Writings and observations


In modern architecture its said the shape of a building should be based on its purpose. If a core purpose or function of Democracy is to allow all voters meaningful participation in elections, then the current form doesn’t follow function very well.

While the top two primary (Measure 90) failed in November by a wide margin, even many of its opponents said that there was some merit in trying to increase voter participation in primary elections. They also conceded there was some unfairness in taxpayers picking up the tab for the private party nominations for only the Democrats and Republicans. And let’s keep in mind there is nothing in the US or Oregon constitution that mandates our current political party paradigm. Nothing about political parties, or a two party system, or primary elections. It’s all a result of political decisions that can be altered given new facts and realities.

In an October 2014 City Club of Eugene Measure 90 debate Democratic Rep. Phil Barnhart claimed that “Rep. Val Hoyle has a bill on her desk right now that she’s working on to open up the primary process” That bill was apparently HB 3500 which was referred to in Salem as “Rep. Hoyle’s open primary bill”.

The bill was filed March 19th, 2015, and never gained traction. That’s largely because HB 3500 was anything but an “open primary” or any version of election reform. HB 3500 actually would have closed the Oregon primary even more.

As we go forward the question will be:

How committed are the Democrats to election reform?

If you look at recent history, the answer is: Not very. HB 3500 had a hearing but got little support. Largely we hope because it was exposed here on Oregon Outpost as not any type of open primary, but simply a same day registration bill for mail in ballots and a way to get NAV leaners to register as Democrats or Republicans. So when the bill lost support it was decided to set up a study group to consider election reform laws for the next session. A study group generally means, we don’t want reforms. But a study group it is.

The elephant in the room for Democrats is this. Democrats are very proud of their positions on democracy reform. Nationally, they oppose voter ID laws and celebrated the passage of Motor Voter and the expansion of voter rolls. All pro democracy – pro reform ideologically. But, like the Republican Party, are also protective of their prerogatives as a major party. Taxpayer funded nominations. First past the post voting to assure two party control. Closed primaries so their base determines their nominees. Add to that the Democratic and Republican Parties are shedding members like an Akita during a Florida summer, so making it even easier to participate in our Demoracy as a non D or R isn’t really in their best interest. Forcing voters to choose between being a Democrat or Republican is.

Add to that mix two other factors. Gerrymandering and Motor Voter and it becomes even more difficult for Democrats to reconcile their open democracy and full participation philosophy with their desire to maintain political power and control.

What The Democratic (and Republicans) have constructed in legal form through election laws is this. 85% safe Districts. Fewer D and R voters both in real numbers and as a percentage of total voters. A Huge number of new voters because of Motor Voter (Going from about 2.1 million to 2.9 million voters) most of whom will likely be Non affiliated voters, since they won’t be opting for party affiliation at DMV by filling out a registration card as is now required.

Look at where this leads.

The current voter registration is approximately:

Democratic 38%
Republican 30%
Non Affiliated 24.5%
IPO 5%
Other 2.5%

So today the D’s and R’s can at least say that currently almost 70% of all Oregon voters can participate in our primary elections.

But what happens with Motor Voter? Even now half of all new registered voters opt to be non affiliated. For those new passively registered Motor Voters who are initially registered NAV I think it’s fairly safe to say that 80% won’t opt to join any party. And, since the Democratic and Republican Parties are already seeing their market shares decrease (See analysis for who is leaving the D’s and R’s) those two parties will realize significant drops in market shares in total voters even without Motor Voter.

Generously assuming that 20% of the Motor Voters join a party, and they join in the current pro rata shares that exist now, in two years, you can expect the market shares to be something like this:

Democratic 31.5%%
Republican 24.5%
IPO 4%
NAV 38.5%

That would mean that absent election reforms, almost half of Oregon Voters won’t be able to participate in the primary election unless changes are made.

So here’s the political and philosophical dilemma for Democrats – who have the power to write and rewrite the election rules – face.

Do they keep the election rules as they are – which will further empower their party voters but assures that there will be even fewer contested elections and fewer Oregonians eligible to participate in our elections? Or do they follow their political philosophy of empowering voters and expanding our Democracy by reforming our election process. Even if doing so diminishes the power of their political base a sliver?

