Ben Westlund and the Arrogance of Non-partisan Purity

T.A. Barnhart

From Ben Westlund's homepage: 

Paralyzing partisanship is keeping us from the challenges of our day and forcing us to pass on the increasing complex problems to our children.  I am hopeful that we can restore Oregon to her former self …A shining example on so many innovative fronts.  My hope comes from common sense Oregonians who aren’t satisfied with an Oregon going downhill and who will work to avert our continuing slide into mediocrity…from Oregonians committed enough to care. ...  It is time ... to put ideas before ideology, to put people before party, It’s time to put Oregon first.

The webpage, announcing his run for governor, is full of sentiments many Oregonians find reassuring:  we are an independent people, we want the good of all before partisan needs and so on.  Warm and hearty Oregonianisms, perfect for publication on the 147th anniversary of Oregon's statehood.

Of course, for those of us who do promote a party, it fairly well condemns us for selfishness, hostility to all things Oregon and a pettiness that spits on the true spirit of our state.  Democrats many of us admire -- Bill Bradbury, Pete DeFazio, Jeff Merkley, Tom Potter, Susan Castillo -- are, by the definition of contrast, hacks who will destroy honest opportunities for fixing education and health care because they seek only partisan gain.  Decent Republicans who remain loyal to that party, the Frank Morses of the state (my god, I can only think of one) are just as abhorent.  In fact, for those promoting the independent and Oregon-first campaign of Westlund, there is no discernable difference between Morse, Karen Minnis and, say, Frank Shields.  All cut from the same cloth.

(Anybody remember 2000, when Nader made that argument about Bush and Gore?  Turns out Nader was a bit off-target.)

The key word here is "partisan."  Here's how the online Free Dictionary defines the word:

1.  A fervent, sometimes militant supporter or proponent of a party, cause, faction, person, or idea.
2. A member of an organized body of fighters who attack or harass an enemy, especially within occupied territory; a guerrilla.
1. Of, relating to, or characteristic of a partisan or partisans.
2. Devoted to or biased in support of a party, group, or cause: partisan politics.

So, along with "faction" and "fervent" and "biased", we find "cause," "person" and "idea".  While the former group is problematic in terms of finding the consensus necessary to pass legislation, the latter group is extremely important, necessary in fact, in finding legislation that is worthy of consensus-building.  Who wants to vote for a candidate not devoted to a cause or an idea?  Who can dedicate themself to a cause that does not engender fervor and some measure of devotion?  Howard Dean's rise to prominence, and his leadership of the DNC, come from the energy and excitement that arise from the ideas he champions, the fervent devotion of so many many grassroots Democrats to certain ideas and causes.  Politics without energy is a night people stay home to watch reruns of "Lost".

My reaction to Westlund's message and candidacy?  Who the hell does he think he is?  This guy did not just show up one day and discover that other politicians self-identified as Republicans were doing bad stuff in Salem.  He won office at a time when some of the wingnuttiest Rs were gutting the Kitz-Katz process of bridging partisan divides.  He got his chance at the state Senate because far-right activists torpedoed the candidacy of Neil Bryant.  Where was he on partisanship then?  Why did he not bail on the Betsy Close regime?  Why did he tolerate two terms of Minnis-Scott?  This guy has benefited plenty from partisan politics, and now he's, what, rising above it?  Instead of working to take charge of a party run amok, he takes off to do his own thing -- and positions himself as the One True Oregonian, to boot.

And if we desert partisanship, as so many plaintive voices beg of us, what do we have left?  What exactly is it in the independent center of Oregon that is so easy to define, so pure of spirit that somehow activists in both parties are incapable of grasping it?  What is the magic policy secret that lies between the parties, in Non-partisanland, to which Westlund, alone of all elected Oregonians, now has access?  And what will he do with this magic?  What incredible policies are now within his reach that the disfiguring and debilitating rags of partisanship deny?  What, in other words, makes Ben so damn special now that he can flee the party that brought him to prominence and become  Oregon's savior?

And why should Democrats follow along?  Have those principles and policies for which we've struggled so long and so hard grown odious?  Must we now abandon our beliefs and our party affiliation in order to be good Oregonians?  Which of the many legislative principles and action items from the 2006 Benton County Democrats' Platform are about partisan gain at the expense of the common good?  How do I, as a Democrat, a party activist and a precinct committeeperson, damage my community by being partisan?  What is the destructive aspect of Sara Gelser's partisanship that must be abandoned?  Of Brian Clem, as he seeks to shift power to a base party?  It's easy to point out Minnis' toxicity ... from my partisan perspective.  I'm sure the Republicans in my community could say the same of Merkley or Kate Brown. 

