get some air play. And the demos--the people--find that the guy talking about taxing corporations and putting your kid through good schools all of a sudden seems to be making a whole lot of sense.

    I'm solidly in the "I dunno" camp. Which makes me more likely to consider both logical arguments as reasonable hypotheses.

  • (Show?)

    On the other other hand, these may be proposals whose windows are passing. I think there's a sea change about to happen in politics, in which the DeLay faction (of which Minnis is a local charter member) poisons the GOP well.

    Of course, I've been thinking that was going to happen since Newt, so what the hell do I know?

  • (Show?)

    Now, I doubt many here would disagree that the Republican leadership has basically turned over their party to the Christian right. ... Are Governor Ted Kulongoski, Senator Ron Wyden, and the Senate Democrats too far to the left?

    Charlie, I'm going to disagree with your negative reaction. I like the open primary concept, and here's why: The Democrats are already electing moderates. The GOPers are electing extremists.

    If this system helps moderates win, then it'll have this ideological effect: Democrats won't shift much, Republicans will shift to the center. In sum, our overall politics will shift left-ward.

    Disclaimer: I've just signed on as a consultant to Keisling's campaign. Of course, as you know well Charlie, I only work for folks I believe in. (Even when the other side offers me more money, as has happened previously.)

  • (Show?)

    On another note: I think any time you consider an election process reform, you have to examine it on its face - not as to what you think the effect might be. Is it a good reform for our democracy, regardless of who might win or lose?

    After all, it used to be Republicans who argued exclusively for vote-by-mail, and Keisling was considered a heretic and turncoat by Democrats for suggesting it. After Wyden's win in '96 - and the overall effect it's had on Oregon politics, there isn't a GOP leader in the nation who supports vote-by-mail anymore.

    So, beware the law of unintended consquences. We simply can't predict what the ideological or electoral outcome will be of all this.

    Here's what we do know now: In many elections (on the left and right), winning the partisan primary is tantamount to victory. As a result, in most one-party districts, a large plurality (if not majority) of voters get no say in the ultimate outcome of the election.

    Pity the GOP voter in Diane Rosenbaum's district, or the Democrat voter in Tom Butler's. They never get to cast a meaningful vote for the legislature.

    Under this proposal, every voter will get two opportunities to cast a meaningful vote. First, in an all-parties primary - and second, in the general election. And, those general elections will likely be races between two Democrats or two Republicans.

    More democracy is a good thing. Period.

  • (Show?)

    p.s. Charlie Ringo's proposal is a horrid idea. Marc is right about that one - hiding the ball from voters is a bad thing.

    Keisling's measure is pro-voter; Ringo's is anti-voter.

  • (Show?)

    Kari,

    The founding fathers would disagree with your final statement. Do you really want to go down the more democracy is good, period road?

    Folks, there is no evidence that open primaries encourage moderation. It all depends on the distribution of preferences in the voting population. Keisling's proposal implicitly assumes a bell shaped, unimodal distribution. In that case then, yes, candidates should run to the middle.

    However, if there are multi modes, or differential rates of turnout, then it can be just at rational to run to the middle of your support segment.

    IF Phil can show, via a study of the LA system over time, that the system has resulted in more moderate candidates, then I can be a supporter. But I see no evidence that this most basic research has been done.

    And here's the dirty little secret of the open primary -- because it increases the number of candidates that the voters have to choose among in one election, it makes it more likely that a candidate with lower level of support will move on to the general. The math is intuitive: if you have 4 candidates running and two move on, or if you have 10 candidates running and two move on, it is far more likely that a candidate with a smaller percentage of support will move on in the latter case.

    Independents can vote in a primary. Just identify with a third party. Or for the purposes of the primary, identify (and we can allow day of election party affiliation).

  • (Show?)

    Paul, an open primary might cause two candidates to move forward with lower levels of support as measured by percentage - but it's unlikely to generate two candidates with lower levels of absolute votes.

    After all, under the current system, competitive districts often have only one Democrat and one Republican in the primary. There's no campaign and low turnout.

    Now, they'll run against each other (as well as all other comers) and the campaign will really be vibrant.

    And yes, Paul, you're right: sometimes, 'more democracy' can be a bad thing.

