Pondering the precinct committee people ballot

By Sarah Carlin Ames of Portland, Oregon. Sarah describes herself as "a Northeast Portland mom, voter, one-time journalist and current flack."

I'm a true-blue Democrat, never been anything else, but did any of the rest of you ponder that party nomination ballot that's slipped into your primary ballot? (Mine was on green paper.)

Once upon a time, a dozen years ago, my then-colleague Roger Auerbach prevailed upon me to become a Democratic precinct person, so that I could spend a morning in McMinnville, vote for him, and thereby ensure his ticket to the national Democratic Convention. I was happy to do so. But since then, I'm not sure I've spent more than two minutes thinking about the local D structure, and that mainly to toss the ballots into the recycling.

I now live in Northeast Portland, where we have not two but five serious D's running for Steve March's legislative seat. My neighborhood is not far from the precincts that are so heavily Democratic that local campaigns nickname them 'The Kremlin.' And yet, of the 136 open slots for precinct committee people on my ballot (you can vote for between 6 and 9 candidates of each gender in each precinct) there are a whopping 26 candidates. Enough candidates to fill less than one-fifth the openings. In almost half of the precincts on my ballot, nobody even wants the job.

This raises a bunch of questions for me...


1) In this Democratic stronghold, why doesn't anybody want to take part in the prevailing party structure? (I bet more people go to the House of Blues Dick Celsi Dinner than run for precinct committee people.)

2) Who ARE the self-nominating few who get to give the imprimatur of the 'Multnomah County Democrats' endorsement to candidates? How much weight should the rest of us give that endorsement if we're not even willing to run/volunteer/vote for committee people? (I thank the active precinct people for their service to the party, by the way, and hope they have ideas of how to invigorate the local party to make it more relevant.)

3) In this day and age, is it necessary (even legal?) to have separate races for men and women?

4) Especially in areas of the state that are so heavily partisan (D in central Portland, R in much of Oregon), wouldn't all of us be far better off with a non-partisan primary, so that the best two candidates can square off in the fall? Choosing among Ben Cannon, Lynn Partin, Mary Botkin, Cindy Banzer and Mary Lou Hennrich is tough enough -- wouldn't it be nice to have two of those D's go head to head in November? (I know, I sound like a shill for the One Ballot Initiative, but it's intriguing....)

5) Why is our county elections office running the party precinct person selection process anyway? Is that election to pick officials for political parties supported by our tax dollars, and if so, why?

BlueOregonians -- you have answers, I'm sure. I look forward to them.

Comments

  • (Show?)

    Dear Sarah,

    As a PCP from Washington County, I'm not sure I have all the answers to your questions, but I can give them a good stab.

    Why doesn't anybody want to take part in the prevailing party structure?

    I say it boils down to commitment, and responsibility. It's a lot easier to point the finger - "why don't Democrats ever...? - than it is to sign up to do the work yourself.

    Who ARE the self-nominating few PCPs

    If you're really interested, you can find them at www.multdems.org and go to one of their meetings. Or come to one of ours: www.washcodems.org. As you so rightly noted, Portland is a bastion of the Democratic party. But WE (and a few other counties) are the battleground.

    Is it necessary (even legal) to save separate races for men and women

    It's legal, or else it wouldn't be done, and part of the Democratic Party bylaws.

    Wouldn't all of us be far better off with a non-partisan primary

    Making primaries "non-partisan" would make them more partisan than ever, because it would allow a dominant party in the district to literally prevent other parties from advancing their own candidates. You may love the idea of only having to choose between Democrats in Portland, but isn't disenfranchising Democratic voters in the rest of the state - by making them have to choose between two Republicans in the general election - a bit of a high price to pay?

    Why is our county elections office running the party precinct person selection process anyway?

    Short answer: an open, public process, is better than the proverbial smoke-filled room.

    As you so rightly noted, in heavily partisan districts, the "primary" election is really more like the General. Whoever wins becomes an officeholder. While a Precint Captain's power is much more limited than a State legislator (unless you live in Iowa or New Hampshire, in which case you can influence who becomes President), it is a matter of principal that party decisions should not be limited to whoever has the time and inclination to show up at internal party meetings. That is the whole concept of a "Primary" in the first place.

    And there are a few places where PCP is actually contested outside of N.H. and Iowa. In "What's the Matter With Kansas", Thomas Frank noted that in that State, Republican PCP elections can be bitter intra-party fights between theocrat "conservatives" and plutocrat "moderates", complete with campaign signs and dirty tricks. All over whether evolution should be taught in schools.