The number one thing so-called independents and non-partisan activists forget is that people do not agree on many important issues.  There are 3 million people in this state, and nearly three hundred million in the nation.  That's a boatload of opinions and beliefs.  We are partisan by nature.  It's part of our humanity.  Ants are non-partisan.  Locusts are non-partisan.  The Chinese are nominally non-partisan.  The Philomath City Council is allegedly non-partisan.  Human beings, however, are partisan, and trying to deny that, or to smooth it over because agreements are difficult, is a fool's game.  What makes a democracy work is not the elimination of partisanship but the willingness to accept our disagreements.  The Kitz-Katz regime was so successful not because partisanship was abandoned or "overcome" but because it was acknowledged and given a place at the table.  Two partisan Democrats decided that although they held power, the right thing was to include the concerns and policy goals of their opponents in the legislation they built.  And it worked.  The problem in the past two sessions has not been partisanship but a handful of Republican leaders who refuse to act in the spirit of democracy.  Somehow the Oregon Senate in 2005 could reach agreements between partisans, and we know that many on both sides of the aisle in the House were longing to find common ground.  The roadblock was not partisanship but Minnis and Scott.

It's nice of Ben Westlund to champion the rights of Oregonians to pretend our horrendous mountain of problems is someone else's fault.  It's a false solution to the wrong problem, but it makes for good conversation.  I choose to remain a partisan.  I believe in the Democratic Party, the Party of Jefferson and FDR and the Kennedy's and Dean.  I stand by my party's platform, incomplete and imperfect as it is.  I choose to disagree with almost everything my state senator seeks to accomplish in the Legislature, and I will try to unseat him by supporting Mario Magana.  I hope the Dems take over Salem and that Sen Westlund, sitting in lonely independence, is capable of working with two partisan groups, including one he has now deserted.  I refuse to be cowed into admitting I am bad or wrong in my partisanship.  The indies of Oregon are every bit as partisan as I, but I hold one moral advantage:  I am honest about myself.

  • Charlie in Gresham (unverified)

    Hmmmmmm....sounds like ol' Ben's candidacy is scaring the hell out of a lot of people in both parties. Well, the two parties (and their rabid insiders) have failed this state dismally for 15 years, so more power to Ben Westlund! Maybe now we'll have three parties in Oregon:

          The Democratic Party
          The Republican Party

    and.......The Oregonian Party

  • no one in particular (unverified)

    Yeah, geez, feeling threatened, are we? In the article I read, he explained his reasoning for going independent pretty clearly: a centrist like him would never win a Republican primary.

    Seems obvious and fair enough to me.

    Anti-partisan posturing is annoying perhaps, but slavish devotion to the party, which seems like what you're throwing up in your 1000+-word rant, is more annoying by far.

  • Becky (unverified)

    T.A. opines that people like Westlund should remain in the Republican party and try to save it. But, as T.A. so aptly states in trying to think of a decent Republican in Oregon, "my god, I can only think of one." Perhaps Westlund, after having spent two terms up to his neck in the Oregon GOP, has come to realize it's not fixable. Perhaps, like me (also a registered Independent), he's realized that though he knows he isn't a Democrat, he can no longer identify with the Republican party and, therefore, has nowhere else to turn. And so he has refocused his attention, without the preconceptions of a packaged party platform, on what it is to be a common-sense Oregonian. I may be reading a lot into Westlund's decision to disassociate himself from the Republican Party, but I can say my ears have perked up and I want to hear what he has to say.

    And while I understand T.A.'s annoyance at the implications that Democrats are partisans, I also understand why a former Republican would feel that way. Republicans tend to believe the oft-heard mantra (spread through talk radio, Fox News, conservative Web sites, and fellow Republicans) that Democrats play dirty, that Democrats are immoral, that Democrats want to destroy all that is good in this country, and consequently that Republicans have to play dirty occasionally or they'll lose. And they can't lose because the Republican party is the only thing holding back the forces of evil in this world. When a Republican thus brainwashed becomes disillusioned with the crap going on in their own party, what are they to do? It may well be that the Independent party is the only place where a moderate Republican can exist in this state anymore.

  • Lucas (unverified)

    While I may agree with the positions a party takes on issues, the role of the party in the legislative process is one that hurts our state. Over the last few decades bills have been passed or ignored not because of they were good or bad policy but because their success or failure could potentially help that party's candidates (or hurt the other party's) in the next election cycle. One has to look no farther than the south coast airport expansion and Arnie Roblan (one of the most outstanding people in the legislature today) to see a recent example. It is too bad that NAV voters are not guaranteed a spot on the ballot like parties are. Yes they can gather signatures, but if there was an "I" spot on every ballot then I have a feeling Oregonians would be better represented.

