Tuesday, June 27, 2006

[Oregon Politics]

A Bad Time to Be an Independent.

Oregon's incumbent govenor is the 47th most popular in the country, and yet he still looked good in his re-election bid against his GOP opponent, who was inspiring no love among moderates or conservatives. Enter Ben Westlund, a moderate-Republican-turned-Independent who is running to the left of the Democratic incumbent. Seems like a good opportunity to steal a victory, yeah? Westlund thinks so; here's how he described the political landscape:
Two of the conditions are constant in Oregon: One, you have to have a high voter turnout. Two, you have to have a high percent of independent registered voters. The fastest growing segment of the Oregon electorate is independent. We're now like second or third highest independent registration in the country.

Then you have to have a strong climate for change, right track/ wrong track. As you can well imagine Oregon's numbers are some of the highest wrong track numbers ever....

Then you have to have a strong, centrist candidate.

When you have all 5 of those conditions in place then independent candidates for governor have won 4 out of the last 7 or 5 out of the last 8, depending upon how you want to slice it.
Although he's going for a particularly rosy interpretation of factors, I don't see anything substantially wrong with his analysis. But despite all the factors arrayed in his favor, there is one trump card that I think will inevitably doom his campaign--and any outsider running against government this year. The GOP have successfully drained the life out of politics for most people, so while there's a lot of outrage, there's no energy for Westlund to tap in to.

It looks a little different for each party, but they all suffer from political toxicity, poisoned by the GOP.

To Republicans, the particular poison is the unpardonable sin of incompetence. GOP politicians have run for 26 years under the banner of the efficiency doctrine: gubmint bad, slick businesstypes like us who will drown it in a bathtub good. Salt that with a little God--we'll save you from the dark evil of modernity--and you have a generation-long winning prescription.

But the government is bigger than ever, and now it runs like a '76 Gremlin. Republicans don't mind if their leaders walk away from office with bags stuffed with cash (profit being a wholesome Republican motive). But getting American kids killed in Iraq for no purpose, watching Katrina swallow Louisiana, and watching their leaders sneaking away with bags filled with cash--it's too much. In business, you have to perform, and the only thing the modern GOP can accomplish is winning elections. Plus they haven't gotten around to stoning the gays.

So Republicans, dutifully drinking the elixir of bad government, now have nowhere to turn. A former GOP candidate who says he's got something different to peddle--like Westlund--just isn't going to seal the deal. Republicans aren't in a buying mood.

To Democrats, the GOP are exactly what they expected--viscious, greedy incompetents. But the incessant Swift Boating of Democrats has left the party faithful perfectly distrustful of anyone who might once have associated with these sleazeballs. Nationally, we see this playing out in Operation Lieberman, where Dems are trying to purify the party of any Bushie taint.

In Oregon, we have a long history of progressive Republicans, and our most beloved politician, Governor Tom McCall, was a Republican. Westlund is definitely playing his tune. But the past fifteen years are more in Dems' minds than the fairy tales of good Republicans past. Westlund's political experience is all in the Oregon House, which the majority GOP have run like Tom DeLay. (And state legislators--of either party--are only marginally more popular than the ebola virus right now.) To Dems, the House GOP is notable mostly for the criminal embezzlement of Dan Doyle and the almost-criminal thuggery of the Speaker of the House, Karen Minnis, whom Dems have now mounted a "Depose the Queen" campaign to oust the Speaker, may find it a fair stretch to jump ship to a man who was one of her posse as recently as last year.

And what about independents? Westlund is part of a divided field (the Dem, the Republican, a Green, and a minor-party candidate who was a local TV personality in Portland) and could hope for victory with as little as 35-40% of the vote if the election played out like he describes.

Voters who identify themselves as something other than Dem or GOP, 25% of Oregon's electorate, might conceivably send him to victory along with small minorities of split votes from the major parties, right? In theory, that might be true, but with the Green and Constitution parties likely to draw off some votes, Westlund needs to peel off more Dems and Republicans. And of those indies who won't vote for other minor candidates, will they vote for Westlund? My guess is that he's got some work to do--with his history as a major party politician, and his platform, to unite the two major parties, he's not really running on traditional independent footing. He's no Jesse Ventura.

(There's the issue of his even making the ballot, which now looks like a dubious prospect at best. If the indies are so delighted to have him running, why has he only collected 6,800 signatures in the past several weeks?)

Everything has costs. For politics, one of the more serious costs of the GOP ascendency has been bitter cyncism among voters. That's a bad thing for everyone, but especially for indies.

[Update: Carla has the update on the Westlund campaign's effort to get signatures. Shorter word: much talk, little walk. We'll see.]


Torrid said...

To clarify--I never said his chances were dubious; I said he'd better ramp up his operation soon, and optimism based on past campaigns may not be warranted because of the unique nature of the rules Westlund faces for signers.

Stacey commented over at LO that DR collected 15,000 sigs last week total, and once July 7 passes Ben plans to hire up all the gatherers from the initiatives and go full throttle until Labor Day weekend. We'll see how that goes. I've admitted many times that most experts believe he'll eventually get his number fairly easily. I don't necessarily dispute it, but I'm not accepting it at face value either.

Thanks for linking back to us; I think Carla did a great job helping Oregonians decide who Ben really is.

carla said...

I spent a little time after the Measure 26 petioners press conference talking with Ted Blaszak of Democracy Resources about Westlund's signature gathering efforts.

I'm going to do a post at LO about that conversation a little later this afternoon. :)

Jeff Alworth said...