    Around these parts where people are sane, you can be a PCP simply by being a registered Democrat and filling out a form before the election. OR if you didn't fill out the form, if you can get THREE Democrats in your neighborhood (including yourself) to spell your name right in the write-in space on the ballot, you can become an elected PCP. (Yes - write ins for PCP often get people elected.) OR, if you can't do that, you can go to the local party meeting, and get yourself APPOINTED a PCP, if they have a vacancy - which they always do. Appointed PCPs can't vote in the reorganization election (for local party leaders) every 2 years, but other than that, are indistinguishable from elected PCPs.

  • (Show?)

    You may love the idea of only having to choose between Democrats in Portland, but isn't disenfranchising Democratic voters in the rest of the state - by making them have to choose between two Republicans in the general election - a bit of a high price to pay?

    Wait just a minute there... Under the existing system, Democrats in rural Oregon and Republicans in inner Portland are ALREADY disenfranchised. They get ZERO say over who their legislator will be.

    Under the One Ballot Open Primary system, they would not be disenfranchised. First, they get to vote in the spring "primary" (i.e. all-comers general election) from amongst all filed candidates. Second, they get to to vote in the fall "general" (i.e. top-two run-off election) from amongst the top-two.

    In rural Oregon, it's plausible (though not guaranteed) that two R's will come out of the spring election - and Democrats would help select the more moderate one. In inner Portland, the same may be true in reverse.

    More likely, however, is that when you change the rules, the game gets played differently.

    Some people support the Open Primary because they feel it will weaken parties and produce moderates. Others (like me) support it because they feel it will strengthen parties and produce an overall leftward shift in the legislature.

    Hard to know. The law of unintended consequences still applies. Here's what I do know: allowing every voter to vote in every race in every election is pro-democracy.

  • (Show?)

    Sarah and Steve,

    Actually it's state law, ORS 248.015, not the party bylaws, that require precinct committee people to be elected by gender.

  • Steve Bucknum (unverified)
    (Show?)

    A couple quick comments from my precinct.

    I've been a precinct committee person for a couple years now. It IS the grass roots.

    Not everyone wants to play politics. Oh, they talk a good one at the grocery store or on the front steps of the library, but when it actually comes down to doing the work of politics - it isn't exactly a crowded arena.

    Here in Crook County, we fill about 40% of our precinct committee slots, and are always looking for more people. Overall, I'm rather glad that the more urban areas don't participate more - as it gives those of us that go on to the level of the State Party more voice. Frequently the numbers of rural attendee's at State meetings are equal to the urban attendee's in numbers.

    -- There was that meeting in Portland in January of 2005 where the rural folks from the Second Congressional District managed to show up, and only a couple from Portland, merely because of a little ice storm. But that's another story ---

    As far as gender parity - we are very careful to not only balance the precinct committee opportunities, but to balance out our officers for gender parity. I would hope by your question that you don't advocate male dominance in the Democratic Party - perhaps you don't understand that this procedure is a "solution" and not a "problem".

    Overall it seems to me that the only time people really get interested in political work is when they have an axe to grind. With Bush in the White House, we've never had so many axes needing grinding. Perhaps more will become active as we approach the next Presidential election.

  • Jennifer (unverified)
    (Show?)

    In this Democratic stronghold, why doesn't anybody want to take part in the prevailing party structure?

    I'd like to second Steve Bucknum's post. It's just a question of how important the organizational values and philosophies are to people, and whether they're willing to put their time and energy where their opinions are.

    The cynic in me guesses that it's easy to sit back follow someone else's lead, and that too many people use 'relevance' and/or 'disenfranchisement' as excuses for 'apathy'. Maybe it's easy in a Democratic stronghold to let someone else carry the water? And really, most people consider getting their ballot to the box on time the extent of their responsibility.

    From my own experience in Washington County - I know we have a huge pool of Dems who are hungry for action, but don't always know where or how to get involved. So, like many other counties, we're working to make our field structure of PCPs and House District Leaders more accessible, functional, and active.

    It's a bit of a commitment to serve as a PCP, or an HDL - let alone as a Central Committee Chair or Board Member. Sometimes it is damned exasperating, but it's also exhilarating to participate in decision-making and organization building, and especially - to make connections with people who've been wandering in the desert for a long, long time.

  • (Show?)

    Wayne, I stand corrected. As my excuse, I only offer that it is in our bylaws too - though they're probably there just as a reminder to obey state law.

    Kari, being outvoted is not disenfranchisement. You may be in the minority, but you did have your say. Not even being able to vote for your preferred candidate and/or party is disenfranchisement, which in many cases is what the "Open Primary" will do to the general election.

    But my objection to the Open Primary as a system is not based on which election, primary or general, is the real one. It has to do with fundimental principals of Constitutionality and the form of our government.