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    I don't want to get into T.A.'s psychic bloomers about his Party and Ben Westlund's statements on his web page but I will. His public wrestling with the meaning of identifying as a member of any Party is refreshing because he's thoughtful about his choices as opposed to simple blind party loyalty. I,m guessing T.A. isn't the least bit threatened or worried about any Independent's run for an office. Ben has a great deal of baggage, poor name recognition and entered the race very late. Despite that, he's going to run and I am glad we have a process for all to participate in our government. I am voting for Ted because he has pulled this state out of an economic crisis handed to him by Kitz. The most important thing I can do is support Rob Brading who is trying to defeat Karen Minnis. He got my check. I don't live in that district but I sure do want a more effective legislature.

  • LT (unverified)

    He got his chance at the state Senate because far-right activists torpedoed the candidacy of Neil Bryant.

    As one of the people who emailed all the Deschutes County Comm. asking them to appoint Ben, I have to speak in his defense. Over the years, Ben has become the anti-Bryant. Hope those of you who read this regularly know I am not far right.

    I know all the things Ben has done because I have watched him closely--he defeated a friend of mine in his first election with help of that slippery Bryant (endorsed by OEA, all you union haters--one of the things I have against OEA).

    I was not originally a fan of Westlund. I became one on a hot day on the way home from work when I heard him on the news (during one of those interminable special sessions) say "the reason for the budget problems is that Gov. Roberts was right about Measure 5 in everything but the timing". Having known Barbara Roberts before she became Governor Barbara Roberts, I wrote a thank you note to Westlund.

    Of course that made him the opposite of the "mystery money crowd"---Doyle, Close, Kropf, etc. Is that why Minnis did not make him W & M chair the next time around ? (Maybe it was just as well since it was that next session when he was hospitalized for cancer surgery, as I recall).

    There are many good people in the Democratic Party. But at a time when many of us are angry about actions at the national level (Paul Hackett was supposed to drop out of the Sen. race and run for House because he was supposed to follow orders--from the people who recruited him to run for Sen. in the first place --- are candidates human beings or chess pieces?) someone of Ben's quality is refreshing.

    I will not sign the petition because I want to vote in the Ted vs. Jim primary, but I have a relative who wants to sign it. I re-registered Dem. in 2002 to vote in that Gov. primary. We consider ourselves honest people, and someone suggesting otherwise will not win my support.

    I am one of those who has been registered Indep. (6 out of the last 10 years) to protest something in Oregon in 1996 very similar to what was done to Hackett.

    Now if someone doesn't like that because we are all born into a party (or register in one when we turn 18, move here, etc) and we are stuck in that party for the rest of our lives or risk being called dishonest, I don't see that as a winning strategy--I thought Democrats have the right to think for themselves.

    If the abovementioned Senator is Frank Morse, then sorry, I don't agree with everything he stands for but do agree with some of it. I agree with some things he did (bringing civility to the process, some of what he has said at the Legislative Comm. and didn't he co-sponsor something with Westlund and/ or some Democrats?).

    I met Ben Westlund back when he was a state rep. I like him--a straight shooter of the Courtney variety who we have too few of in politics.

    If that makes me dishonest because I am not a "my party right or wrong" partisan, then fine--but don't expect me to support someone who says I must give unquestioning obedience to one party and question all the members of the other party. Fond as I am of Howard Dean, if that "choosing a side" business is rampant in Oregon, I could very easily re-register Indep. after the primary just as I did 10 years ago and for the same basic reason. As I said back then, "the I in Independent stands for I think for myself, thank you very much".

    Now if someone has a problem with that, fine--just don't expect my political support for someone who tells me not to think for myself.

  • William Neuhauser (unverified)

    My couple of interactions with Ben indicate a fine man, with a devotion to finding the right things for Oregon, such as supporting the Hope for Oregon Families initiative and the Oregon Apollo initiative. He fervently supports some good ideas that most of Blue Oregon probably supports too. I'm sure we differ on a number of stands as well, but he comes about his positions honorably. I suppose his stands may not fit a particular party, especially not the Republican Party these days.

    Ben makes me proud to be an Oregonian, whether I vote for him or not.

    I myself am a fervent Democrat, who will almost never vote even for a moderate Republican while they are party-driven by right-wing nuts who are ruining this country and demand party fealty above the common good. But I like to think I am fair and tolerant, which makes me not so proud to have T.A. defending the Democratic Party this way, constructing insulting and false definitions of Ben's supporters, as for example unable to distinguish between candidates, is bizarre and unworthy. It probably isn't even good politics given how many non-affiliated voters there are.

