The party that isn't a party

Oregon's newly created Independent Party is "confusing," according to the state Democratic Party chairwoman. A Republican spokesman goes one better, calling it "sophomoric." It's hard to disagree with either characterization, except to note that it is the major parties' stranglehold on the state primary process that makes the new party even necessary.

There is nothing inherently wrong with a third party, and there could be much that is right about such an effort — if it were a real party, such as the Pacific Green Party, the Constitution Party or the Libertarian Party. Real parties have platforms. They stand for something, or for many things, that reflect a political ideology.

The Independent Party, formed in January, does not. Oh, pardon us — it stands for campaign finance reform, government accountability and citizen access to ballots through the initiative and referendum system.

Never mind that being against any of the three would be akin to opposing motherhood and apple pie.

Every politician worthy of the name will swear he or she supports campaign finance reform — in the abstract. It's the details that cause all the trouble.

Likewise, "government accountability" is something everyone can get behind — as long as no one tries to define the term too precisely.

As for the initiative and referendum, that system has been in the Oregon Constitution since the voters put it there in 1902. Not much chance of an Oregon politician suggesting we do away with it.

So, what is the Independent Party, exactly? Maybe it's easiest to define it in terms of what it is not: It's not the Democratic Party and it's not the Republican Party.

Voters less than enamored of either the Rs or the Ds used to be called independent, with a small "i", or unaffiliated. In recent years, the number of independents has grown to the point that they are often the deciding factor in statewide elections, because neither major party can command a majority of registered voters.

But independents are just that: they can't be pigeonholed. Some are former Democrats, some are disaffected Republicans, and still others agree with one party on some issues and the other party on other issues.

So why create a party that isn't really a party? Because the Democrats and the Republicans have made it next to impossible for a small-i independent to run for office in Oregon.

To get on the general election ballot, an independent candidate must collect thousands of signatures from registered voters. But, thanks to the 2005 Legislature (Democrats and Republicans, natch), state law now says no one who voted in a partisan primary can sign such a petition. Good luck with that.

The real answer to independent voters being locked out of the process might just be a referendum petition to repeal that unfair law partisan legislators passed in 2005. Then there would be no need for a new party, and true, small-i independents might succeed in shaking things up a bit.

We'd vote for that.

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