    Political parties, in their essence, are simply clubs of like-minded individuals. If we, as Americans, have the right to free assembly, how does the government get to dictate how we make decisions? I don't get to vote for leader of the NRA, or the local Union hall. So why is it Constitutional that who represents a group I spend a lot of time and money supporing be dictated by people who won't even check a stupid box on their voter registration guide?

    But even if I could get past that, I'd oppose it on purely practical grouds. It would result in a fundamental rightward shift in our elected representatives. The reason is obvious. For better or ill, average Democratic voters (as opposed to activists) aren't as interested in politics as average Republicans. We can barely get them to vote in General Elections as it is. So now you're going to shift the real decision making to a "why bother" Primary, in which they'd have to go out of their way to know who actually shares their values?

    Party labels are a convienent shorthand for the uninvolved electorate. Taking that away makes it harder for them to cast a knowlegable vote. And we all know what happens if you do that - conservatives win.

    If you REALLY want a (legal) law that would further progressive governance, there's something a lot simpler than an Open Primary: have the Voter Reply Envelope be Postage Prepaid. That way, you don't even have the excuse of needing a stamp to vote in State elections. It could boost the turnout above 50% mark in a lot of Tax Bond measure races as well.

  • Ross Williams (unverified)
    (Show?)

    It seems to me one result of partisan primaries is that people who play closer attention to politics to make recommendations to people of like mind who vote in the fall elections. With a non-partisan primary people who don't follow candidates closely know no more about the candidates than you did in the primary. The result is votes based almost entirely on clues that may or may not be accurate.

    The right-to-life folks for awhile have recommended that their candidates not identify themselves in areas where the issue is likely to cut against them. These are "stealth candidates", often elected to non-partisan office, who are building themselves up to run for higher office. Without a primary there is no vetting of these candidates by anyone.

    If you look at the non-partisan primaries where there is not enough money for candidates to really campaign you can see the impact. Who really knows anything about the County Auditor candidates. If you have worked with Steve March or know him from his work as a legislator, or at the county or as a neighborhood and community leader the choice is easy. (full disclosure - I have worked on Steve March's campaign and I am definitely not suggesting his opponent is a stealth candidate.) But how does someone who doesn't know them personally vet these candidates who can't even afford to mail something to every voter? Essentially, they are voting based on clues they find in the voters pamphlet, endorsements and guesses. And name recognition. It pretty easy to get fooled - there are people who still don't know the difference between Betty Roberts and Barbara Roberts even after both held statewide office. My favorite was the person who asked me whether it was Betty or Barbara who was married to Lonnie ...

    On the other hand, if the Auditor's race were a democratic primary, you could almost be assured that both candidates were generally progressive. And you could be quite sure that the issues where they differed would be out there for discussion. Its unlikely a "stealth candidate" is going to survive a partisan primary. And that, afterall, is the purpose of parties. To vet, recommend and help elect candidates.

  • (Show?)

    I keep thinking about David Dukes (Grand Krackpot of Krazy Kalliteration) getting the nod in an open primary in Louisiana a few cycles back.

    Of course that was in the reality based world........

  • (Show?)

    I'll also note that I've heard from numerous people who for whatever reason (out of town, forgot, etc.) just didn't get their paperwork into the county elections office in time. They're going to be trying the write-in method.

    In the past we'd have numerous precincts where we've had more people than slots available. This was definitely true in 2004. So many of those people who voted on this year's endorsements didn't just get their slots by default-- they acually went out and campaigned for people's votes. I also know some people who do that anyway, even though they don't have to.

    This year people just seem to have lost track of time and didn't realize the primary filing deadline was coming up so soon.

    It's going to be interesting to see how many people get elected via write-in.

    If you're interested in becoming a precinct committeeperson, please let us know. If you have questions, you can check out the web site at www.multdems.org, call the office at 503-248-0826 or drop me an e-mail at field [-at-] multdems.org. We'll be more than glad to help you out, as I'm sure all the other county parties will as well.

    Many people think being a PCP would be too much work, and therefore don't apply. However, it's not as hard or time consuming as you may think.

    The most important thing you do as a PCP is talking about the Party and its candidates to your neighbors. You don't have to talk to the entire county, your entire house district, or even your entire precinct. You basically just talk to those Dems in the blocks surrounding your house (depending on the concentration of Dems in the area, that may only be a handful of blocks). This can be done via phone, canvassing, or even letter writing.

    Other things PCPs do include coming to our monthly meetings (this month's is May 11th, 7pm at the Hollywood Senior Center, 1820 NE 40th Ave.), participate in a committee, volunteer for activities, come to our events, etc.

