The Independent Party of Oregon was formed 11 years ago to give ordinary citizens a bigger voice in government. In 2009, the party helped to pass Oregon's fusion voting law, hoping it would encourage Democratic and Republican officeholders to be more responsive to the general public. Independent Party officials have tried to work with the two-party system while building an alternate base of power to give Oregonians more viable choices on their ballots.
The results have been mixed. We've helped to increase the number of Independent and non-affiliated candidates winning local offices, but those successes have not carried over to state government. In the time since we founded the party, Oregon has become one of the worst governed states in America.
A 2016 audit of the state's Business Energy Tax Credits program found that state officials gave out as much as $340 million in tax credits through projects that raised concerns. Despite the report, no action was taken by the 2017 Oregon Legislature to recover the money.
Currently, more than three-fourths of the state's largest industrial polluters are discharging waste without valid permits. In some cases, permits are more than two decades out of date, and several facilities have gone for decades without state inspections. Regulations for large-scale industrial polluters were proposed in 2017, but were defeated during the legislative session.
In terms of K-12 education, Oregon is ranked near the bottom in numerous categories: 40th for student performance, 45th for instructional time, 46th for student-teacher ratio and 48th for high school graduation -- despite being 21st out of the 50 states for per student spending.
FamilyCare Health, Oregon's second-largest Medicaid provider, is closing its doors in part due to a reimbursement dispute with the state, forcing more than 100,000 Medicaid enrollees to move to other providers.
The state wasted $305 million in taxpayer funds on a healthcare web site that never worked. Republicans on a 2016 Congressional report called for criminal investigation into the matter, but no action was taken by Oregon's government.
The list goes on.
There is a direct connection these government failures and how our elections are structured and financed.
Oregon is one of only five states with no limits on campaign contributions. That's why our state policies, especially those related to the environment, education and taxes, reflect the interests of the powerful rather than the general public.
This problem is made worse by the fact that Oregon's system of government vests nearly all of the legislature's power into the hands of the six leaders most responsible for raising money from the special interests that accounted for more than 97 percent of the $130 million that was raised and spent in Oregon during the 2016 election.
Roughly 85 percent of us live in districts dominated by either Democrats or Republicans. This, combined with our closed primaries, has created a system in which our elected leaders are far more responsive to their major funders and their most partisan supporters than they are to the general public.
As a third party that favors pragmatism, we recognize that our ability to change the political system is limited. Actual change will require hard work, smart reforms and a few big leaps of faith.
It will require a leap of faith by civic-minded Oregonians to run for public office on platforms that actually address these issues and to get elected through the grassroots support of ordinary citizens rather than the special interests that currently dominate our political process.
It will also take a leap of faith by voters. The only real political currency many of us have is our vote. There are two things candidates need. Funding and votes. In the end it's really about your vote. The funding is simply to secure more votes.
Thankfully, we do not need to win an outright majority in the Legislature to change things for the better. A small coalition of legislators who are willing to meet in the middle and stick together could change our system overnight.