Offering frequent news and analysis from the majestic Evergreen State and beyond, The Cascadia Advocate is the Northwest Progressive Institute's unconventional perspective on world, national, and local politics.

Sunday, May 22, 2005

Going nonpartisan is a terrible idea

In Oregon, the state Senate recently passed SB 161 - a bill which would make all of the legislative positions nonpartisan. It would also make the Governor, Secretary of State, State Treasurer, and Attorney General all non-partisan positions as well.

Kevin from Preemptive Karma writes:
As a long-time Independent I am highly intrigued by this. Of course it came from the narrowly Dem-dominated Senate and now goes to the GOP-dominated House. So it's far from a done deal. I don't know whether Gov. Kulingoski has a position on it and if so what that position might be. But it's exciting that it's gotten this far. And I very much agree with what state Senator Atkinson said.
We strongly disagree with this bill. It's a terrible idea.

This law solves absolutely nothing. If anything, it makes it even harder for voters to figure out what a candidate stands for. When candidates identify themselves as a Democrat or as a Republican helps voters to understand what positions a candidate holds on certain issues.

It's a mistake to expect that voters will become more informed as a result of eliminating partisan identification. The last thing many people want to do is pay more attention to politics. A sweeping change like this would only irritate people who have come to depend on being able to identify who is a Democrat or a Republican.

Grants Pass Republican Jason Atkinson tells Oregon Public Broadcasting:
I think that this bill does two things: 1) it might start to heal the black eye that this body has with the rest of Oregon. And 2) it gives a great opportunity for the little guy to get back involved. Isn't that what we're all here for?
Well, Representative Atkinson, we think it does neither. In fact, we think it does the opposite. You can't just write off political parties and suddenly expect everything to get better. The conflicts will still be there. The only difference will be that everything is less open because all positions will be "nonpartisan".

Kevin from Preemptive Karma asks his audience in his blog: "Could it [SB 161] hurt Oregon?"

Our answer is yes, Kevin. We believe this bill will only do harm to Oregon.

No good can result from trying to axe political parties. As we note in our Special Report on the Top Two Primary:
Voters should bear in mind that political parties provide important services to the democratic process (and that's why all democracies have them).

Some of these services include organization, fundraising, candidate recruitment and training, and the development of stands on issues (a party platform) and the ability to help voters identify candidates with a particular set of positions.

If the parties wither away, other institutions will step in to fill the void.

Without party organizations, elections will degenerate into personality contests. Candidates who already have, or have the money to buy name recognition will enjoy a much greater advantage.

Incumbents, celebrity candidates, and wealthy individuals will become more powerful. And the media would be in an even stronger position to promote their favorite candidates.
Is that really what the voters of Oregon want? We don't think so.

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