    My reading of "partisanship" is people who put party before principle and before the common good, who will not work with the other party to craft compromises and incorporate elements from their concerns. Those are the kinds of people T.A. says he doesn't like (anti-Katz-Kitz) ... but that's what I believe Ben is also referring to. I don't think he's saying belonging to a party is necessarily bad, but putting party above all else and being unwilling to work with others is bad. .... and I think there is a lot more of that in Republican Party than the Democratic.

  • LT (unverified)

    Thank you Wm. N!

    I didn't understand the whole Kitz-Katz bit, but then I wonder if TA was around Democratic politics in 1985. That was when some in the State (also district and local) Central Comm. passed a resolution showing disgust with something working its way through the legislature with some Democrats (incl. Sen. President Kitzhaber and Speaker Katz) supporting the legislation. I was one of the 19 who voted against the resolution, among other reasons because I thought legislators were responsible to their constituents first and the Central Comm. second. And later, someone got on cable access TV and said anyone who supported that particular legislation and a resulting ballot measure was "not a real Democrat". As I recall, a Democratic legislator called the state party office and said "well, if I am not a real Democrat according to some activist on cable TV, then there is no reason for me to write any more checks to the Democratic Party" and the state chair had to convince the legislator that there had been no party involvement in the cable access show, whatever might have been said there.

    THAT is the sort of partisanship I see Westlund decrying, along with more recent examples like what Scott did to Roblan, Scott getting the ORA's capital gains bill passed in the House (while the capital gains tax cut which actually paid for itself languished in committee), not to mention what was done in recent years to those who didn't tow the party line (the Cheryl Walker story, the Jan Lee story, Thatcher v. Backlund, Zupancic v. Winters, etc. )

    Let's be very clear. I once was active in the State, District and County Democratic parties at a time when policy was argued, solutions were proposed, institutional memory ("yes that worked in X instance, but not in Y instance because of these factors...") was valued, primary campaigns were vibrant, volunteers were allowed to think for themselves and not have a consultant or an ideologue tell them that independent thought was somehow subversive. People tried to say only "real" Democrats were of value, but there was pushback incl. articles in Democratic publications.

    Interestingly, one such article (on extra pages of the local newsletter funded by a local donor after a big fight about whether issues were discussed enough) had a title something like "I am a radical centrist". It was by someone who had been active in Young Democrats, supported Hart over Mondale in 1984 (when some said "real Democrats supported Mondale", who got less than 30% of the vote) and was an independent thinker on other issues as well.

    That was a great experience being involved in such a lively group, making lasting friends, and getting into issue debates.

    TA's Democrats sound different, and not like any group I'd want to belong to.

    But then, maybe he doesn't want people like me who have been registered in both major parties (or no party) and campaigned for Tom McCall, Bob Straub, and a number of other Democrats, 3rd party (Anderson for President, Thompson for Senate) and no party (such as school board) candidates.

    It is not my experience that Ben sees no difference between Karen Minnis and Frank Shields, but then I actually know the guy. As I recall, he was thrilled to become a Senator and escape Queen Karen.

  • jami (unverified)

    westlund's independenter-than-thou rhetoric rings hollow with me, too. i wish i knew how to find state congressional voting records, so we could see just how "centrist" this bill-o'reilly-independent really is.

    certainly, i can understand being disgusted enough by the republican party to finally leave. but that's not what he's doing. he's realized that a republican sure as hell won't win portland's votes, and we can't let those evil democrats have it, so he'll pretend he isn't republican for a while. i'd like proof.

  • LT (unverified)

    Doubt that skeptics would believe proof on a blog (actually the definition of a skeptic is someone who believes after seeing proof; and a cynic is someone shown proof and still does not believe).

    But here's a shot: is a hoot! Willamette Week gets some interesting answers from all sorts of folks.

    And some other goodies via Google, going back before 2005:

    The newly announced co-chairs of Ways and Means, Senator Lenn Hannon (R-Ashland) and Rep. Ben Westlund (R-Redmond), get along with the Governor and have endorsed his budget. Both also acknowledge that there are not a lot of good political choices if they have to make cuts in the budget.

    In the meantime, Speaker Minnis is going to change the House rules tomorrow to allow budgets bills to move through any House Committee, rather than processing them through the Joint Ways and Means Committee as the current rules require......The problem with processing budget bills without buy-in of the Senate side of Ways and Means is that most of the budget votes will become party line votes........The next most important news is that hearings began last week on tax reform in the Revenue Committee of the House. Since it is now clear that any of the budget numbers being discussed will need more revenue, it's hard to believe it took six months of a session for the Speaker to allow these hearings to take place. Three moderate Republicans, Max Williams, Lane Shetterly, and Ben Westlund, are using these hearings to push for the addition of a sales tax to Oregon's tax structure.