    I don't think that's the case here. Increased voter choice in this case is a good thing.

  • Chris Woo (unverified)
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    I like Marc Abrams. A lot. He was nice to me as I cut my teeth on some local campaigns last year - that and he has some of the best-groomed facial hair that I've ever seen. I think I understand Marc's point of view on the Ringo and Keisling proposals. I suppose I might even agree that the proposals may not yet be ready fro prime time. What I would like to suggest to Marc is to consider that people like me, politically active, non-party-affiliated citizens, continue to do our duty to society knowing that we still don't get as much playing time as the Rs, Ds, Gs, Ls and other party-affiliateds. In Mult. County, nearly 25% of registered voters are unaffiliated with a party, roughly 50% are Democrats and just over 20% are Republicans. That means non-affiliates outnumber Republicans by nearly 8,000 voters! Granted, that ratio isn't replicated statewide, but it does indicate that the traditional system of R-D party control might not be the best representation for a healthy section of our communities.

    When I ask fellow N-As why they aren't attached to a party, the answer I almost always get is "Y'know, I don't have anything against parties in general, but neither Rs, Ds nor 'third-parties' do it for me. I like to vote by the merits of an issue." For me, and for most of the 100,000 or so N-As in the Portland Metro area, voting by the merits of an issue is what matters to us. Creating criteria or divisions by which those issues become "Republican" or "Democrat" may engender support from partisan voters but disenfranchises many others. Those of us in the "muddled middle" aren't there because we lack passion or the ability to pick a side - we still vote on the same issues as everyone else - we're there because we don't feel the need to conform and join a body that doesn't sufficiently represent our individual beliefs. By not aligning to any parties, I know that I have less of a say in my government as a result. So my question is, if we agree to keep parties in the legislature and we agree to not have open primaries, how can the 100,000 N-As in Multnomah County and the thousands more across the state be guaranteed full representation in our government?

  • Tom Civiletti (unverified)
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    I think Marc has the situation analyzed accurately.

  • (Show?)

    Kari writes: "Pity the GOP voter in Diane Rosenbaum's district..."

    Excuse me? You want a system where the poor, pitiful GOP voter --oh, the unfairness of it all-- gets to play a role in telling DEMOCRATS who they can put forward and support?

    Good grief...

  • (Show?)

    Frank, that's not what I think. I think, though, that we should open up the decision-making process to all voters. In all-D districts, you'd likely get a choice between two flavors of Democrats. In all-R districts, you'd likely get a choice between two flavors of Republicans.

  • (Show?)

    Kari writes: So, beware the law of unintended consquences. We simply can't predict what the ideological or electoral outcome will be of all this.

    Perhaps, but it's totally appropriate to look at other states' experience when considering such a reform. In the one state with some history with an open primary (since 1978), it has not produced a body of moderate Legislators.

    Kari: Under this proposal, every voter will get two opportunities to cast a meaningful vote.

    Just because you are in the ideological minority in a district doesn't mean that your vote is meaningless. It just means that under our democratic system, more people want to see a different candidate or party win. But, if I were a Republican voter in Rosenbaum's district, I guess I would question how meaningful a general election campaign would be between two Democrats. I just don't see that much net benefit.

    Kari: The Democrats are already electing moderates. The GOPers are electing extremists.

    If this system helps moderates win......Republicans will shift to the center.

    We're on the same page about the current structure (mod Dems, far right Rep), but I think this is a fairly compelling argument for a more proportional response. If one party goes too far under our current system, they get punished by the voters until they wise up. And that's what's happening.

    <hr/>

    But we can agree on one thing: they're likely to get a pretty well designed website!

  • (Show?)

    Chris,

    The ideal of the issue-based, ideologically non-partisan voter is an attractive one, and holds great resonance in the American, anti-party political culture. The reality, based on nearly a half century of survey research, however, is that the vast majority of Independent affiliators are less informed, less interested, and less participative than their partisan neighbors.

    I'm not trying to stereotype you, Chris, just tossing a bit of empirical cold water on the ideal type imagery from your post.

    I don't think changes in our electoral system should be premised on the ideal of a highly motivated, interested, and informed electorate--that ideal has never been met in this country.

