My View: Don't lock out alternatives to Dems, GOP
Recently, the Portland Tribune penned a thinly veiled attack on the Independent Party of Oregon (IPO) and our candidate for governor, Patrick Starnes, after we pointed out that Oregon law requires anyone conducting a public governor's debate to invite all major party candidates or report the cost of the debate and its promotion as in-kind political contributions to the invited candidates.
The Tribune's main thrust was that, despite meeting all of the requirements for being a major political party and being subject to the legal obligations that entails, IPO should not be treated as a major party because we are smaller than the other two and do not have the backing of the special-interest lobbyists or big political money machines.
The editorial made statements intended to trivialize both Starnes and our party to justify his exclusion from this year's governor debates. IPO has 120,000 members — 100,000 more than the next largest party. We have more than 100 members who are elected local officeholders, and our membership is still growing faster than either the Democratic or Republican parties.
These attacks against our party by those who prefer the two-party system are not new. They have been peddled to the media for years by Democratic and Republican operatives. Readers interested in our side should go to: indparty.com/faq.
With regard to the "fair debate law", there is no debate. IPO was a major party when the Oregon Legislature passed it in 2017. It provides that any public forum that invites candidates to participate must invite all major party candidates or report the truth — that they are making sizable contributions to the invited candidates.
The law is not poorly written or confusing. There is good reason for having an objective standard for what constitutes a nonpartisan debate.
Televised and radio public debates, which are heavily promoted by the stations broadcasting them, are hugely beneficial to the invited candidates. Many voters make up their minds based on the performance of candidates in those debates. If a media organization or television producer would like to substitute his or her own judgment for the state's objective standard, that person may do so, but it must be called what it is: A significant contribution in support of the Democratic and Republican candidates and the two-party system they represent.
Perhaps it made sense for media to be gatekeepers for the Democrats and Republicans years ago, when 97 percent of all voters were registered Democratic or Republican or when Oregon did not have a third party that put candidates forward through the same open public process as the Democrats and Republicans. But that's not today's reality.
For the first time ever in Oregon there are more independent voters (non-affiliated plus Independent Party members) than there are Democrats or Republicans. The exclusionary approach expressed by the Tribune's editorial board runs counter to the times we are in.
I have never seen so many people so frustrated with the Democrats and Republicans — it's 30-40 percent of their own members plus 60-70 percent of everyone else. And support for a third party remains high (news.gallup.com/poll/219953/perceived-need-third-major-party-remains-high.aspx).
Don't those voters deserve to be informed about their options?
IPO has continued to grow, despite numerous legal and voter registration roadblocks intended to prevent us from functioning effectively. Yet, some still pretend that the only choices are "Coke" and "Pepsi" because those are the preferred choices of special-interest lobbyists and partisan money machines. What are people upset about, if not the undue influence of big money interests over government?
I also take exception to the newspaper's efforts to trivialize Patrick Starnes and his message. Patrick is a serious person. He beat both Knute Buehler and Kate Brown to win our nomination, despite being outspent by both of them.
He successfully passed a countywide measure to make Douglas County elections nonpartisan. He has held public office as a school board member. He is running on the urgent need for campaign finance reforms that earned an 89 percent "yes" vote in Multnomah County in 2016 (on a measure authored by our co-chair, Dan Meek) and will be on the ballot again this fall in Portland.
In an extensive 2015 study of state campaign finance systems, the Center for Public Integrity and Public Radio International concluded that Oregon had the absolute worst system for avoiding corruption of all of the states, except for Mississippi.
The public is getting increasingly skeptical and angry about many of our fundamental institutions, including media and government. Those concerns are well-justified when editorials disparage political competition or speak out in favor of the large organizations that conspire to lock out alternatives to their control of government.