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    You can see all of the Senate Bills that were voted on here:

    You'll also have to look at the listing of items that originated in the House as well:

    I can tell you that...

    Ben won the Best Consensus Builder award from the Oregon League of Conservation Voters for the 2005 session. His percentage with then was 42%.

    On the Working Families scorecard for 2005 (done by the AFL-CIO), Ben scored the highest of all Republicans (house or senate)-- 68%.

    On the ACLU scorecard, almost all the Republicans scored around 14%. Ben was at 57%, tying with several Democrats-- Carter, Deckert, Monnes Anderson, Prozanski, and Schrader. Only eight senators scored higher-- two had 86%, five had 71%, and one had 67%. In the House, there was less than a handful that scored above 0%.

    Stand for Children's scorecard shows Ben as voting the wrong way on the three items it listed.

    We have links to those scorecards above at:

  • Anonymous (unverified)

    Jami --

    Bill O'Reilly is, in fact, registered as a Republican. He calls himself an independent, but doesn't actually walk the walk. That's the difference between Westlund and folks like him.

    You can get legislative voting histories on the State Legislative Website going back to the 90's.

  • Tenskwatawa (unverified)

    Fairly much 'dittoes' to what's been said. Sorry, T.A. I do feel your same pains, Westlund has had a hand in things of no pride and much shame and injury. On the other hand ... Maybe some can go from compassionate conservative to compassionate. Lose the con. So far, but in a mixed-signal way, it still is mostly lip service but, he says he's lost the con. And stripping that stinking 'R' off his neck and grinding it under his boot heels is not a small symbolism that maybe he has, repudiated his apprenticeship. (Ya' know, there's a decades-old John Barth novel, Giles Goat-Boy, moralizing "to pass, you must flunk the examiner," which perhaps Westlund applied.) Redemption is possible.

    I also, (as Betsy and LT), am eager to hear more, and moreso in the style of today jilting Liars at his altar of 'Get,' showing Liars cannot 'get' Westlund. I hope it was not some schedule scramble. I hope it was a deliberate lie in Liars face, Westlund agreeing to appear and when Liars lap-lackey called to 'get' it, a first-day-on-the-job staffer laughed in Liars face and said it was a blackball all along just to mock Liars once, for selfish spite, but from now on Liars is not even worth torturing for pleasure, don't call Sen.Ben, he'll call you. As if.

    But if Westlund shows up in Liars KXL Klan airwaves tomorrow, or any day really, then I close ranks with you solidly, T.A. I'm watching, waiting, listening.

    If Westlund helped campaign for select Democrats of a Linn-Benton sort, would something like that soften your scarring? It isn't like Kulongoski has been a world-beater to landslide acclaim, and, you know, there might be a little more insight in that. He's a 'disappointment' for the high-hopers, as was Gov.Kitz, as was Paulus and Roberts and Atiyeh in the low eyes of high hopes for them. And maybe the pattern shows something in the nature of the office, Governor, is paralyzing; that the seat is 80 / 20 figurehead, not a force. In which case, would something like that soften your self-inflicted feudiness in conceding even an enemy to sit in the seat that don't matter, that can't enact anything? So he's elected -- so?

    I even took it as encouraging that he didn't go all the way to 'D', saying to me a pox on both their parties. And I didn't understand the dismissal of Nader on that score; seems to me Nader had it exactly right. I strain to see a moral difference between the corrupt one who criminally defrauds the ballot counts and steals election, and the complicit one who knows the fraud, 'takes the fall,' and concedes to allow the crime. Nader's name on the ballot or not, had less than zero affect on the illegitimate election, where the false count totals do not draw the measure of we, the people alive -- Nader didn't 'split' any close tally since the tallies all were frauds. As much by the defrauder party of the first part as by the defraudee party of the second part, just as Nader says. Where his very presence on the ballot contrasts with either and both frauds in comparison. Westlund's candidacy evokes similar undertones in what's been the catty reactions to it so far from the duopoly partisans.

    I add a secondary allowance, though maybe of primary personal importance, which suspends distrust of Westlund in the respect that we're homies, we were raised in 'Bend' and are bent in parallel, he's me, I'm him, same flowers and flaws, we peeps, and I feel his understanding. I feel somewhat the same with Lundquist, the mintpoke pride of Prineville. Terrebonne, whatever. That doesn't do much for the feelings of 'un-centered' Oregonians, I realize. (That's a joke attempt. This is explaining it. There goes the humor.)