    Kari,

    I think this proposal has merit if combined with the proposals to remove redistricting to a non-partisan commission. I just wanted to point out that it will not necessarily produce moderates. Let's talk off of the list. If Phil is interested, I can lay out some analyses that would address the issues that I have raised (essentially a study of the impact on LA and a precinct level analysis of voter distribution in OR). I have some bright undergrads who'd do the analysis for low cost.

  • LT (unverified)
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    analysis of voter distribution in OR

    There go the statistics again, as if they are always more accurate than talking to ordinary people. If no Democrat has won in a district recently, does that mean it isn't worth expending effort if there is a good Democratic candidate there in 2006--the sort well known to the locals, even if people who analyze data don't know these people are known to the locals because they have never been to the district?

    But if you are going to analyze statistics, be sure to do the number of voters in 2004 in major parties vs. outside parties. Also do the number of "voters who have spoken" (thus saith the GOP rhetoric) on Measure 28 and Measure 30, and the number of voters who voted in 2004 who did not vote on those 2 measures (not yet old enough, didn't yet live here, etc.).

    And beware of sterotypes. Of the candidates who lost by a few hundred votes, are you sure that all those indep. voters in those districts who are not registered with a major party are part of "the vast majority of Independent affiliators are less informed, less interested, and less participative than their partisan neighbors"?

    Is there no possibility they could be former activists who got fed up with extreme partisanship? That is why I was a reg. Indep. for 6 years. Telling me that I don't fit the stereotype is not a way to win my vote.

  • (Show?)

    Kari writes: After all, it used to be Republicans who argued exclusively for vote-by-mail, and Keisling was considered a heretic and turncoat by Democrats for suggesting it.

    The 1998 campaign certainly didn't shake out that way- Republican Lynn Snodgrass opposed it, and SEIU, OEA, Kithaber, Keisling, AARP and others all favored it. Here's the link to the Voters' Pamphlet.

    The whole idea of Keisling being more interested in positioning himself as "above the fray" at the expense of progressive values I thought had more to do with the job he did redistricting than anything else. A lot of Dems feared that his plan would cause them to lose seats (which they did). In fairness, to put this entirely on Phil's probably a little simplistic.

    Personally, I like the guy, just seriously question this plan. And I take his enthusiasm for it at face value- and don't have a clue if a potential run for Governor even enters into his thinking...

    But given his history with redistricting, I am surprised that this, not redistricting, is his focus. I agree with a lot of what Paul wrote, but would personally think some kind of campaign finance reform package would be a minimum safeguard to put in before even considering this.

    Granted, I've just worked on one race in LA in 2002, so it's not like I'm some big expert, but the spending there was obscene- just truly staggering. The Republicans spent $22 million against us. (Now, that was fun.) Senator Breaux called the race the second "Louisiana Purchase."

  • LT (unverified)
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    "Personally, I like the guy, just seriously question this plan. And I take his enthusiasm for it at face value- and don't have a clue if a potential run for Governor even enters into his thinking..."

    There has been a lot of conversation in various Blue Oregon topics on the degree to which people vote on partisan motivations or something else.

    What if people vote based on their impression of the person running?

    The quote above reminds me of a story from 2000. A bunch of people who had known each other for years (from church and neighborhood, not politics) decided to have a summer picnic potluck at a park on a lake. At the end as people were cleaning up, one woman remarked about the day she took her daughter to the capitol to visit. It was when Phil was Sec. of State. She and her daughter had a very pleasant encounter with him. She was impressed and said the way he spoke to her daughter who was interested in what the Sec. of State does was a good sign, and because of that experience, she would be likely to vote for him if he ran for Governor. When the subject of Mannix came up, there was a hearty laugh at the idea that anyone could have been a friend of Kevin's and think highly of him.

    I will leave it to others to judge whether those were partisan remarks, or if one can guess the party registration of such a person.

    Here in Salem, it is possible to have met people in politics (and formed an impression of them) without having spent a lot of time in politics.

