House Democrats Win Big in Independent Party Primary

By Thomas Crawford of Portland, Oregon. Thomas is a full time student and part-time politics junkie at the University of Puget Sound, where he studies U.S. Politics and Creative Writing.

Earlier this month, the Independent Party of Oregon held a special primary election to determine who would represent them on the ballot in November, and in a vast majority of the House races, the Democrats soundly defeated, if not embarrassed, most of their Republican opponents.

The story is similar in a lot of big House races. Chris Gorsek in HD 49, Gresham and East Multnomah County, got 76% of the vote. In HD 51, Shemia Fagan got six times the votes of her opponent. Caddy McKeown and David Gomberg, candidates on the south and central coast respectively, also won in the primary by a significant margin.

Carl Hosticka, a Democrat in West Linn, defeated Republican incumbent Julie Parrish by securing 70% of the IPO votes. This has been a rough few weeks for Parrish- first she loses the Independent vote, then she loses with Republicans. Hosticka certainly has a momentum on his side that Parrish is lacking.

While the turnout in these elections was low, the process for voting was complex and acted as a barrier for many would-be voters. The strong turnout for Democrats shows a superior field program in order to turn out voters even in these circumstances, and will surely be a factor when it comes to GOTV time in November.

These victories are hugely important for these candidates in the November election, thanks to fusion voting, or cross-party endorsements. All of these candidates will be on the ballot not just as the Democratic candidate, but as the Independent candidate as well. As it stands, these districts all have more registered Democrats than Republicans, and with over 76,000 Independent voters in Oregon, these candidates have just gained a significant edge over their respective challengers, who should all be feeling a bit like Sisyphus as they look at the campaign ahead.

The fact that Democrats were so successful speaks to the quality of the Democratic legislative candidates, and the quality of Democratic policies they’re proposing. Voters are looking for representatives who aren’t hellbent on protecting tax loopholes for special interests at the cost of early school closures and teaching jobs. Clearly, this what the voters want, regardless of party label.

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    I want to thank all of the candidates who participated in our election, and especially the candidates like David Gomberg, Chris Gortsek, Caddy mcKeown, and Shemia Fagan who made a real effort to reach out to our members.

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    Sorry about the typo in Chris' name "Gorsek".

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    The IPO voters also selected these issues as the most important for the Oregon Legislature to address:

    • Promote job creation & economic development.
    • Reduce medical, prescription, hospital, and insurance costs.
    • Amend Oregon Constitution to limit special interest money in elections.
    • Reduce state spending.
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    What Dan posted is the first in a 3 part preference survey that we conduct to determine member preferences. Step 2 involves taking the broad policy preferences that members have identified in this survey and associating those with specific policy goals. Step 3 will tie those specific policy goals to actual legislation that will be considered in the 2013 legislative session. In 2012, about 4 or 5 member priorities were acted on by the Oregon legislature.

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      Carla -

      A couple of points...

      1264 people downloaded or prepared ballots in the election. 661 is the number of people who returned a ballot receipt, signed with ID.

      We had about 4 percent turnout in 2010, which is comparable to what the LPO did in their historic 2012 vote-by-mail primary.

      That's just the nature of the beast when you are dealing with private, minor party elections rather than a state or national day of election on which tens of millions or billions are spent on advertising (plus wall-to-wall media coverage).

      I suspect that our participation dropped this year because of the ID and printing/scanning requirements.

      Regarding vote counts... you picked a race in which a candidate was unopposed and chose not to campaign.

      As a point of contrast for the example you gave... Andy Olson was also unopposed in our election. He didn't spend a dime campaigning, but he picked up the phone and called the people he knew on our member list and got 19 people to vote for him.

      That's the kind of effort we expect from our candidates, and we appreciate all of the candidates who put in that kind of work.

      Regarding the IPO agenda...

      People who believe that political parties should dictate their beliefs to members rather than the other way around will never understand our process.

      For the past 2 election cycles, our party's agenda has been determined by a three part preference survey of our members that goes from very broad, generic policy questions to very detailed questions about actual legislation.

      Every candidate who participated in our election filled out a questionnaire that addressed how they would deal with policy questions that are the subject of these member surveys.

      If anyone knows of a better way to associate member preferences to candidate positions on a set of policy alternatives, I would be glad to hear of it.

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        You say: "People who believe that political parties should dictate their beliefs to members rather than the other way around will never understand our process."

        The Democratic and Republican Parties are well established entities that offer very distinct policy differences for the registering voter. Party policies are generally known; nuance and details are debated at all levels.

        A new voter chooses to join the team that is already pro civil rights, pro worker and pro environment or chooses to join the team that is anti-gay, favors big business tax breaks and has limited regard for environmental concerns.