We’ll soon see. Because the makeup of the study group will tell us all we need to know. And recent history is not on the side of true reform. Word from a reliable source is that when HB 3500 was being drafted and shared with stakeholders, Democratic Leadership’s staff let it be known that the core purpose of HB 3500 was to figure a way to get NAV leaners and new Motor Voters to register as Democrats. Not to empower NAV’s. So just watch the membership of the Study committee. Will it be the most partisan Democrats and Republicans? Or will it include at least one member of Oregon’s third major Party, and a minor party representative, perhaps a well known academic, and maybe even some NAV voters?

We should hope for the best. There are plenty of smart, fair and honest people of all political affiliations who could be appointed to this study committee and who would propose options that widen participation, protect the prerogatives of the parties and further our mutual desire for better more cooperative and more consensus governance.

Or, It could be that depending on who is appointed, the best we can hope is that they don’t come up with yet another proposal that appears to be reform, but just more firmly empowers the Democratic and Republican parties at the expense of all Oregon voters.

If form really does follow function, then the results from the study committee will inform us as to what the Democrats truly believe the function of elections is. To elect Democrats? Or to assure a well functioning Democracy.

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harris ROBERT


The following statistics are from the latest National Education Association report of 2014 for the 50 State plus the District of Columbia. (Except as noted)

Average US per capita income is $44,200
Oregon per capita income is $39,258 making it 34th of 51 States + DC
The US average paid in local and state taxes per capita is $6,414 which is 14.5% of total average per capita US income (NEA latest stats was for 2011-12)
In Oregon, the average paid in local and state taxes is $6,093 (26 of 51), and is 15.5% of total per capita income. ( NEA latest stats was for 2011-12)
K-12 school revenue in Oregon is $11,988 per pupil versus the national average of $12,357. Making Oregon the 25th of 51 and 97% of the national average.
The national average teacher salary is $56,610, while average teacher salary in Oregon is $58,638 which is 103.6% of the national average making Oregon 14 of 51 in highest salary. (Salaries don’t include other compensation such as retirement, or health insurance, so Oregon, with its excellent benefit program is likely in the top 6 States +DC for total compensation per teacher)
The average student teacher ratio in the US is 15.9, while Oregon has a teacher student ratio of 21.5, Number 3 highest of 51 and 135% of the US average.

While Oregon is slightly below average in per pupil revenue we are well below the US average in per capita income. So individual taxpayers are paying a larger share of our lower than average income in taxes than most other states in order to fund an education system that pays its staff some of the highest total compensation in the country. (Compensation includes not only salary, but retirement and health care)

About 85% of school spending is on salaries and compensation. High cost per teacher and lower than average financial support for schools can result in only one thing. Fewer teachers who try their best in crowded classes during fewer classroom hours.

While most people agree on the problem, not enough revenue to pay for more teachers and classroom hours, we don’t agree on the solution, which has to be either cost containment in individual total compensation, or increased revenue. The question is, what is more fair. Or what is the least unfair way to deal with the financial crisis.

I don’t think there is serious consideration of decreasing K-12 spending or teacher salary, so the goal of any changes should be to increase the number of teachers and/or the classroom time. Or hopefully both.

Oregon will adopt a k-12 budget of about 7.3 Billion dollars/ biennium. In order to get Oregon’s education spending to the US average it would take an additional 3% increase, or about $220 million per bi-ennium, or $110 million per year. But where would that come from?

Oregon individual taxpayers are already paying a higher share of their income in state and local taxes than average. So individual taxpayers can argue that they are doing more than their part already.

What about other sources of revenue? The Tax Foundation ranks Oregon as 12th best in business tax climate. According to that article Oregon has the fourth lowest overall sales tax burden nationally for businesses. So we have a relatively friendly business tax rate – with a lot of specific tax breaks and tax expenditures for businesses – and one type of common business tax that is extremely low. If were looking for additional revenue, absent complete structural tax reform, the source that could be deemed most fair would fall on those who already have a good deal. Additionally increasing an inordinately low business tax rate would have the least negative impact on Oregon business competitiveness.