T & C,

My analysis is my own; the data is yours. We may have come to different conclusions there, and actually, I was making more of rhetorical point: the fact that Westlund is having such difficulty scaring up signatures--even with the new, harsh, hamstringing laws for independent candidates--may be indicative of other problems with his candidacy.

Steve Low said...

Did it ever occur to anyone that this doubting-Democrats angle is exactly what Westlund had in mind?

First off, you only "know" how many signatures he has because of what his campaign says.

Secondly, which is more impressive for a maverick Independent:

1) "Signature gathering is easy, Westlund will be able make his 18K no problem" And he makes it, in accordance with all odds.

2) "Oh, Westlund will never be able to make it on to the ballot... it would take a miracle!" And he MAKES IT! Against all odds!

With Saxton boxed in on three sides and master political strategist Ted Kulongoski on his ... third(?) out-of-state campaign manager... maybe Westlund's running better it seems.

Anonymous said...

The Democrats I know who turn Independent are doing so because Democrats are too Republican. Westlund will get the votes of Republicans whose sense of shame is not entirely destroyed by Bill O'Reilly, but he won't pick up the lefties who wish Ralph Nader would start out local.

Also, I voted for Jesse Ventura in college in Minnesota because I thought it was funny. Unless Westlund plans to don a unitard in the near future, he won't get those votes either.

I was impressed, though, to receive a petition from Westlund and friends to amend the Oregon Constitution to guarantee access to health care. A few more stances like that and I'll try harder to see past the Republican taint.

Kari Chisholm said...

The Democrats I know who turn Independent are doing so because Democrats are too Republican.

So, how exactly does that translate to turning right and voting for a just-recently Republican? If you don't like Republicans, why would you vote for one?

It makes me completely crazy to see progressives get cranky with Democrats that are 80% good - and then have love affairs with Republicans that are 30% good. Sure, a 30% progressive Republican (like John McCain) is better than most Republicans - but he's not better than a sometimes-disappointing Democrat (like Joe Lieberman).

Seriously - given a choice for president between John McCain and Joe Lieberman, who do you choose? If you say McCain, you're a Republican -- not a Democrat. Between those two, Lieberman is to the left.

(At the risk of turning this into a Lieberman thread. Sorry, Jeff.)

carla said...

Here's the lastest update on the signature stuff via my chat with Ted from Democracy Resources.

This is FYI.

Jeff Alworth said...

(At the risk of turning this into a Lieberman thread. Sorry, Jeff.)

No comment too gratuitous or unnecessary for Hog. Our (emerging) motto: Low on the Hog, Gratuitous and Unnecessary.

Thanks, Carla, I'll update the post

JHL said...

"If you say McCain, you're a Republican -- not a Democrat."

Sorry, Kari...

Although I'm a former Dem (current Ind), that line of thinking is exactly why I left the party.

See, when I was a Democrat, I was a Dem because of the ideals I hold -- not because I have some reflex to vote ONLY for someone who's filled out a particular bubble on their registration card.

I get to choose which ideals I weigh how much when I vote... and I certainly vote McCain in that hypothetical contest. And I may vote Democratic in a different contest. Does that mean I'm permanently in flux between parties?

The next logical step in your partisan playground is to have voters fill out a questionnaire instead of choosing their party... and let the Secretary of State tell them which party best suits their ideology.

N. Hanks said...

Afterall, if the base of independent voters isn't out there pushing those "traditional" issues - political and election reform - there isn't any reason for candidates (even independent candidates) to talk about those issues. That's the thing about a movement!

Political reform doesn't exist. It's independent voters that are making it an issue. Without independent voters coming together to set the agenda, there won't be any candidates talking about political reform. So speak up!

Nate Currie said...

At the risk of getting off-topic, I have to vehemently disagree with this:

Seriously - given a choice for president between John McCain and Joe Lieberman, who do you choose? If you say McCain, you're a Republican -- not a Democrat.

With McCain in the WH, you have something to fight against. With the zionist, neo-con, anti-progressive, corporatist sell-out Joementum, it's so much harder because he's supposedly on "our side." Better the enemy you can see in front of you than the traitor from within stabbing you in the back.

As for Westlund, I still think he's going to qualify for the ballot, and even if he doesn't come within a stone's throw of winning, I think his nothing-to-lose, speak-his-mind-for-better-or-for-worse style will force the two major party candidates out of their milquetoast, play-it-safe, over-focus-grouped, mud-slinging, sound bite campaigns and make them actually talk about what's important to Oregonians (like health care and tax reform). At least, that's what I hope.

Richard Winger said...

Westlund's campaign says Oregon has the 3rd or 4th highest percentage of registered voters in the U.S. (or so I read in this post). That is very inaccurate. Nationally (in the 30 states that have registration by party) independents and minor party registrants are 26.26%, and in Oregon they are 25.29%. In other words, Oregon is below average in the U.S., in its percentage of voters who are not Democrats and Republicans. I have all the data in the July 1 2006 issue of Ballot Access News (for each state, as of spring 2006). If anyone wants a copy, e-mail me (ban@richardwinger.com).

Anonymous said...

kari said:
So, how exactly does that translate to turning right and voting for a just-recently Republican?

weeks (months?) later:
i should have tied the nader comment that "independent" leftys won't vote for westlund better to the sentence about democrats being too republican.

it drives me crazy when left-leaning people vote for mccains over liebermans, too. or wheelers over linns. or westlunds over kulongoskis. if you hate trees and gay people, well of course go mccain. but if a lefty just hates the war and joe lieberman's wishywashiness therein, it's absolutely wrong to vote mccain, who hasn't met a military contractor he didn't pork.