    We realize that not everyone has the time to do everything. That's why we try to match people's availability and skills up to what is available.

    Some may be really good on the phone, so we'd match them up to answering phones or calling through our volunteer list.

    Some may be good with the computer and typing, so we'd match them up to data entry.

    There's something for everyone.

    On a side note, I encourage everyone to check out the House of Blues fundraising dinner the Multnomah County Dems is having this weekend. In addition to great food and music (not your standard "rubber chicken" and potatoes), we have a long list of GREAT auction items. Those include a villa in Italy, a bike ride with Mayor Tom Potter, an Edgefield progressive dinner, breakfast or lunch with Jeff Merkley, and more. There's also two great raffles-- one for a package of several good bottles of wine and one for a book of gift certificates for nice restaurants here in town. We're going to be having lots of fun at the downtown Hilton this Saturday, and I hope to see everyone there.

  • (Show?)

    Kari, being outvoted is not disenfranchisement. You may be in the minority, but you did have your say. Not even being able to vote for your preferred candidate and/or party is disenfranchisement, which in many cases is what the "Open Primary" will do to the general election.

    Yeah, exactly my point - but you're drawing the backwards conclusion. In an open primary, everyone gets to vote in every election -- and no one is disenfranchised, even though they might be outvoted.

    In a closed primary, a full third (or so) of the voters ARE disenfranchised completely (the unaffiliated voters).

    Political parties, in their essence, are simply clubs of like-minded individuals. If we, as Americans, have the right to free assembly, how does the government get to dictate how we make decisions?

    And the open primary does absolutely nothing to hinder the rights of the parties to nominate/endorse their own candidates. It just says that we're not going to use taxpayer dollars and the power of the state to do so.

    Instead, the parties will be welcome to have caucuses or nominating conventions. To get a full explanation of this, see Dan Meek's editorial decrying the strengthening of major parties caused by the Open Primary.

    I happen to think that this strengthens the parties also, but that it's a good thing.

  • (Show?)

    I'd like to get back on topic for the main thrust of Sarah's piece - and the rest of her questions.

    It seems that the Democratic party does a decent enough job (but far from great) recruiting PCPs, but fails to do much to motivate those people to show up for meaningful activities.

    What should the party do with the PCPs? How can that job be a meaningful one in the governance of the party? Or, better yet, should it be?

  • (Show?)

    In the past month here in Sandy, PCPs have:

    prepared the literature packs for canvass canvassed over a thousand homes registered voters established personal contact with the editors of the local papers written op-eds and letters to the local weekly and monthlies phonebanked another couple of thousand houses entered the data gathered in Astro participated in numerous fundraisers done a Drive Time Visiblilty "name recognition" on hwy 26 arranged candidate appearances at high visiblity local events put up lawn signs recruited friends and neighbors to join the effort run errands for the three candidates that we're working participated in demonstrations in PDX

    <hr/>

    It's all in the many, many, many manuals, books, etcetera generated by the DPO, FuturePAC, DFA/DFO, Emily's List, and on and on.

    <hr/>

    The organizers (House District Leaders, working under county chairs) just need to find the right fit for time available and level of commitment.

    They also need to foster "community" and make it fun for volunteers.

    <hr/>

    Warning: Voluneers are all at least as smart and well read as you are, and for the most part, will not put up with busywork. They can tell the difference as easily as you can.

  • Steve Bucknum (unverified)
    (Show?)

    Jenni Simonis makes one of my points very well - in 2004 when we all were working to defeat Bush (which we did in Oregon), we had more people show up to haul water. This is an "off year" election, so there just isn't as much interest.

    Kari - speaking of grinding axes, your "Open Primary" talk wears me out. First off, your terms are deceptive. We don't have a "closed primary" now. Anyone who wants to vote for a Democrat can vote for a Democrat by joining our party - that's "open". Republicans can vote for R's and Greens for Greens -- free choice.

    The real problem is that the State has (contrary to the US Constitution) made the primaries a State run operation. One gets the impression due to the State's operation of elections that anyone should be able to drop into my club and vote for my officers (candidates) anytime they want. Well, my club has its own identity, and my club has a membership. Members have the right to vote, and no one can just walk in off the street and vote. But to join, all they have to do is sign a little card. My club is open to anyone who wants to join.

    I'd rather have the State get out of the business of telling my club how to run things. They don't tell the Elks how to elect their leaders, they don't tell the Kiwanis, Rotary, or Moose either. Any one of these groups can vote to endorse a candidate for office. Any Rotary or Kiwanis club could put forth the name of a candidate for any office they want - and advertise such - it's a free country after all. But my club, the Democratic Party in this case - is told how to elect its leaders, and how to endorse it's candidates by the State.