We should consider imposing a gross business receipts tax which is in essence a type of sales tax on businesses. It would be very simple to adminster, and could be very modest, and not subject to special tax breaks for favored businesses.

Oregon’s GDP in 2013 was $220 Billion. In order to raise $110 Million per year for education, an educational fund specific gross receipts tax would only have to be .05%. For a business with $1 million in gross revenue it would cost an additional $500/year. Not insignificant, but at a cost of less than $42/month, one that should be manageable by a million dollar business.

Why should we increase revenues for k-12 at all you ask? Because it would be part of the trade off in cost containment.

Is it fair to take actions that control the costs of individual teacher compensation? Since Oregon is below average in per capita income, and above average in per teacher costs salary, I believe the answer to be yes. We can maintain a comparatively good salary for teachers, especially teachers with less than 12 years experience, and control costs in benefits where possible.

But, we have court decisions that have to be followed, and contracts that have not yet expired. So Controlling costs means changes in political and legal paradigms. You can’t simply wave a wand.

Ban teacher strikes. Oregon is one of only 12 states that allow teacher strikes. The other 38 states all believe that public education is a public necessity and therefor require other methods to resolve labor disagreements. We’ve shown in a prior article how States that allow teacher strikes tend to have higher costs, and worse educational outcomes than states that ban teacher strikes.

Banning teacher strikes would allow school boards, particularly those in smaller communities, a more balanced playing field when negotiation with local teacher unions. Don’t put a child’s education at risk over hardball negotiation tactics. Banning strikes doesn’t mean teacher unions don’t have power to negotiate forcefully or aggressively. It just means they can’t threaten to close schools as the ultimate threat in contract negotiations.

Make all Public teachers state employees. This would allow the State to negotiate the terms of all teacher contracts going forward. While this would take away some local control. It may the they type of control a school board would be happy to cede. The School Board could then concentrate on curriculum, facilities, and budgeting and not get into a personally disagreeable negotiation with teachers, who they rely on for expertise and input in improving the local schools.

Most importantly: Condition the imposition of the business gross receipts tax on using it to hire teachers. One problem with simply increasing a tax with the intent of using it for a stated purpose is ensuring that’s what it’s used for. Rather than having the gross receipts tax go into the general fund, it could be directed to a special teacher hiring pool. These teachers, hired by the state, would be state employees and would be assigned to school districts as teachers on loan. These teachers could even be assigned based on a districts pro rata share of students, or assignment could be conditioned on the School Districts average teacher salary. The lower the average salary in a district, the more State pool teachers they could receive. This would make some sense. If a district is paying its teachers less, then the teachers in that district should have lower student / teacher ratios. The extra State pool teachers would allow the district to relieve its teachers of some workload, thus making better work conditions the trade off they would accept for their lower salary.

With an increase of $110 million in revenue per year, the State could hire almost 1,300 pool teachers at a cost of $85,000/teacher. According to the NEA report, in 2013 Oregon had 26,418 teachers (It’s unclear if this is FTE’s or total teachers, including part time). So that modest gross receipts tax on Oregon businesses could increase our available teachers by at least 5%.

Outside the box ideas:

An ROTC for teachers: This idea isn’t a revenue idea. But there is a model for recruiting highly qualified candidates in a profession they may not otherwise consider. The Military pays for higher education through the Reserve Officer Training Corp as long as the candidates commits to serving in the military for a period of time after graduation. Oregon could consider a similar program for teachers. And at a little additional cost. If successful it would also end up producing more Oregonians with graduate degrees.

This program would offer any qualified undergraduate student who gets a teaching degree and teaches in a public school for five years two years of free tuition in any Oregon State university system graduate program. The “cost” to the State would be minimal. We already operate these schools, and adding a few more students would have a relatively small marginal cost.

Such a program should encourage high achievers who would like to go to grad school, but don’t have the finances, to consider a career in teaching to start. Hopefully, many of those teachers would even stick to the teaching profession. But even if they didn’t, the program should attract some dynamic and high level undergraduate students who may never have thought of a career in teaching, but would be willing to do it to finance their ultimate goal of a graduate degree.

