Distinguished chairs, honorable members of the committee;
My name is Sal Peralta. I am here today to testify in opposition to House Bill 2442 on behalf of the Independent Party of Oregon.
This bill is so clearly unconstitutional that I wasn’t sure how seriously to take it. One of our members actually thought it was a prank. I like the tact that the Albany Democrat-Herald took in today’s editorial opposing this bill, that:
The sponsors of this little bit of nonsense seem to have gone to the “Alice in Wonderland Institute of Politics,” where they teach you to change reality by changing what things are called.
Or perhaps they learned how to neutralize their opponents at the Joe Stalin Graduate School of Political Maneuvering. Don’t like what the party does? Just ban its name.
But when a legislator or a group of legislators holds a proverbial gun to your head and tells you to do something, I think the best approach is to take it seriously. So here goes…
We have received written testimony in opposition to this bill from former Secretaries of State Norma Paulus and Phil Keisling. I quote in part from their testimony:
We are aware of no legal precedent in any jurisdiction in the United States that would allow a legislature to ban the use of a word in the name of a political party, and are highly skeptical that the Oregon Constitution, with its broad protections for free speech, would permit such an intrusion on the association and speech rights of a duly constituted political party. Pass this bill -- or even treat it semi-seriously -- and what's next? Bills to ban the word "republican" or "democratic" from other parties because one party in power feels threatened?
This bill is cynical, political mischief of the worst, most juvenile kind -- worthy of being thrown on the legislative scrap heap, so this body can get down to the important business at hand.
We have also received written testimony from Steven Goldberg, a Portland attorney, who in 2002 litigated the case “Freedom-Socialist Party v Bradbury” which struck down a similar unconstitutional Oregon law that banned the use of a word by a political party, if that word was also in use by another political party. Mr. Goldberg notes:
It seems clear to me in light of the Freedom Socialist Party decision that HB 2442 is an even more egregious infringement on the Independent Party’s federal and state constitutional rights as discussed by the Oregon Court of Appeals.
I understand HB 2442 is premised on the need to prevent “widespread voter confusion.” That rationale was also relied on by the State to justify ORS 248.010, and was rejected by the majority opinion and by Judge (now Justice) Landau’s concurring opinion.
I now quote in part from Judge Landau’s concurring opinion in the Freedom Socialist case:
Article I, section 8, provides that
"No law shall be passed restraining the free expression of opinion, or restricting the right to speak, write, or print freely on any subject whatever; but every person shall be responsible for the abuse of this right."
Under State v. Robertson and its progeny, a law that restrains speech based on the content of that speech is unconstitutional unless the restraint is wholly contained within a historical exception.
In this case, it strikes me that the statute runs headlong into the free expression guarantee of Article I, section 8. A political party name communicates a message to voters. Its name, in fact, is a shorthand expression for a core value that the party wishes to communicate to the public. It certainly is speech, and a regulation that prohibits a party from using certain words to express that message certainly is a regulation based on the content of speech. The parties have identified no historical exception that wholly contains such a restraint, and I am aware of none. It necessarily follows that the restraint is unconstitutional.
So what core values of the Independent Party of Oregon does the word “Independent” communicate? Perhaps the most important thing it communicates is that our members are “independent” of both major political parties. It also communicates that our members are strong, self-reliant, and not subject to the will of others.
Much has been made by our opponents, that the party’s rapid growth is attributable to “confusion” on the part of our members. I would argue that our party’s rapid growth is actually due to the fact that, according to recent polls, 58 percent of Americans do not feel well-represented by either major political party and believe that a third major party is needed.
I would like to note for the record that I have brought with me a petition signed by more than 480 Oregonians, most of whom are members of the Independent Party of Oregon, urging you to oppose this legislation.
That petition reads:
Attention Oregon Legislators,
We, the undersigned, oppose any effort to restrict the free speech and free association rights of the members of the Independent Party of Oregon. We oppose House Bill 2442, which would force the Independent Party of Oregon to change its name by the end of the year or be abolished.
We call on the Oregon legislature to spend less time worrying about how to take away our rights, and more time working together to solve the major issues facing the state.
Among the members who signed this petition there are two recently retired Oregon Mayors; two retired state legislators, a half dozen college and university professors and 4 attorneys. Suffice to say that none of our members who signed the petition were pleased that at least some of our legislators regard them as too ignorant to correctly fill out a voter registration card.
In a comment on the petition, which has been submitted as written testimony, one of our members, Vincent T. Adams of Corvallis, writes:
I am affiliated with the Independent Party of Oregon because the organization embodies the pragmatic spirit of Oregonians and effectively bridges the ideological gap between the major parties. The Independent Party of Oregon best represents my moderate views and focus on policy outcomes rather than dogmatic political positions. Over the past several years I have proudly represented myself as a member of the Independent Party of Oregon, and officially identify as such. The name of the Independent Party of Oregon is not ambiguous and is not confused with the option to register as non-affiliated by those who have had a reasonable civics education in high school; especially when both options are present as is the case on a voter registration card. If there were a legitimate logistic reason to prohibit the use of the word "independent" then the issue would have been addressed at the inception of the Independent Party of Oregon in 2006, and surely not five years later in 2011 after the organization has established a political identity, grown its membership, and is advancing policy agendas. Removing the name of the Independent Party of Oregon will not clarify the voter registration process, but will gravely hurt the civil discourse in our state and the prospects of other political party movements. I declare my right to call my political party whatever I choose within the bounds of social decorum and defy the state legislature to stop me.
Most of the comments we received have expressed outrage, surprise, and irritation at this legislation and at the anonymous means with which it has been brought forward. Many of those comments are inappropriate to repeat in this chamber, though surely the anger felt by our members, and even non-members, at this proposed unconstitutional taking of our party’s name is well justified.
I have just a few closing points to make:
The first is that the Independent Party is not the first Oregon political party to use the word “Independent” in its name. Ross Perot formed the Independent Initiative Party to gain ballot access in 1992.
Richard Winger, author of Ballot Access news, and a leading expert on political parties, recently noted that “no state has ever passed a law, telling a party that was already ballot-qualified that it had to change its name.”
If this bill were passed at a federal level, it would effectively ban all of the eight political parties in the United States that currently use the word “Independent” in all or part of their names, and would place us on a global list of states that have forcibly disbanded political parties that most recently includes Iran, Myanmar, Thailand, and Gabon – a rogue’s list if ever there was one.
I can understand why some political partisans might be threatened by the emergence of a third political party, particularly one that is working from the center to try and assemble a coalition of legislators from both major parties in service to a shared set of moderate, populist, public interest issues for which there is a strong consensus that has been ignored for far too long.
But the fact that some people may be threatened by the Independent Party is no reason to infringe upon our members’ rights, nor is it consistent with the values and sensibilities of most Oregonians, even those who do not agree with the Independent Party or its mission.
This bill has brought a measure of unflattering attention to the state, as newspapers around Oregon, and in Texas, New York, Connecticut, Washington state and Washington D.C. have picked up an Associated Press story titled ”Largest Oregon Minor Political Party Faces ‘Execution’ Bill”.
I urge the House Rules Committee to kill this bill.
Measure Aims to Force Independent Party to Change Name - OPB, April 11, 2011
Biggest Minor Party in State Faces "Execution Bill" - Associated Press, April 12, 2011
Olson Against Anti-"Independent" Bill - Democrat-Herald, April 12, 2011
What's Next, Word Police? - Democrat-Herald, April 13, 2011