    Your solution is an invasion. My solution is a retreat.

    If the State would get out of the Party's business, we could make precincts valid and workable places where we would caucus and pick our candidates. Imagine, a "primary" held in living rooms across the State where we would get together as neighbors, talk about the candidates, and get a local consensus as to who to endorse. If only the State would get out of the way, we'd have MORE grass roots democracy.

    Kari - your solution, which amounts to telling my party how to run its business, is un-Constitutional. It violates my free speech and right of free association. Democracy cannot be promoted, enhanced, or nurtured with the iron hand of the State controlling how my group acts. Kari - it is in fact anti-progressive when you think about it. One should be very careful about promting laws which would force one group to act according to another groups wishes. Even if a majority supports such actions, it is exactly the "tyranny of the majority" that the authors of the Constitution feared.

  • (Show?)

    Kari: In an open primary, everyone gets to vote in every election -- and no one is disenfranchised, even though they might be outvoted.

    Except that most people don't vote in Primaries, which leads to the result that in Portland, many Republicans won't have a Republican candidate to vote for, and in the rest of Oregon, many Democrats won't be able to vote for a Democrat in the General election.

    Oh, you say - but they COULD have voted. Therefore they're enfranchised. Well guess what? Under our current system they CAN vote for a party's primary simply by marking a little registration checkbox. It's not that hard.

    ...the open primary does absolutely nothing to hinder the rights of the parties to nominate/endorse their own candidates. It just says that we're not going to use taxpayer dollars and the power of the state to do so.

    So-called "open" primaries both simultaneously hinder the ability of political parties to restrict their "brand" - anyone can pretend to be a Democrat when they're not - while at the same time, provide major incentives for party bosses to make back-room deals - so as not to dilute the remainder of the Party's power.

    In other words, the only thing that "taxpayer dollars and the power of the state" are being used for is to keep party endorsement something that is open to all members of the party - not just political insiders. And it works too. It's no accident that the States with pure Open Primaries tend to be those with major problems with Legislative corruption. California for instance (hate to admit it, but true) and Louisiana.

  • BT (unverified)
    (Show?)

    Here's why no one is a PCP - unless you actually spend your time believing that time spent in county party meetings debating meaningless resolutions and parliamentary procedure is fun, there is no reason. I can volunteer for any number of candidates or causes without being a PCP. I don't care about the Party platform because in the real world nobody else does either.
    I know this post may provoke on onslaught from Party obsessives, but frankly the irrationality of most of them will prove my point. Nice, well meaning people, but fringe. Hence the endorsements in the governor's race being made by 20 people, without the sitting governor in attendance. A more interesting question might be this: how many people have tried to get involved in politics, naively went to their County party and became a PCP, and then were turned off and never went back, instead participating in politics through other routes? That will be a long list.

  • (Show?)

    Actually, there is a lot more to the party than just debating a platform or sitting through business meetings. That may be the way it used to be, but a good number of us have been working to change that.

    Much of that is handled at platform meetings where people who are interested in the platform attend. Much of the discussion and debate has already happened. Some happens at the general meetings, but here in Mult Co that is typically near the end of the meeting.

    Do you know how the bulk of the April Multnomah County Dems meeting was spent? We heard from Gene Hallman, who is running for the State Supreme Court, and candidates for the county's circuit court seat.

    It was very informative and gave us the chance to hear from the candidates and ask them questions.

    These are seats that regularly have a 50%+ undervote (people who skip those races on the ballot). Normally, you might get a piece of mail from these people and see them in the voter pamphlet. This allowed us to get a greater sense of who the candidates are and why we should vote for them.

    There were more than 20 people at the endorsement meetings, it just happened to be there weren't many left by the time the votes came on the statewides (I thought the number of voters was actually close to 30, but I can't say for sure-- I had no childcare that day and couldn't attend).

    That doesn't mean the party is irrelevant.

    Two years ago there were a few hundred people at the endorsement meeting. It's an "off year election" (I don't like that term, personally). That means you don't have near as many people involved at this time of year. I've heard some people talking about how to improve the process for next time.

    Being a PCP is about more than just being involved in politics or helping a candidate. You are your neighbors' elected representative to the Party. You're supposed to be listening to your neighbors and reporting back to the Party on major issues, problems, concerns, etc.

    The reason why people feel so disconnected from the party is because for too long PCPs have misunderstood the basic part of their job-- being the link between the people and the Party. While yes, campaigning is quite important, even more important is building a connection with the voters in your neighborhood. Doing so keeps them in the loop and lets the Party know what is going on across the county. That in turn helps the candidates, because there are already networks set up all throughout their area, they already know what people are thinking, etc.