        It's not a matter of dictation; our basic principles are already there. (and our Party philosophy can be readily seen at Are there arguments and debates, different trends, and different ideas emphasized as time goes on? Of course. And more often than not, those trends come from the base of the Party, not as some moment of enlightenment from on high. But if you ask a Democrat why s/he is a Democrat, s/he will talk about basic philosophical positions that are distinct from those of the GOP.

        You do not have that in the Indy party. Despite your protestations to the contrary, many voters are Indys thinking they are NAVs. This bolsters your numbers, but also gives you a Party which is not united behind a core belief system.

        You are able to function and survive under the current Election Law, but your membership is not engaged unless Dem or GOP field campaigns cajole your members into voting in the primary. And I am fairly certain that most Indy voters, when asked, will be unable to ID what INDY policies are most in line with their core beliefs.

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          Carla - I feel pretty good with where we're at. We have around 30 nominees who have committed to help us move parts of our legislative agenda forward. I expect that most of them will do well in the November election. Additionally, we have around 1200 people in districts across the state who we can reach out to during the next couple of years. Frankly, where we are at is where I had hoped to be 2 years ago, but better late than never.

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          I'd agree with both Carla and Sal.

          The IPO does need to have a signature issue, which it does. Fair elections and campaign finance reform.

          It also should have a core belief system, and is should be similar to one of the two major parties. From there, the party members will be generally similar in politicall outlook, but specifically joined by the strongly held belief that fairer elections will lead to a better result and more effective outcomes.

          But Carla, IPO leaders certainly do not have to come up with an entire philosophy out of the blue. Sal is right about that. Details should be fleshed out, just as you describe how the Democratic party fleshes out its changes in policies.

          An example could be the Republican party in 1854. It was formed when the Whig Party refused to take a strong position opposing slavery. The Republicans were lead by former Whigs, like Abraham Lincoln, who believed in the core Whig values, like "internal improvements" but had an over arching belief that slavery was wrong and the Whig party had become stale and ineffective.

          Or, the Bull Moose party. Republicans who were concerned about the Trusts and the excesses and abuses of the Lochner era.

          So, I would argue that the IPO should consider becoming slightly left, or right, of center, and making that position very clear to the members, and prospective members. And, have as a primary plank in it's platform improvement of the election process.

          That would mean adopting at least a skeleton platform of generally acceptable centrist principles and letting the IPO members then hash out the details and any veriations.

          If this were done, I don't doubt that the IPO would lose a large part of its membership. The Southern Oregon Art Robinson fans who thought the IPO was related to the American Independent Party. The Uber progressives who think the IPO was the party of Ralph Nader. But, if guided correctly, it could also become a party of progressive centrists and small business owners who understand the value of community, education, respect for property rights, efficient government, protection of the environment, and who are uncomfortable with how the major parties finance their elections and the price they pay to obtain that financing.

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            Actually, I agree with you, Rob, and I wouldn't expect the Indy's to create a whole Platform "out of the blue". I think the Party's core issue of campaign fairness is a good start, and other like issues could grow around it.

            Certainly the development of a Platform from Party inception is a long term process. Unfortunately, no one has time in the political world for anything other than leaping from one election to another. The Indy's have worked well with the rules laid out in terms of elections, but it has also brought them an incongruent group of candidates. Sal seems confident that those candidates will support Indy Party Leg. Agenda. I am not so sure. The Indy's went for the GOP in the SOS race. GOP and fair elections, if you look around the nation, don't have a lot in common.

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              Regarding the SOS race... I really like Kate Brown. She is intelligent, fair-minded, I believe she is in public service for the right reasons. But Knute Buehler is also a pretty exceptional individual and I believe that his campaign really outworked Brown's in our election. If you read his profile, I think you will better understand why his message resonated with our members:
              Knute Buehler responses.

              Kate Brown responses

              He's smart, charismatic, and he has done a good job of husbanding his resources. I think he is a pretty formidable general election opponent.

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                ... and exactly why we (Dems) don't, and progressives shouldn't, take him for granted. In this day and age, GOP state electeds run a course that's of national GOP design. (How many ways can we say ALEC?) Knute will continue to present well, but he will have outside money and power telling him all about the value of voter ID and other anti-democratic flavorings.

                Sal, you were an election reform activist long before you set up the Indy Party. I am concerned that your party voters are being sold a bill of goods by someone who would be an advocate for all the wrong election reforms.

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                  Carla - Knute Buehler was a founder of Perot's reform party, and was the chief sponsor on a very good campaign finance reform bill in 1996 that would have greatly reduced corporate influence and special interest dollars here in Oregon.

                  An ALEC shill he is not. He is a thoughtful, kind, intelligent man who, like Kate, is in public service for the right reasons.

                  I hope that the party types like yourself will take your cues from the candidates and that Oregon voters can look forward to an honorable campaign for this office.

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                    Sal, Knute is not a Reform Party candidate, nor is he and Indy Party candidate, although with fusion voting, you get to go along for the ride. There are a few elected GOP folks - a very few - that will work across party lines, but if they do so, whether at the state level or in DC, they generally get punished by their Caucus.

