by Sal Peralta
published in the Medford Mail Tribune,
Thanks to the Mail Tribune for its well wishes toward the Independent Party and for its thoughtful analysis of the challenges that we face.
The MT editorial (2/17) described our party's platform as “brief, sensible and relentlessly uncontroversial." That is absolutely correct. So why were we not seeing movement on those issues under the two party system? Shouldn't government be implementing policies that most of us agree with? Obviously, it is not.
The public overwhelmingly favors placing reasonable limits on campaign contributions, yet Oregon is one of only four states with no limits on campaign contributions. The public overwhelmingly favors transparency in government contracts and tax breaks for large corporations, so why has the Oregon Legislature gone so many sessions without passing a bill to ensure greater transparency in those processes?
A question we should be asking is, why are so many voters leaving the major parties to register as not affiliated or as members of the Independent Party?
Could it be because the major parties have abandoned the simple and sensible in favor of being led by the interests of their campaign funders and folks on the partisan extremes?
I think so.
Fifty-eight percent of Americans do not feel well represented by either major party, and I believe it's because our current two party system is set up to reward the most partisan candidates in “safe districts” and the candidates who cater to the interests of the powerful in the handful of contested districts. Neither of those things is good for the rest of us.
Seventeen out of 20 Oregonians live in legislative districts that are dominated by one side or the other. The economic models of the two major parties are dependent on this gerrymandering. Essentially, our state is split up so that in most legislative districts there is no meaningful choice on the November ballot. If you are a conservative Republican in Ashland or a liberal Democrat in Central Point, you know that you are going to be out of luck.
The tiny handful of competitive districts remaining in Oregon are among the most expensive legislative races anywhere in the country. Spending on those races is dominated by a tiny handful of individuals, groups, and corporations. This, coupled with the strong caucus model that the Oregon Legislature operates under allows entrenched special interests to have undue influence over the legislature, often to the detriment of common sense policy choices that are overwhelmingly favored by Oregonians.
Our party turns that system on its head by focusing on things that most of us agree about while encouraging our candidates to follow their own consciences on social matters. What the MT editorial called a weakness actually gives our candidates an opportunity to more effectively challenge the dominant party in gerrymandered districts by allowing us to recruit candidates whose views on other issues reflect the priorities of a majority in their district.
Which brings me to another point, the platform. When our members established the party's platform, they also passed our legislative agenda and while the platform is broad, the agenda is more specific. More than 1,700 members participated in establishing the party’s agenda, which follows. (The percentages indicate the level of member support for each of the priority items.)
- Requiring that political advertisements identify their main sources of funding, 83.7 percent.
- Increasing vocational training opportunities for students in high school and community college, 79.0 percent.
- Ensuring that tax dollars spent to encourage economic development return more benefits to the public than they cost, 74.4 percent.
- Establishing limits on political campaign contributions, 73.4 percent.
- Reforming the state primary election so that more voters can participate, 66.5 percent.
Again, these measures are reasonable and uncontroversial among the general public from the left to the right. So why are they not being acted on with strong bipartisan support?
The Mail Tribune was correct about the challenges that we face. We are in desperate need of help with organizing in the Medford and Ashland areas. I would like to encourage your readers to visit our web site at www.indparty.com/platform. Join us, if you like what you see. If you are a community leader who has considered running for public office but live in "the wrong district," please get in touch.
"Urgent! Common sense and moderation needed!" is not a catchy slogan, but maybe it's what we need.
Sal Peralta is secretary of the Independent Party of Oregon. He lives in McMinnville.