    Finally, T.A., you and I diverge in our priorities. It seems your strongest investment in the Party pays tribute to organizational power to effect issues and positions on issues into laws and practices. I hardly consider any issue, or none matter for who I support, except one. You're devoted to one party? I'm devoted to one 'issue.' More like a cause. Impeachment. And imprisonment. I don't even want to discuss health care, jobs, schools, civil unions, ANY ! OF IT !, before first things first. The clear and present danger. The nationalixtic war criminals in office, and the infected fascism they have fostered, must be brought to justice, and the officeholders replaced with decency and legitimacy before any enacted 'issue' can even obtain.

    What does it matter what health care (pick your issue) Dem's or whoever can legislate, before the liability that tyrants can corrupt it and craven-power dictate pervert it? And everything ignore it?

    Some (respectable) voice to Liars said today, 'the first thing we have to do is restore trust in government, for both sides, the D's and the R's.' And I thought to myself, I and we 'leftists,' (as I see my ilk), have kept and never lost 'trust' in government -- it's the Democrats and Republicans we don't trust in.

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    T.A, You seem to be under the impression that Ben is against parties. Not true. I think he has been pretty clear about this.

    From his announcement speech:

    "How did we get here? How did we fall from a state that was considered first among equals to one that’s been panned in Doonesbury and approaches being the Appalachia of the Northwest? We are where we are – mired in mediocrity – because extreme partisan politics all too often trumps good public policy. Don’t get me wrong. I think parties have a noble heritage and place in politics: • They articulate important issues; • They get voters involved; • They find and train candidates, and • They support them through the elections. But once the voters have spoken - that elected official has a responsibility to represent their constituency as whole, not simply the party and special interests that elected them. Our leaders will fail time and time again to solve real problems for real Oregonians, when those problems take a backseat to the partisan priorities of the next election, and then the next, and the next…"

    And from our press release:

    “I have re-registered and am not a member of a party, not because I think Republicans or Democrats are bad, but because I feel that extreme partisanship is keeping us from solving Oregon’s most pressing problems and the party label was keeping me from truly being able to provide leadership on the issues Oregonians care about.”

    I too re-registered yesterday with Ben and it felt good. I've been a progressive Democrat for a long time, but a lot of that time I didn't have health insurance. Ben will get us affordable and accessible healthcare -he believes it should be a fundamental right for all Oregonians. He's not waiting til he's elected, he's actively working for healthcare as a senator. He worked with SEIU on a slate of bills last session to lower costs (lost in partisanship) and is now serving on several boards and committees and as chief petitioner on two healthcare initiatives.

    More info on our website.

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    Stacey-- TA may have been mistaken in suggesting that Ben is against parties (though I'm not sure he said that), but TA was certainly clear - and you confirm - that Ben is against extreme partisanship.

    Which begs the question, when did Ben discover that Salem was an extremely partisan place?

    As TA put it...

    This guy did not just show up one day and discover that other politicians self-identified as Republicans were doing bad stuff in Salem. He won office at a time when some of the wingnuttiest Rs were gutting the Kitz-Katz process of bridging partisan divides. He got his chance at the state Senate because far-right activists torpedoed the candidacy of Neil Bryant. Where was he on partisanship then? Why did he not bail on the Betsy Close regime? Why did he tolerate two terms of Minnis-Scott?

    Has something changed in the last couple weeks - or is Ben just a slow learner?

    [Disclaimer: I built Ted K's website in 2002 and 2006. I don't speak for him or his campaign.]

  • Jeff Bull (unverified)

    As I see it, the chief purpose of a political party is to help a person when they sit down to vote and know nothing of the individuals running. Even as I think there's some truth in what Stacey Dycus noted in Westlund's announcement - about funding, support, etc. - I still believe that political parties contact most voters on the level I'm talking about.

    After that, I don't have much use for the parties. Until recently, I've been a life-long registered Democrat, mainly because what I perceived as an accordance in "big picture" values. I'm not sure what changed, me or the party, but something did. When I look at the dueling, Big Two I see organizations chiefly devoted to preserving their separate sacred cows and a near-total unwillingness to consider alternate, or atraditional approaches to major issues, or to believe that what they've always thought about "Issue A" isn't the one, true path.

    Anyway, that's why Westlund's candidacy appeals to me (LINK).