It may be difficult, but there is a deal to be done here. We could Increasing revenues to get Oregon up to the national average. Out of fairness, the revenues would not come from individuals, as they are already paying their share, but through an increase in a business tax that is currently very low as compared to other states. This also has the benefit of having the least impact on Oregon’s economic competitiveness.

We should dedicate that increased revenue specifically to hiring more teachers making the greatest impact on student / teacher ratios and class room time.

Other non revenue/spending options that could also improve our school system should also be considered as part of the agreement to raise taxes and revenue. Particularly legislation banning teacher strikes and encouraging more students to consider a career in the teaching profession.

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harris ROBERT


Three recall efforts against Oregon State Legislators were announced this week. The recall was prompted by the Legislators’ support of SB 941 which requires background checks for all private gun sales in Oregon.

A Hillsboro man, Benjamin Busch, claimed to have submitted recall petitions against Rep. Susan McLain (D-HD 29-Hillsboro) and Sen. Chuck Riley (D-SD-15- Hillsboro). While The Riley recall petition was filed April 14th, 2015, as of April 17th, 2015, no recall petition had been filed against McLain. And in a direct challenge to the Democratic Leadership, a Gun shop owner from Junction City filed a recall petition against House Majority Leader Rep. Val Hoyle (D-HD-14-Eugene) on April 14th, 2015.

Rep. Hoyle is thought to be a target partially due to her courting the support of gun owners- or courting them to not support her opponent- in the 2014 general election. Her support of background checks could have been considered a betrayal.

The Washington County organizers of the recall for Sen. Riley also raised Senator Riley’s support for a more robust modification of Gain Share than is supported in Washington County. Riley’s position on Gain Share modification has raised the ire of the business community in his District and the Gun bill opponents believe their recall effort against Riley could receive financial and political aid from the Washington County Business community.

Short Takes:

Gun enthusiasts successfully recalled two state legislators in Colorado after Colorado had adopted a law requiring background checks and limiting the size of gun magazines.

According to a 2013 Pew Research Poll, 81% of all Americans support background checks for all gun sales.

Rep. McLain’s House District is part of Sen Riley’s Senate District. Riley’s position on Gain Share makes him more vulnerable than Rep. McLain. The fact that there is no recall petition against McLain yet could be an indication that the petitioners may be focusing their efforts on Riley hoping to raise funds from the business community in their recall efforts. And, remember Riley won the 2014 election for his seat by a mere 221 votes out of almost 40,000 cast while McLain won her district easily.

The other clue that Riley is a prime target for recall is the initial petition for recall named a local resident as Treasurer of the recall committee. Today an amended filing named Carol Russell as Treasurer. Russell, in spite of some serious allegations of civil (and possible criminal) fraud, is still a go to Treasurer for many Republican candidates and committees, and is also the Treasurer for the Hoyle recall committee.

Recall supporters will have to get almost 6,000 signatures of voters in their respective districts to force a recall vote for Riley, and almost 3,000 signatures to force a recall for Hoyle or McLain. While that may make Hoyle or McLain the easier target, paying for signatures is the smallest cost associated with a recall. The recall election is however, expensive.

The Oregon Constitution states that if a legislator is recalled, the office is vacant, and it’s filled in the manner provided by law. So if a recall suceeds the seat is considered vacant and the County’s Democratic Party would nominate three Democrats, forwards them to their County Commission, and the Commission would select one of the three. THe Washington County Commission is dominated by business conservatives. And the Lane County Commission also isn’t a hotbed of the tea party. So, it’s really unlikely the pro firearm rights petitioners are going to get their wish even if they are successful with the recall. They are unlikely to get a more gun friendly legislator. So the ultimate result won’t be a change in policy. It will just be more taxpayer expense to have what amounts to a gun enthusiast desire to punish a couple of legislators.