                    Statewide offices holders are not immune from the heavy-handedness of the GOP, and the GOP is quick to both employ carrot and stick methodology. Dudley and Scott Walker were both in attendance at the GOP Governors fest in Aspen back in the summer of 2010. Do you really think that if Dudley emerged victorious he would have been that nice-guy ball player? More than likely, he would have been playing Walker-nomics.

                    Nationwide, states w/ GOP controlled Houses and Exec. branches are performing a blitzkreig on voter rights, and doing everything in their power to reduce voter turnout in Nov. A PA GOP State rep. actually admitted that voter ID laws are a tool that wil "get Mitt Romney elected". This is the party Knute signed on with.

                    With the GOP behaving like it is, I am not willing to give Knute a pass just because he is smart & presents well.

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        People who believe that political parties should dictate their beliefs to members rather than the other way around will never understand our process.

        It's not about "dictating their beliefs", it's about creating a party that has a core ideology, a philosophy of the world, a set of public policy positions that they seek to promote -- and then finding voters that share those views.

        Creating a party full of people who share nothing in common except the love of a single word ("independent") and then trying to get them to agree on that ideology is going about it all backwards.

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          But, FWIW, I do happen to think that minor parties should be able to participate in the publicly-funded primary election process. (Or at least, the bigger minor parties. Perhaps we need a new threshold for "major" party.)

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          We aren't dealing with existential questions here. The party exists. The question we are dealing with is how do we create democratic processes to express the will of its members.

          What unites our members, first and foremost, is frustration with one or both major parties and the belief that they are more concerned with gaining and maintaining power than they are with working collaboratively to resolve the major issues of the day in a way that serves the public interest.

          The people who join the IPO come from different backgrounds and different points of view, but they have far more that unites them than divides them, and I think that the major parties and the consultants that serve them have forgotten that to some degree about the general electorate.

          I think it's a good thing that an organization exists to remind people that politics is about more than just the things we disagree about.

          What we will end up with as a result of our process is a very clear picture of attitudes towards specific policy goals that are generally under-served in the legislature but that are broadly supported by the general public.

          The point of our party, as with any political party, is to move that agenda forward. You may not like it, but you may as well learn to live with it because that's our process and we aren't going anywhere.

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    I hope you're right about Hosticka. I was at a buddy's house in West Linn this last weekend and a Parrish representative came to the door. I noticed that the rep wasn't alone as another rep was working the other side of the street.

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    Are there 76k Independent Party members in Oregon, or are they independent (non-affiliated) voters?

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    I think the primary reason for doing this at all is that candidates who use the Independent Party designation on the ballot may be counted as candidates "of" the Independent Party, and their vote tallies will presumably count toward the continued qualification of the Independent Party as a minor political party under ORS 248.008. Just guessing here, but it looks like just as they use confusion over the designation "Independent" to boost their total numbers, they plan to piggyback on the major parties by calling each major party candidate receiving their nomination a "candidate of" the Independent Party. Well played, or should I say gamed?

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      Sue - Cross-nominations may not be used for political parties to maintain ballot access.

      Additionally, the IPO has no need to run candidates for statewide or local office in order to maintain ballot status in Oregon.

      The only political parties that need to run candidates for statewide office are those whose total membership is less than 5 percent of the total number of voters from the most recent gubernatorial election.

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    In David Gomberg's race, one reason he put out the effort Sal mentions to get the IPO nod with about 30 votes is that another Democrat was in the race, a city councilor from Newport who entered for reasons best known to himself. (He did not run in the DP primary as far as I know).

    That situation had the potential to create a November ballot with two Ds on it, one running as "an Independent." Not sure how much it would have affected David G's prospects but it certainly would have been an headache and a distraction.

    I don't know how much a candidate like David G. benefits from the confusion of many voters who may identify as independents and think that Independent means that, if they get the IPO nomination, compared to the benefit a candidate running on their line as a separate line.

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    Sal, would you please clarify: When you say that the IPO's 4% turnout in 2010 was comparable to the LPO's vote by mail turnout in 2012, do you mean comparable in percentage of registrants voting, or in absolute numbers?

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      Comparable in terms of percentage of members voting. I believe their participation was slightly less than 5%.

      In terms of absolute participation, we have held 2 of the 3 largest elections of any minor party in Oregon, the third being the reform party in 1992.

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    As someone who has registered 100's of folks and facilitated thousands of voter register efforts, there is disillusionment here about members of the Independent Party. I can only count on both hands the number of people who have registered as independents because they wanted to be a member of the independent party. Almost no one knows that this is a "party" and when I explain the category Non Affiliate, they say oh, that's what I meant. And then they ask, what does the independent party stand for and I say " 50 years in active politics, I have no clue" Also, I agree with some comments above, to get an Independent endorsement is to weigh in the benefit with the cost of the endorsement. That fact I can quote to the unknowing.

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