The Independent caucus in the Oregon Senate has just doubled in size. And maintained the partisan balance in the process. But all that may be the least of it.
Last winter, Senator Ben Westlund, a Republican from the Bend area, said he switched his party registration to independent. He's now running for governor under that label.
Friday, another senator joined his bolt from the parties: Senator Avel Gordly, a Portland Democrat.
In some ways her departure is even more striking than Westlund's. If in a number of respects Westlund seems to have been diverging from the Republican Party in recent years, it's a lot less surface-obvious in Gordly's case. Her background could hardly fit a Portland Democratic legislator more tightly: Coordinator of Albina Head Start, member of the Albina Community Bancorp Board, director of the American Friends Service Committee, Youth Director for Urban League of Portland (although she also was a parole and probation officer). Her key areas of interest include social services and education, and she has gotten a 100% rating from the Oregon League of Conservation Voters. Her northeast Portland district (23) is solidly Democratic. She's now in her third Senate term.
There's no overt evidence of a philosophical break with her party, with which she's served in the Legislature for 16 years. So why the change?
A short report on the Oregonian's political blog said that "Gordly has made no secret that she believes extreme partisanship gets in the way of doing what's best for the people of Oregon. She's talked for months about switching from Democrat to independent. She stopped going to her party caucus meetings months ago, when Democrats voted to close them to the press."
In other words, the reason seems to have less to do with differences with her own party (apart, maybe, from the closed caucuses) than it does with the whole idea of partisanship. That may make her a more powerful advocate for the idea even than Westlund.
Might she be the precursor, then, to yet another breaker of the ranks?