  • Chris Woo (unverified)
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    Thanks for the cold water splash, Paul. I was getting pretty ripe after sitting at my desk all weekend. But I will have to agree more with LT's reponse that maybe partisan and non-partisan labels may not be what they appear to be. I've propbably talked at length with a few hundred politcally active, party-affiliated and N-A voters in the past year. By a rough count, about half of the party-affiliateds told me that they were orignally N-As but registered with a party so they could vote in primary elections. About one-quarter of the N-As I talked to said they were once party-affiliated but got fed-up with that party's actions and platforms and went the N-A route. I find this interesting because in the earliest days of our country, when the founding father's were debating the role that parties should or should not play in our government, Jefferson was against the idea of party involvement -- but eventually joined one out of pragmatism. I suppose I do something similar by sending $25 a year to the DNC and stumping for the occassional Democratic candidate. Maybe the typical American is not as partisan as we think, just inlcined to join with others for pragmatic or traditional reasons (as de Tocqueville reminds us).

    With that, one last parting gift. I don't have the statewide numbers handy, but for the 2004 General and Primary elections in Mult. Co. the breakdown of R,D and N-A turnouts is as follows:

    2004 General D - 88% R - 85% NP - 80%

    2004 Primary D - 54% R - 47% NP - 28%

    General Elec. participation relative to Primary D - 163% R - 181% NP - 286%

    Make of that what you will.

  • (Show?)

    I agree with LT that personal impressions of a candidate will always be important- from school board to President.

    But a little more about Louisiana: Gov. Edwards designed the open primary to do exactly one thing: protect incumbents. By that narrow standard, it has succeeded. If he wanted to improve the Legislative process, there are a lot of other approaches he could have taken. (Maybe attaching breathalyzers to Senator’s voting machines!)

    As has been mentioned by Paul, it has not produced more moderates. Or inspiring contests of ideas. The famous bumper sticker from the Duke/Edwards race was :”Vote for the Crook: It’s important.”

    Louisiana has deep French roots, so it’s kind of an interesting side note that in 2002, French protesters took to the streets of Paris with the banners bearing the similar slogan, “Vote for the Crook, Not the Fascist” in the Chirac/Le Pen election. And yes, that election was the result of a multi-party contest in which the top vote getters advanced to the General.

  • (Show?)

    Chris,

    Exactly right -- most NAs are in fact "leaners" as you are, and don't identify with a party due to anti-party sentiment. They aren't "committed" Independents who want to vote on issues or candidates rather than parties, as you originally asserted.

    All I'm saying is that the image of the ideologically committed independent has a long lineage but has been hard to sustain. It doesn't mean that's you or that's LT. But yes, we do have to design an electoral system that meets the needs of the mass public, not the activist posters on BO.

    What I make of your turnout numbers? Non-affiliates turnout at a 10% rate lower than Dems and a 8.25% rate lower than Reps. Seems to support my claim unless I'm misreading.

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    I wrote, Keisling was considered a heretic and turncoat by Democrats for suggesting it. After Wyden's win in '96....

    Charlie wrote, The 1998 campaign certainly didn't shake out that way- Republican Lynn Snodgrass opposed it, and SEIU, OEA, Kithaber, Keisling, AARP and others all favored it.

    Exactly right, pal. That's my point.

    In 1996 and before, GOPers looked at the tremendous edge they had among absentee voters and decided there was something magical about a postage stamp that made voters vote GOP.

    Their analysis was wrong. In fact, by expanding the ease of absentee voting to all voters, we boosted voter turnout among working people - who were less likely to be able to get away for the single 12-hour vote-at-the-polls period.

    So, before January of 1996, GOPers tended to favor vote-by-mail and Democrats opposed. After the Wyden/Smith special, the roles flipped. The GOPers went back to their usual stance of being against anything that expands the voting population.

    Beware the law of unintended consquences. You can't necessarily know what's going to happen when you change the rules of the game. The key question is this - are the proposed rule changes good on their face for our democracy?

    There are valid arguments on that basis against this measure; but arguing "Garsh! Republicans are gonna win more races!" doesn't hold any water with me. No way to know.

    As they say in sports, there's a reason you play the games. Betting lines are often wrong.

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    Charlie wrote about Louisiana, The Republicans spent $22 million against us. (Now, that was fun.) Senator Breaux called the race the second "Louisiana Purchase."

    I'll argue that the big spending in Louisiana has zilch to do with their method of voting - and instead has much to do with the fact that the runoff election is held in December. It's sort of like an overtime period after the regular election nationwide. Everyone who's still got a little cash left spends it in Louisiana.

