Writings and observations

What’s in a name

Among the more peculiar pieces of legislation at the Oregon session this year is House Bill 2442 – “Prohibits use of word “independent in name of major or minor political party.”

It seems an odd and arbitrary choice. You could as well ban the use of the words “Democratic” or “Republican” since those are basic descriptors of our form of government. But those are the parties in power, and the Independent Party of Oregon, while growing at a rapid clip (and it may have had some effect on some major-party races last year), is still well shot of major-party status. And has few shields against snipes form the major parties, including shots aimed maybe at its heart.

The House Rules Committee held a hearing on the bill this afternoon. One Republican candidate who won the party’s cross-nomination last time, in opposition to the bill, said there are reasons people are attracted to other than the major parties – including a lot of younger people.

Linda Williams of Portland, one of the founders of the Independent party, pointed out that her group has explicitly described itself as a party, not as a category for non-affiliateds. “I’m a little skeptical if people who tell me that’s very confusing,” she said. The party has invested a lot of time, money and publicity, after all, in promoting itself under its banner.

But the new bill may be specially problematic because of the likelihood that it’s unconstitutional.

Sal Peralta, one of the party’s organizers, said he wasn’t sure how seriously to take the bill since it seemed so clearly unconstitutional. (Two former secretaries of state suggested that it probably ran afoul of the constitution.) “This bill is cynical political mischief at its worst,” Peralta quoted. (He also pointed out that the current Independent Party isn’t the first with that name in Oregon; one set up by Ross Perot did so as well.)

“There is no apparent proponent of the bill signed up to testify,” the chair, Representative Dave Hunt said, and the backing of it remains a little unclear. No legislator visibly supporter it as a sponsor. (There was some suggestion that it came from an interim committee, but that idea was spiked by a member of the interim committee.) Hunt acknowledged that the lack of visible support was a little unusual.

Representative Chris Garrett D-Lake Oswego said it was “inherently confusing” that the party called itself “independent” in the face of lots of voters who consider themselves independents. Might a quarter of the party members really think of themselves as lower-case independents?

Williams said that the party ran surveys to that effect – to try to sift out people who didn’t think of themselves as member of an Independent Party. They simply didn’t find a significant number of them. “People make mistakes with forms all the time,” she said. “If someone had intended to be nonaffiliated voter,” she said, they would not have been deprived of any voting opportunity. Where, exactly, is the harm?

A committee decision on the bill still lies ahead.

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