    A strong, educated, and involved network of PCPs is a very important part of our candidates' success.

  • BlueNote (unverified)
    (Show?)

    As a PCP who wears out many pairs of shoes every other year, the best reward is to carry the message of progressive policies to the busy and marginally informed voters who are too involved running their lives to learn about politics. The media is aimed at the lowest common denominator (or the oldest common denominator) and does not get the word out to anyone with a pulse. Average folks who are working, shopping, raising kids, etc. need information and when I speak to them face-to-face it may be the only human contact that they have in a particular election cycle.

    I disagree that the party platform is meaningless. I vote for policies, not the candidate with the best teeth or the best one line slogan. That's why I am waiting to see what happens in the run up to the 2008 election. Hillary is pro-war which makes me vomit. Gore is a nerd but maybe electable the 2nd time around. Edwards is a slick lawyer (so am I) and has a sick wife, which is good for the sympathy factor. The guy from Virginia is white and southern, which ought to attract the good old boy-white-racist-tired of paying for the Iraq war-ex-republican - maybe Bill Clinton wasn't so bad- voters. But what do any of these candidates have to say about health insurance, social security, tax relief for the middle class, reproductive rights, or anything else. I expect them to say what the spin doctors tell them to, which makes me sad.

    But as a PCP in a steep hilly neighborhood of west Portland I will keep on walking the walk for progressives as long as they are still out there.

  • jrw (unverified)
    (Show?)

    This is an entertaining discussion.

    From what I've been able to gather, those who are eagerly and enthusiastically encouraging folks to sign up and become PCPs fall for the most part into the following catagories:

    1.) Fairly new PCPs 2.) Who are tied into the campaign of the Party nominee 3.) Who follow the Party line when it comes to discussion of voting for someone other than a Party incumbent for primary office.

    A disclaimer here. I am currently a PCP, soon to be a former PCP. I have been a PCP off and on since 1979, first in Lane County, then in Multnomah County. I have been active in the past in the leadership of Young Democrats. I have been a State Central Committee member from both Lane and Multnomah counties. I have been a PCP off and on in Multnomah County since I moved here in 1982 (at this point, I'm figuring that many old-timers probably have a damned good idea of who I am. Do me a favor and keep it to yourselves, please. That includes you, Marc!).

    When I signed up to be a PCP this last go-round, it was done with the intent to encourage two young men in my household--one my son, the other a young man we'd taken in temporarily--to examine and think about the political process. I went to one meeting after I was elected in 2004. That was more than enough to tell me that it was more of the same-old, same-old that I had grown to dislike over the years.

    The Party Central Committees are not much more than a debating society seeking to score points off of each other and promote an in-group of insiders. Activists who follow the majority party line will not see this; however, folks who don't do so, especially on certain issues (public power used to be one of those particular litmus issues) are openly excluded. BTDT. During my last major go-round with the Party in the early 90s, I recall that not only me, but some of the idealistic folks who'd joined up with the Democratic Party Central Committee as a result of their involvement with the Brown campaign ended up more or less being told that their concerns didn't matter, that they were gonna go join the Greens or the Pacific Party or whatever else the fringe left party was at that time, so why didn't they just stop wasting everyone's time and go do that.

    I see much of this same attitude being exhibited now in the discussion of the gubenatorial primary. I utterly reject this notion.

    That said, I'm also not jumping ship. However, at this time in my life, my work involves enough politics and political concerns that I don't need to play with partisan political games. If I want to play, I'll do it through my union (and, after having gone through a strike this past year, there's plenty to do there), and through actual hands-on work in the trenches with real people, real lives, and real dilemmas. I abhor the growing knee-jerk partisanship which seems to be the current priority among political sorts. I admire and respect the sort of bipartisan cooperation which was indicative of Oregon politics in the past, where a Republican elected official could honestly and sincerely tell me that he admired and respected Wally Priestley (who was an honest-to-god Democratic Socialist) even though he had little politically in common with him. I don't see that level of committment toward achieving the common good for the most people among political activists, political leaders, and political parties these days. I saw that trend developing in the early 80s with hard-core calls for litmus tests, and I dislike the end result of deadlocked Legislative performances over the past few years. The seeds for the current situation were sown in the 80s, and the fruit is--well, it ain't pretty.

    In short, I'm not convinced that becoming a PCP is that effective a use of my political time. Time is a commodity I'm very short on these days, especially with a demanding job and the sort of things I have going on in my life at the moment. I see little in the job description which makes me want to give up a couple of hours of my hard-earned leisure time, especially wrangling over points of bylaw construction or playing knife-in-the-back games.