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    Kari, I was out of the state for 96 so Ill take your word on it.

    On the money in the 2002 race, yes, I agree that LA's timing- especially on that race- was a huge factor. But do you dispute the critique that an open primary would frontload and generally increase campaign spending? I think this is a pretty serious consideration.

    (And Louisiana's turnout is super low too in large part b/c of timing, which is why I haven't used that argument here.)

    Putting aside any partisan effects, I do not think on its face it's good for democracy. Nor "pro-voter" as you wrote.

    If there were two competitive Republican candidates for statewide office, and three competitive Democrats, it would not be hard to imagine a general election between two members of the same party.

    This isn't a wild scenario, and forcing voters to chose between two members of the same party in a general election- especially in a reasonably competitive state like ours- to me is hardly pro-voter.

    We simply can't predict what the ideological or electoral outcome will be of all this.

    So, in theory, it could be much worse for progressives than some fear. I still don't see the overall policy goal worth the uncertainty (and potential unfairness). Think it's a bad trade. Give me credit for at least not referred to it as a "risky scheme."

  • Sally (unverified)
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    In all the discussion of voting reform, has anyone mentioned Instant Runoff Voting? My impression is that it has much more to recommend it than open primaries (which I would also support, but I get tired of switching my reg back and forth between two parties, neither of which I support). IRV is a "reform" instituted quite a few places in the last few years, to good reports.

    Check it out.

  • K. Sudbeck (unverified)
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    No open primary and no non-partisan legislature. As right-wing conservative wing-nut, it would be a bad idea. We need open debate and discourse during the primary season, so you can figure out what that Liberal Democrat or Conservative Republican candidate is really trying to sell you, when you read between the lines. I do take umbrage to the following:

    "Being non-partisan won’t just fail to change the legislature’s behavior, it will confuse the voters. Voters, talking heads aside, do know what the parties stand for in broad and principled terms: Democrats are for the right to choose, the protection of civil liberties and the environment, the right to organize. Republicans are for eliminating most services (except farm subsidies), the erosion of the church-state boundary, and controlling women’s choices."

    Democrats are for the right to choose? Well, it is my right to choose that Colt M1911 .45 for home defense (great stopping power), to choose not to allow my minor daughter to get an abortion without parental consent, and to choose not to send my children to public school and to home school them. I’m all for protecting the environment, so that I can go fishing, skiing and hunting. I am not for eliminating most services, but I would like them to be administered responsibly. I would love a rapid transit system just like the Japanese. I would stop driving my SUV. I am all for a good church-state boundary, except in accordance with the Constitution: Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof. Too bad the ACLU doesn’t understand this amendment, as separation is different from persecution. I am against abortion, but as women are involved in combat, I guess they are fighting and dying for their right to it. It still doesn’t make abortion morally right. But, I am still for parental choice, hence no medical procedures nor prescriptions for minors. I also choose no death penalty for minors, nor trying them as adults. Unless the jury pool is a bunch of 17 year olds, than no trying minors as adults. I am for the age of majority being raised to 20. No military service, no voting, no drinking, nor driving cars. How the Japanese do it. I am also for foreign influence, just from the Far East, not Europe.

    "There are two ways to win elections. One is to move to the middle. The other is to articulate your ideas with vision, clarity and passion and convince the middle to move to you. I’ve always believed in the latter course."

    When your ideas are intelligent, because a stupid idea can have vision, clarity and passion, than you may convince me and I might vote towards the blue. But, I am waiting for the intelligent, common sense ideas to come out. So until that happens, let’s not change the system currently in place. You like that, got all my soap box issues out while agreeing with the idea.

  • Tenskwatawa (unverified)
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    <h1/>

    Well, there's this.

    On Tuesday, April 12, at 7 p.m., the League of Women Voters of Portland will present a panel to discuss the role of political parties ...

    "What's happened to our political parties and what can we do about it?"

    The panel will be moderated by League Member Barbara Dudley; Tim Nesbitt, Dan Cantor, Charlie Ringo, Ben Westlund, Kappy Eaton.

    First Unitarian Church, 1011 SW 12th Avenue (12th and Main), Portland. Public is invited! Suggested donation $2.

