Thursday, December 08, 2005

What is the Grange's next move?

Big political ideas, sometimes translated into initiatives, often bounce back and forth between Oregon and Washington. Next fall we'll like vote on a Washington edition of Oregon's gutting of their land use laws. But, both states might also vote to change how they vote in the first place, possibly changing both systems to nonpartisan statewide.

Oregon already has a One Ballot group that is making some serious headway in earned media. From the Eugene Register-Guard:

Every voter, regardless of party registration, would receive the same ballot. The top two vote-getters, regardless of party, would move on to the general election in November. The only exception would be presidential primaries, in which voters technically choose delegates to national nominating conventions.

Increasing numbers of Oregon voters choose not to register as members of any political party. Among voters under the age of 25, a plurality are neither Democrats nor Republicans. These voters are excluded from participating in primary elections, except for nonpartisan races and ballot measures.

I'm not sure if this is a copy of our failed Top Two primary, or if its an actual nonpartisan system, but it shows that there is interest in Oregon to go down the road we're already on. One Ballot mirrors what the Washington State Grange, which sponsored the Top Two Primary system a year ago, is doing now in penning a totally nonpartisan election system initiative. After losing in court over the summer, the Grange seems to be going to the "nuclear option" by running an initiative declaring all elected offices nonpartisan.

The parties, at this point, would probably fight this new initiative harder than they fought I-872. I would argue that the Democratic Party not join such a fight, but let the Republicans take it alone. If the GOP wins, well the Democratic party leadership still gets what it wants. If they lose, then the Republican Party looks like the election closing jerks they already are.

Plus, it gives the Democratic Party a chance to change itself into an more open, grassroots party. This would be the kind of party that people who would be attracted to a nonpartisan election system would want to be part of. This sort of change is already happening.

In Thurston County we're holding a series of open public forums in the weeks before our county caucuses. The purpose of these forums is to engage people that aren't part of the Democratic Party already, but who would be interested in getting more involved. We're also considering using online forums to engage folks prior to the actual forums and to continue the conversation afterwards.

The ideas from the forums will be passed along to the caucuses in early March, which can vote to pass them along to the county convention.

Political participation has decreased regularly over time. Deeper participation like running for office and being involved in parties has decreased even more. What voters are telling the parties by passing I-872 is that they want to be involved in the process, but not by following parties.

We need to make a better effort to get people, who otherwise vote and engage politically, back involved in the parties. The onus is on us to become more open and offer more ways to engage.

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