    Then again, my kid is old enough to be a PCP, and is gonna be one. I figure he needs the education. Besides, it's his turn to put some time in on the political campaign front. While it'd be nice for him to get involved with the Bus Project or Moveon.org instead, he's into the PCP thing. Whatever.

    Mind you, things could change upon retirement, when I get my time back.

    All of this points to some crucial issues for PCP recruitment--many of the folks that could be recruited, and could participate, end up being turned off for one reason or another. The Democratic Party in the past has been far too insular and dogmatic to support those who don't absolutely hew to their party lines--and in doing so, have excluded those who actually do share a lot in common ideologically with Democratic Party principles.

    To quote the old cliche, "once burned, twice shy." A good friend dove back into Democratic Party politics in Washington State. Her experience there confirmed my opinion that it's the same old thing all over again.

    Then again, I'm feeling old and cynical tonight. The kid could drag me back into it again--but it ain't likely, short of retirement. I think direct involvement in community organizations, without long-term goals of gaining personal and political power, is much more worthwhile than playing the PCP power games.

  • (Show?)

    Kari - your solution, which amounts to telling my party how to run its business, is un-Constitutional. It violates my free speech and right of free association. Democracy cannot be promoted, enhanced, or nurtured with the iron hand of the State controlling how my group acts.

    Steve, in what sense does an open primary prevent the major political parties from holding a nominating convention, even one as you have described, that is "held in living rooms across the state?".

    Minor political parties such as the Greens, Libertarians, and so forth already hold their own nominating conventions because they, along with independents, are excluded from participating in Oregon's current primary process.

    So far as I can tell, the Open Primary eliminates state-sponsored preferential treatment of the two major political parties in Oregon and invites a political state of affairs in which the competing candidates in the general election will more accurately reflect the will of the voters.

    It's unclear to me how this is "an invasion" or an infringement on the right to free assembly so much as it is a vehicle for leveling the playing field for political candidates who are not affiliated with one or the other major party.

    Steven: I tend to disagree that there would be any inherent rightward shift in electoral outcomes as a result of an open primary. The shifts would likely be very dependent on the nature of the district, and we'd see some of the legislative races in Portland, Eugene, Corvallis, and Ashland that take on the character of the 2003 San Francisco Mayoral election that pitted a Green, Matt Gonzales, against a very left-leaning democrat, Gavin Newsom. Is there any reason to believe that a Republican deserved to be on the ballot in a general election in a city where the Green candidate clearly had much greater support? Why shouldn't the candidates in the general election reflect the values of the district?

    I also disagree with concerns raised by my friend, Dan Meek, and others who believe that the open primary would hurt minor parties like the PGP and Libertarians by keeping many of their candidates off of the ballot in general elections.

    I would argue that it benefits them by giving some of their candidates a real opportunity to win elections in certain legislative districts. To be sure, it's a tradeoff, but in my view, it's an improvement over a system in which third party candidates are relegated to the role of little more than spoiler to the more closely aligned major party candidate.

  • LT (unverified)
    (Show?)

    As someone who was a pct. person in the 1980s I actually got the chance that comes along once in awhile. Became one to vote in delegate selection, ended up voting 2 years later at a replacement meeting when there was a vacancy on the ballot after the absentee ballots had been sent out. The opposing candidate had died, and under the rules we had to have an official meeting observed by election officials where we confirmed we still wanted our nominee on the ballot in the changed circumstances. Such a process is very interesting. And there were times when local party meetings were very interesting. But how much of that activity requires being elected to a precinct? 20 years ago, it was a lucky county which had more than half the precincts filled.

    I can understand BT. In my experience, there are those who stay involved in local party politics for many years. But many more get involved for a period of time and then leave. Their lives may change (change in job schedule/ responsibility, change in family situation(new baby, new grandchild, etc.). Or in some cases they got involved for a specific purpose (work on a specific project, rule change, event) and then go on to something else.

    It is great to be able to hear candidates and that sort of thing. But each of us only has so much free time and volunteer means just that--we choose an activity for which we volunteer. We each have the right to choose how we use that free time, and sometimes party politics can cause people to get to the point of "life is too short". And in downstate counties, there aren't a lot of Democrats in some neighborhoods--either Republicans or Indep.

    A warning to those who think the incumbent Gov. is the only one who can win. He may win the primary. Wise Democrats will invite those who didn't support Ted in the primary to events where they can meet him and ask him questions. Just remember that "he's the nominee and you owe him your vote because the alternative would be worse" is a good way to drive people away from party politics.

