Press "Enter" to skip to content

Whence independents

Iif you did an Oregon politics version of the celeb mag standby “the most fascinating people of the year,” Ben Westlund would have to be right up there. He probably was more charismatic than anyone else who ran for governor this year, but more than that he is trying to do something new: Found a new political movement.

Ben Westlund
Ben Westlund

His departure last winter from the state Republican Party seemed part of the machinery of his gubernatorial bid, announced around the same time. But the governor’s race is long gone, abandoned last summer, as is his neutrality in it: He wound up endorsing Democratic Governor Ted Kulongoski, which should win him some points with the second-term executive in the months and years ahead. (That could and probably will manifest in ways other than an appointment of Westlund to something or other, which the senator indicates he wouldn’t want anyway.)

Equally, it likely will not with the members of his old Republican caucus. As the Bend Bulletin remarked today in a profile of Westlund’s prospects, “When Westlund launched his independent campaign for governor, Senate Minority Leader Ted Ferrioli, R-John Day, said Westlund would be invited back into the Republican caucus if the campaign didn’t pan out. At least for now, it appears the welcome mat is no longer out.”

All of which matters now because Westlund will have to go back to work in the Senate, a Senate dominated not by independents like himself – though those ranks have been added to the addition of former Democratic Senator Avel Gordly of Portland – but by Democrats and Republicans. And he is now headed into the last half of his Senate term: In 2008, if he wants to remain in the Senate, he will have to run for re-election, in a heavily Republican district, presumably as an independent.

How all of that will go over will likely depend on what Westlund does next.

He will have to make up a lot of this as it goes along, since there’s almost no history for independents – actually serving in the Oregon or any Northwest legislature – to draw on.

Avel Gordly
Avel Gordly

He may find useful alliance with Gordly, with whom he shares some common ground on issues. They would make a great press conference pair, the one a former Republican, a white man, a rancher from an almost non-town east of the Cascades, the other a former Democrat, a black woman from the center of Portland whose background and key interests are in social services. Between them, they could serve as a kind of moral compass as the Democrats try to make good on their promise and desire for action, while Republicans try not to be rolled too badly and they and others try to keep Democrats from pushing too far too fast.

As a matter of purely practical politics, these two independents could be signposts best paid attention to. And their connections with, without reliance on, the new majority may give them added clout.

Or it could turn out that way. Could also be that exclusion from the caucuses renders them irrelevant.

Our guess for the moment, though, is that these two have clear potential to exert influence well beyond their two votes out of the floor’s 30.

Share on Facebook