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PAMPLIN MEDIA GROUP: JOSH KULLA - Independent Party of Oregon member Larry Morgan unseated a 12-year incumbent to win election to the Troutdale City Council last November. Although he is concentrating on city business now, Morgan has not ruled out a run for higher office someday.Larry Morgan is the potential future of the Independent Party of Oregon — and a good example of why young people especially are shunning the Democratic and Republican parties.


The Oregon Secretary of State’s Office declared the IPO a major party last week after confirming it has more than 5 percent of the state’s voters. That means the state will finance and conduct its 2016 primary election, and the winners will appear on the general election ballot along with the Democratic and Republican nominees.

Morgan is one of 34 IPO members who have been elected to nonpartisan local offices around the state. He won a seat on the Troutdale City Council last November in a stunning upset victory, unexpectedly knocking off a 12-year council veteran. At 24, Morgan is the youngest member of the council and the first African-American ever elected to it.

“Like a lot of Oregonians, I’m frustrated by the polarization created by the Democratic and Republican parties,” says Morgan, a real estate broker in Northeast Portland. “I share beliefs with both parties, but I am not beholden to them. My campaign slogan was, ‘An independent mind for an independent future.’ ”

Morgan credits his victory to a combination of modern technology and old-fashioned grassroots politicking, including an extensive door-to-door campaign. He won 53 percent of the vote to defeat incumbent Norm Thomas.

Catching political bug

Morgan, who grew up in Troutdale and attended the Open Door Christian Academy there after graduating high school, became interested in politics after transferring to Mt. Hood Community College. While studying communications, he worked at the campus radio station and one day interviewed the outgoing student body president.

The conversation so inspired Morgan that he filed for the office two months later, winning the 2010 election by two votes against an older student who spent around $10,000 on his campaign. Former Gov. John Kitzhaber then appointed him to his transitional education committee after Kitzhaber defeated Republican Chris Dudley to win his third term.

Morgan subsequently worked on the campaigns of both Democratic and Republican candidates he respected.

He was later appointed to Troutdale’s Citizens Advisory Commission, which advises the council on a wide range of issues. Disappointed by the lack of action he saw on the council, Morgan decided to run on a platform that included creating jobs and reducing human trafficking and other crimes in East Multnomah County.

Since winning election, he’s commented on current events on his Facebook page, which includes recent posts on the personnel mess in Newberg, former President Jimmy Carter’s bout with cancer, and the death of civil rights activist Julian Bond.

After eight months in office, Morgan says he is focused on completing his agenda but has not ruled out running for higher office some day. He currently lives in Oregon House District 49, which is represented by Democrat Chris Gorsek, and state Senate District 25, which is represented by Democrat Laurie Monnes-Anderson.

Both the Democratic and Republican parties of Oregon would welcome Morgan as a candidate for the Oregon Legislature or maybe even statewide office at some point. But he has chosen to affiliate with the IPO instead.

“Oregon has a pioneering spirit and an independent streak, and I don’t want to be associated with a party whose ideas are popular one year and unpopular the next,” Morgan says.

An independent future?

Could an Independent Party of Oregon candidate actually win a statewide election — or even just a seat in the Oregon Legislature?

Remarkably, something even more improbable happened in Oregon in 1930. That was when a genuine independent candidate not affiliated with any party was elected governor. He was Julius Meier, one of only eight independents to ever be elected governor in any state.

More often, independent and third-party candidates have served as spoilers. That’s what happened in 1990 in the Oregon governor’s race, which Democratic Secretary of State Barbara Roberts won with 45.7 percent of the vote. Republican Attorney General David Frohnmayer lost with 40 percent of the vote after independent candidate Al Mobley, who was backed by the conservative Oregon Citizens Alliance, received 13 percent of the vote.

In 1980, anti-nuclear activist Lloyd Marbet may have helped Republican Denny Smith defeat incumbent Democrat Al Ullman in Oregon’s 2nd U.S. Congressional District. Smith beat Ullman by just more than 1 percent of the vote; Marbet received 3.7 percent.

Department store heir

Meier’s victory was different — a clean win by a candidate not affiliated with any party.

Meier was born in Portland on Dec. 31, 1874, to German-Jewish immigrants. His father, Aaron, founded Oregon’s largest department store, Meier & Frank. Julius graduated from the University of Oregon Law School and practiced law for four years before going into the family business. He devoted 30 years to civic affairs before entering politics, including heading Liberty Loan drives during World War I and leading the Columbia River Highway Association, which advocated for building the highway that eventually connected Astoria to The Dalles through Portland.

In the 1930 election, George Joseph, the Republican candidate for Oregon governor, died shortly after winning the nomination. He was replaced by Phil Metschan Jr., a son of a former state treasurer, who repudiated Joseph’s commitment to developing hydroelectric power along the Columbia River.

“The Portland establishment was not happy with the Republican candidate, and they asked themselves, what’s the best-known name in Oregon?” says Gerry Frank, who remembers Meier as his great uncle. “The answer was Meier & Frank. So they approached Julius and he agreed to run.”

Meier was elected governor with 54.5 percent of the vote, more than the Democratic and Republican candidates combined.

“He didn’t do a lot of campaigning, but he was highly trusted because of his involvement with the store,” Frank says. “He was the first Jewish governor, and he was elected at a time when the KKK was very powerful in Oregon.”

Meier only served one term and didn’t seek re-election for health reasons. Among his accomplishments were the creation of the Oregon State Police and the Oregon Liquor Control Commission after Prohibition ended.

Anyone interested in running for any office in the Independent Party of Oregon’s 2016 primary must be registered with the party by Sept. 10. Registrations can be done or changed online at sos.oregon.gov/voting/Pages/updatevoterregistration.aspx.

Open primary problems

The Independent Party of Oregon has promised to open its 2016 primary Election to nonaffiliated overs, potentially allowing up to 1 million voters to participate after the so-called Motor Voter law takes effect.

But only a fraction of those voters are likely to take part, however. That is because state election laws require nonaffiliated voters wishing to participate in an open major party primary to request ballots in writing from their county clerks.

The law was passed when voters still cast ballots at walk-in polls, making it a short process. Since Oregon switched to vote-by-mail in all elections, state elections officials have adopted a two-step process for sending major party ballots to nonaffiliated voters. The first step is mailing a postcard to all nonaffiliated voters saying a major party has opened its primary election and requiring it be returned to obtain a ballot. Only then will one be sent.

The process is expensive and ineffective. The last major party to open its primary was the Republicans in 2012. Although all nonaffiliated voters received postcards, only a small percent responded and obtained them.

IPO officials lobbied the 2015 Oregon Legislature to automatically include major party ballots to all nonaffiliated voters if they open their primaries. The idea went nowhere. The 2016 Oregon Legislature, which begins next February, could reconsider it in time for the May Primary Election.

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