    Was on the phone tonite with a friend who didn't have strong feelings about any Gov. candidates. This friend is registered Republican but voted for Hooley in 2004 and Kitzhaber for Gov. When I asked if he'd decided who to vote for in the Gov. primary he had no strong feelings about any of the candidates. I asked if he'd heard of Westlund, and explained that because of the law passed last year he had the choice of voting in the primary or signing the Westlund petition--and that I would send him the link to Westlund's website so he could watch the Westlund videos, read what is on the website, and decide for himself.

    That's politics in 2006. That is not consistent with being an active member of the Democratic party, but people can choose just to talk to their friends of all persuasions rather than confine themselves to talkng with Democrats.

  • Chuck Butcher (unverified)
    (Show?)

    Without the Democratic Party of Oregon's county parties the 2nd Cd Roadshow wouldn't have happened. Without those attending, the only real input Dem voters would have gotten would be the Voter's Pamphlet. PCPs do the grunt work and it's fairly thankless, so it does take dedication.

    Open Primaries would've resulted in waldenbush's million making a killing and the poverty stricken Dems in worse shape, probably not there at all, some Republican taking the spot. Now that would've killed the opportunity that's available for actually going after waldenbush in the General. One of the 4 of us will run against him, maybe the Dems will pick someone who can take him on, maybe not. But then the Democrats have spoken. Possibly this will be no more than a learning experience, well, learning is good. Even for Dems. Chuck

  • (Show?)

    Steve Bucknum wrote: The real problem is that the State has (contrary to the US Constitution) made the primaries a State run operation. ... I'd rather have the State get out of the business of telling my club how to run things. ... If the State would get out of the Party's business, we could make precincts valid and workable places where we would caucus and pick our candidates.

    So, we're in agreement. The state should be out of the party's business, which is endorsing and nominating candidates.

    I think the big hang-up here is the word "primary". Try to think of the spring election as really being an "all-comers general election". And then think of the fall election as the run-off.

    The parties are free to do whatever they want, and the state is no longer in the business of regulating their endorsement/nomination processes.

    I think this is where the PCP conversation comes full circle. If the "open primary" happens, then it actually matters (!) who is a precinct committee person.

    The best way to boost involvement in the party governing structure is to make the party's decisions meaningful -- and I can't think of a better way that to have precinct-level caucuses for party nominations.

  • BT (unverified)
    (Show?)

    Here's the test of value - I don't know of a single winning candidate (or ballot measure for that matter) in the last 20 years that was the result - even tangentially - of the efforts of the County party and PCPs. That isn't to say that PCPs didn't support winners; just that there hasn't been a cause and effect relationship between the Pary/PCP's and an election in 20 years or so. If they can't get anyone elected or have any impact on outcomes, then I'm sorry, all the energy expended is meaningless no matter how pure the motivation or sincere the belief.

  • (Show?)

    I've been a PCP since moving to Oregon. Before that, I was heavily involved in the Galveston County Democratic Party and the West Galveston County Democratic Club since I was 12. That means I've been involved in the Party for more than half of my life. I did take a break in 2005 due to stress causing problems with my gall bladder. Less than a month after getting it removed I was back in action.

    I'm not one of those who support the incumbent-- I'm actually voting for Sorenson in the primary. I pick the candidates I'm going to support based on who I think will be the best candidate.

    I'm not one to just follow the Party-- I ask questions and disagree often. Most regulars around here can tell you that I've had some disagreements on this very blog with party leaders. I appreciate the work they do and think they're great people-- but I don't always agree with them. And I'm ok with that-- I realize that every one of us is different and comes from a different place in life and will disagree on some things. But I know we're all working for the same outcome.

    I actually think the Party has a lot of potential and that we can do some great things with it. I've been working to make changes along with other people-- many of them Deaners like myself. Instead of people complaining about the party, saying it's irrelevant, etc. they should get involved and try to change it.

    Do you think the right-wingers just sat back and complained about the Republican Party? No. They worked within the Party to change things. They realized that changes take more than a few years. A little over a decade later, they owned the party.

    Becoming a PCP is a great way to do just that-- you're the ones who get to vote on the county party's leaders (everything from assistant district leaders to chair) as well as the county's representatives to the congressional delegation committee and the State Central Committee. The SCC is who votes on positions like the state party's officers and the state's representatives to the DNC.

    We need people with good ideas and thoughts on how to improve the party. When you're involved in the party for a while, it's sometimes easy to lose sight of where problems are with those outside the party looking in. By getting people involved who have been outside the party, we can broaden our view and change for the better.

    I highly encourage people to consider becoming a PCP. In most areas all it will take is you and two other people writing your name on the ballot [Note: They must live in your precinct, write your name under the right precinct/gender, and write your name the same way].

  • (Show?)

    So, what the heck do I do with this ballot?

guest column

connect with blueoregon