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    i guess i'm spoiled. the Benton County Dems do a lot more than try to strong-arm people into voting for Dems. this past fall, for example, we spent nearly $2,000 to get a copy of the Constitution/Declaration of Independence for all Corvallis high school seniors taking civics. a non-partisan, educational activity taken by fairly rapid Dems. we are assisting "Willamette Valley Forum" which brought David Cay Johnston to Oregon last week; it's a non-partisan group to which Rs and Is are welcome, not just the Ds who are doing the work and paying the bills. our partisan political activities are not about getting power -- mindlessly, as if just getting power accomplishes anything down here in the Mid-Valley -- but about making our society a better place. we are doing politics because we have kids in schools; because we breathe the air and drink the water; because too many of us don't have jobs or health insurance; because Bush has been killing our children in an illegal war; because so much is wrong and only we can make it better.

    being partisan means you have strong beliefs and you act on them. i will work to ensure Westlund loses in November because i disagree with too many of the actual policies he'd try to enact. at this point, i'd love to see Pete Sorenson pull out a victory. failing that, i'll work for either Hill or Ted -- they are far closer to my beliefs than Westlund. the BCDems reflect my beliefs strongly for one simple reason: i got involved with them. so did many other locals who wanted the war to end, who want economic justice, who demand we care for the environment, who believe we are cheating our children. we believe these things, and we have joined together to find common solutions. if your local party is not able to do that, maybe bailing on it is a good idea. or maybe you need to find a way to promote your beliefs within your local party. i can't tell you to do that, but abandoning the party that has the best chance of any group to make this state a better place is not a great option, in my view. if you want a democratic Oregon, democratize your local Dems. it can be done and is happening all over the country.

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    Review this website--Ben is not the first one to decide that partisan polarization, while it has been an issue in the past, was particularly bad in the last two sessions, to a point where the body is nearly dysfunctional.

    The legislature itself initiated a self-study committee after the session. You signed onto the "One Ballot" proposal just this year. Charlie Ringo recently suggested a non-partisan legislature. All of these efforts have been sold in part as a cure to rampant partisanship.

    Gosh, there seem to be a lot of "slow learners", eh?

    More likely, Westlund stuck it out as long as he possibly could, doing exactly what t.a. suggests--trying to affect the policies of his party as long as he could.

  • Alan DeWitt (unverified)

    Anyone who supported the bill to make independent candidacies more difficult in Oregon is, to my mind, guilty of excessively partisan thinking. That was low-down dirty pool that served no public good; it only served strictly partisan interests.

    I'll be supporting Westlund's candidacy, and that of any independent, before I support anyone who helped (or failed to veto) that odious bill.

  • LT (unverified)

    if your local party is not able to do that, maybe bailing on it is a good idea. or maybe you need to find a way to promote your beliefs within your local party. i can't tell you to do that, but abandoning the party that has the best chance of any group to make this state a better place is not a great option, in my view. if you want a democratic Oregon, democratize your local Dems. it can be done and is happening all over the country

    TA, glad things are working out in Benton County. But there are those of us who HAVE been active at the county, district, and state level who were told in various ways we thought too independently and while our hard work as volunteers was valued that didn't mean our ideas should be given any credence when "we've always done it that way" was the majority point of view. There is only so much beating one's head against a brick wall that most people can stand, and at some point they declare they have a better use of their spare time than to be told their ideas don't really matter because the powers that be have better ideas. Remember the title of Howard Dean's book is "You Have the Power". The sentiment is "if you want leadership, look in the mirror" NOT "if you want leadership, the only way to develop it is to do so inside your local party". Dean is a better party chair than McAuliffe for those of us who believe a political party is about more than raising money and staging political conventions every 4 years.

    The quality of the chair at any level makes all the difference. As I recall, a friend of mine was living in Corvallis in 1992 when the Benton County chair got involved in one side of a primary--which did not win on election night. Such things have happened other places and other times--being involved in a party is not the be all and end all of politics. I thought the purpose of politics was to elect good people.

    A Republican friend (yes, I do have friends I don't always agree with politically) tells me he just laughed when someone from the Mannix campaign called and asked him to help organize his county. "Mannix as GOP state chair ran the party into the ground to the point there basically is no Republican party in this county" was his response.

    I HAVE worked inside more than one political organization to effect change. In some cases, there was positive change that happened, and in some cases my friends and I were greated with open sarcasm and hostility.

    I was not born into the Democratic Party. I startled relatives when I registered Dem. in 1968 to vote for Eugene McCarthy in the California primary as a college student--that shows my age. After moving to Oregon I campaigned for Tom McCall but by the time he died the Republican party had made it very clear "we don't want your kind". I was involved in the Straub campaign and am proud to have known that family.

    I have been an active Democrat and helped elect lots of good Democrats incl. a couple newcomers some decades ago who went on to bigger and better things--named Jim Hill and Peter Courtney.

    But I have also been told over the years that "real Democrats" don't think as I do (btw, there were those who said Courtney and Kitzhaber were "not real Democrats" back in the 1980s--wonder whatever happened to those people who could bash others better than they could do volunteer work or get their own people elected). Have also been told that I supported the "wrong" legislation or ballot measure or the "wrong" primary candidate--how dare I support a friend or a person I admired when the establishment wanted someone else!

