[NOTE: this is an updated version of a post from 2005, but if the measure can come back to life, so can the commentary!]
Here we go again with another “good government” measure predicated on the idea that partisan politics are by definition harmful.
Oregon wisely rejected this idea a few years back, yet Phil Keisling and Norma Paulus are back with Measure 65.
As I originally wrote three years ago, I like Phil, but I don’t like his misguided quest to reduce the partisanship of our state. Phil suggests an open primary, in which anyone can vote for any candidate, regardless of party affiliation. The top two advance to a run off.
Yes, I was a party chair a long, long time ago in a galaxy right here, but I was a party chair because I believe in the power of organizations, particularly of parties, to shape ideas and hold candidates accountable.
Open primaries serve to increase the power of the moderate, muddled middle. They allow the GOP in Portland to swarm to the Democratic primary and nominate a bland moderate so that liberals lose clout in the legislature, and allow 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 long advocated – that he had to rid the Democratic Party of the liberals before he could take on the Republicans. In a year in which we appear to have nominated the most progressive candidate for President since McGovern — and one who has a chance to become the most progressive President since FDR — perpetuating this internal struggle seems outdated and counter productive.
Open primaries also, by weakening parties, strengthen those players that are not parties, in this case, specifically, the newspaper editorial pages. Any wonder why the Oregonian so loves this idea? Why almost every newspaper loves this idea?
This particular measure also is harmful to the basic principles of progressivism and the Democratic Party. Why? Two reasons.
First, it raises by a large factor the cost of running for office. When a candidate has to send each of those 5-7 mailings to every registered voter, not merely the members of their party, it doubles (or more than doubles) the cost of each mailing, and with mail accounting for 50-70% of many campaigns, figure that adds roughly one-third to the cost of legislative races that are already spiraling in cost. Does that encourage working class or even poorer folks to run for elective office? It does not.
Second, there’s no “win 50% and avoid a run off” provision. The absence of such a provision is terrible. What this means is that in a district in which there is no GOP candidate filed to run (or one so weak they can functionally be ignored), a good Democrat coming out of the primary with 45% may still have to face a person who only got 12% but was the best of a bunch of scattered also-rans. Then, in November, while we should be concentrating our money on the GOP, we’ll have two Democrats fund-raising against each other. This takes funds away from where they should be. Granted that’s how Oregon non-partisan elections work, but that’s only because there is no party nomination to run for. Personally, I’d prefer many of those not be non-partisan. I also grant that this may also afflict the GOP in some districts, but they seem to be better at clearing their field because, well, they’re not democratic.
With the open primary, supporters say, everyone will have a vote that matters. It’s not like we’re an exclusive club. The voter decides to which party they want to belong, or whether they want not to be a member of a party. It’s a decision they can change any time, again and again. The complaint boils down to “I don’t want to join your nondiscriminatory club but I want all the benefits.” To those folks, I respectfully suggest they pick a side…at least for now.
Democrats have no litmus test for registration, and no secret handshake. But what we — and the Republicans — do have is the right to associate. Phil Keisling and Norma Paulus want to take this away from you. They want to make the state of Oregon one big “non-partisan” party, devoid of voices, devoid of passion, devoid of meaningful ideas and opposition. Republicans will be Democrat lite and we will be Republican lite. Does that really help us choose? Or does it merely create a way for people without bold stands or new ideas to dominate elections.
Parties mean something. If Phil and Norma can’t figure that out this year, they are not paying attention. But I’m worried, because I have seen little organized opposition. That means we need to be the organized opposition. Please vote no on Measure 65, and remind everyone else to as well.