    <h1/>
  • LT (unverified)
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    I would suggest that everyone who is in the Portland vicinity go to that LWV forum at the Unitarian Church tonite. I would go if it weren't for the distance.

    As for the term "pro-voter", who decides that--actual voters, or posters on blogs?

    As for "instant runoff voting", how is that any better if there are 2 candidates like Dalto/Howells or Doyle/ Grisham? No one has explained why that is a better system.

    And this from the original post sounds downright sarcastic: Karen Minnis isn’t going to suddenly give Carolyn Tomei the time of day because they aren’t officially sporting their elephant and donkey name tags.

    There are those of us who have not voted straight party our entire lives. So should we wear I nametags?

    There are other questions. Why does money flow to caucus organizations rather than to indiv. candidates--to make it more difficult to trace? The story about Minnis's spokesman saying there is no connection between votes and contributions need not be believed by those voters who passed Measure 9 campaign finance reform. Sure, that was not a perfect proposal, but have the "voters spoken" in all 36 counties in favor of a measure like they did with that one? The famous "kicker in the Constitution" lost Benton County.

    Let's have an open public discussion about implementation as well as theory, and not have sarcastic remarks.

  • William Neuhauser (unverified)
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    The idea of the legislature becoming "non-partisan" seems a patent fiction. But Kiesling's needs a real look. Personally, I've been skeptical, but am moving in support of it.

    Those that support it seem largely to argue from a "good government" angle -- that it will help create a more representative sample of candidates to choose from.

    But the arguments against it seem increasingly weak to me; they seem to break down into two camps:

    1/ Democrats are winning, so why change a winning system?

    2/ Ideologists - why "water down" the Democrats by moving them to the right?

    On the first argument, while Democrats may be in most statewide offices, etc., it is hard to see that they've been able to accomplish much on their agenda! -- the defing role has been to hold a finger in the dike. Where are breakthroughs in schools? Investment in the future? Envionmental protection and landuse? Mostly Oregon has been backsliding. It feels like there's mostly a lot of just muddling through in spite of having most statewide offices and recapturing the Oregon Senate.

    On the second argument, I find the ideology positioning to be more about power and getting one's way than about what's good as a whole -- that is, a left version of the right's main attitude. And I object vociferously to the Republican power-at-all-costs approach. So I find the later argument not convincing for the left as well.

    I'm more interested in good government and good governance that Oregonians broadly support and can get things done than in any particular left-right fight, in spite of how opposed I am to the right-wing agenda.

    If anyone can dig into the instant run-off voting alternative to open primaries, it would be helpful. I think there are more examples of that in use these days than open primaries.

    P.S. I agree with someone else that non-partisan redistricting would be good -- if you can figure out how to do it.

  • LT (unverified)
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    P.S. I agree with someone else that non-partisan redistricting would be good -- if you can figure out how to do it.

    About the only way to do that would be to find some people who would be willing to put in the work (retired judges, former sec. of state) and have a balance like we have now--court review.

    And there should be some strictly enforced criteria--a clear definition of "communities of interest", a requirement that a paragraph be written explaining why the lines were drawn, and a + or - deviation number. There should be X people in each district to divide evenly, and the deviation number should be like 1% from X.

    And by all means avoid mistakes like the Helicopter District. There once was a time when some districts were on both sides of the Cascades, and members rightly objected that it was difficult to represent both E. and W. of the Cascades in a single district. So a line was drawn and all districts had to be either E. or W. of the line (maybe after 1980 census?). Except that lead to one district which one would need a helicopter to visit in the same day--north as far as Clackamas County, south as far as Lane County. I don't know what party that favored, but it certainly wasn't very intelligently drawn!

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    LT, I have been thinking about how to structure such a commission. There are states out there that already do this, and I'd hazard a guess that my profession (political science) would be overwhelmingly in favor. But yes, the trick is how to set up a commission that both parties would be satisfied with but also maintains non-partisanship.

    My top of the head model would be one appointment by the Democratic majority in the House/Senate and one from the Republican majority. Then one appointment for each from a list of non-partisan experts (academics, judges). Finally a fifth member from the judiciary.

    ===

    On another matter, Kari, have you read Fiorina's book Culture Wars? Look at the final chapter, there is some material on the LA primary. I'm much more convinced. Let's talk.

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