    And in one case, a Democrat I campaigned for one year claimed the right to tell me who to vote for in the primary 2 years later (no, I didn't but voted for my friend instead and wished I could also have supported my other friend running in that multi-candidate primary). That is not making the state a better place, that is about arrogance, hubris, and power politics.

    I am a "common ground" person who has friends in both major parties, no party, 3rd party. I judge the individual, not the party.

    And I don't think that what the Beltway Democrats did to Paul Hackett (or in some cases in recent years the similar things done by legislative caucuses) exemplifies "best chance of any group to make this state a better place" even if the Benton County Democrats are able to make their county the best place to live on the face of the earth.

    I reject the idea that Ben W. only recently discovered Salem to be a partisan place. But then I knew him when he was bucking Karen Minnis back in the days he was still a House member. He was saying things that the hardliners in his party considered subversive, and my sympathy for him was as "been there done that". But how many of you were following that back then? Back when Ben W. and Max Williams and some other brave Republicans admitted that tax cuts do not solve everything and it was time to get off the "taxes are evil" bandwagon and start discussing new revenue sources for Oregon?

    And how many of you were questioning years ago why the Democratic Party (or the House caucus as its own little fiefdom) was unable to elect a House majority but was telling us that they and only they had the magic formula and how dare any of us question their target or other decisions and their general approach?!

    Back before Howard Dean started talking about revolutionary ideas like "show up everywhere and contest every election". Sorry, partisans who think the Democrats are the answer to everything, but I am not a "my party right or wrong" type. I want good people in office, and I want open public debates. We didn't get those in the 2005 session. We had some members of both parties who thought the only answer was closed door budget negotiations.

    I'd like to see those decisions to exclude public debate over the budget be debated in public. And if it takes a former Republican former Ways and Means chair to do that, so be it.

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    This isn't something that Westlund just realized-- it's something he has been struggling with for some time.

    From what I've heard from him, and others, he tried hard this last session to fight against the extreme partisianship. He tried to work together with both parties to get them to compromise and to pass bills that were for the good of the people. This didn't happen.

    I wish I had written down what he said at Rebooting Democracy when asked if he was going to re-register as an independent and run for governor. Maybe Stacey can get us a statement about why he waited to long to make this decision, -- I'd hate to word it wrong as it's been more than a month since I heard him say it.

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    Regarding the timeframe for his frustration: Don't forget Ben was a former budget co-chair until Minnis dumped him from it. It's been building for awhile.

    It wasn't a decision he took lightly. There's political risk in just dropping his party much less running for gov. He is the first independent in the senate since 1975.

    He talked with people all over the state before deciding. He decided that too much was at stake for Oregon and that his responsibility was not to win his next election.

  • Grant Schott (unverified)

    Many would consider Tom McCall to be Oregon's greatest goveror, in great part because he was an independent Republican who had many Democratic allies. McCall also had a winning personality and was a politican who seemed to actually like other people and wanted to bring people together. Considering his philosphy and his personality, Ben Westlund clearly is a Tom McCall Republican. I was at an SEIU rally in Salem last year and saw that Westlund was the only Republican who signed a pledge to support the right of workers to unionize. That combined with Ben's support for civil unions, health care, and other progressive issues makes it hard for this Democrat to say anything bad about him. Let's face it: Salem has become too partisan. Ben Westlund is trying to offer a solution and I admire him for it.

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    "What exactly is it in the independent center of Oregon that is so easy to define, so pure of spirit that somehow activists in both parties are incapable of grasping it?"

    The ability to put what is best for Oregon above what seems to be best for your own party.

    "What is the magic policy secret that lies between the parties, in non-partisanland..."

    The art of good faith collaboration and compromise.

  • rs (unverified)

    TA Barnhart's rant is either amusing, pathetic, or both. First, he picks word definitions that put a negative connotation on what are demoted as a neutral words. This is the same tactic used by the fringe right. At the edges, both left and right are indistinguishable in tactics and agendas.

    Second, the definitions of 'progressive' that I find on the Web all relate to favoring change. Isn't change by Ben Westlund exactly what Mr. Barnhart is complaining about? Sen. Westland is taking an active role in promoting change in Oregon politics. All those with a vested interest in the status quo -- regardless of political party affiliation -- are really conservatives, not progressives. Remember: change is inevitable ... except from a vending machine.

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    if anyone ever finds this article & reads it - I TOTALLY REPENT OF ANY ATTACKINESS ON BEN WESTLUND. i very stupidly opened my mouth about a man i did not know; i was fortunate to meet & talk with him a few times before his death, and he really was one of the good guys.

    i won't repent of general comments about people holding themselves to be The Representatives of [you name it, Bucky]. but in regards to Ben Westlund: i regret i didn't know him before writing. i was wrong.

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