The real potential benefit in all this mess would be for Washington County government and the City of Hillsboro. Sen. Riley is the rare Democrat in Washington County who doubts the fairness or wisdom of Gain Share. It’s almost a sure thing that if Riley is recalled, at least one of the three candidates the Washington County Democrats name as his replacement (Most likely all three) would be a big supporter of retaining as much Gain Share money for the local governments as possible. (Think Tobias Read, type). And the Washington County Commission is sure to select the candidate who has the “best” position on Gain Share. Even if that candidate wanted to ban gun sales all together.

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harris ROBERT


Do you think that taxpayers have an obligation to pay for the food, shelter and health care for the employees of certain businesses in Oregon? Because that’s what happens when a business pays less to it’s workers than is required to feed, house and care for their workforce.

A new report by Oregon’s Legislative Revenue Office, prepared at the request of Republican Rep. Julie Parrish, really tells the story of how taxpayers subsidize low wage businesses. The report shows that if the minimum wage were raised to $15.00/hour an average minimum wage worker would see an increase in total compensation of only $49/month. Even though their gross paycheck would increase by almost $1,000/month. Why is that?

Because as that worker makes more money they lose taxpayer paid benefits that go to some low income workers. Housing assistance, Oregon trail card eligibility (food stamps), and other public benefits would all be reduced for that worker as the minimum wage grows. In fact, the study concludes that a single parent with two kids would lose $30/mo total income plus benefits if the minimum wage were raised to $13.10/hour. Which points out that in reality, workers may be better off if the minimum wage were left unchanged, or raised to at least $15.00/hour. Increases in the range of $12.00/hour would certainly help the teenager who lives with their parents, but would hurt workers who receive other public benefits and are arguably the neediest such as single parents with children.

Increasing the minimum wage reduces the amount of taxpayer benefits paid to the working poor, and shifts the cost of paying for a healthy workforce onto the businesses who use that workforce. A low minimum wage socializes the costs of business. A higher minimum wage allocates the costs to the users. And it’s perfectly fine if those businesses then pass that cost along to the consumer. That’s capitalism.

Increasing the minimum wage also promotes another conservative principle. Reduction in government spending and an increase in individual freedom. With an increased wage, workers should have more choices in their lives. Rather than housing vouchers to be used only for qualified residences, they could use their extra pay to rent whatever they wanted. Or they could live with relatives and pocket the difference. Workers would no longer be tied to the restrictions that come with how they may use some forms of government benefits. And of course, with less need for the administration of benefits, perhaps government could even be reduced in size.

And finally, as the study shows that there is very little net increase in total income for many workers after you take into account the loss of benefits, those certain conservatives who believe that low income workers don’t deserve any raise can take comfort in the fact that it isn’t really a raise for many, it’s just shifting the cost from taxpayer to the business that benefits.

Increasing the minimum wage is a much fairer way to allocate the cost of that business and is closer to what most conservatives want. Make those that use government services to keep a healthy workforce pay for it by raising the minimum wage. Quit socializing the cost of production.

There are some downsides here. It is calculated that an increase in the minimum wage would cost Oregon approximately 20,000 jobs, or about 1% of total jobs. And, riasing the minimum wage would be a huge increase for workers who don’t receive benefits so the taxpayers wouldn’t receive any savings for those workers. (Which is why the earned income refundable tax credit could be a better way to deal with the single parent worker than raising the minimum wage)

A good article in the Oregonian explains the details of the calculation a bit more.

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harris ROBERT


Hero: [heer-oh] noun, plural heroes; also heros. 1. a person of distinguished courage or ability, admired for his brave deeds and noble qualities. 2. a person who, in the opinion of others, has heroic qualities or has performed a heroic act and is regarded as a model or ideal:

Police forces on the defensive and in fear of patrolling our streets. Protests in cities large and small. Police and community afraid of the other.

How did it become such a binary and non-nuanced argument, with defenders of our blue line insistent that any critique of police techniques or actions is an attack on them personally and endangers their safety? And why are some critics of police tactics and individual officers insisting that all police are corrupt and dangerous?

Our current culture of unquestioned hero worship of regular people just doing their jobs – difficult jobs – and a police culture embracing that hero worship could be a primary cause of the disconnect.

Heroes aren’t supposed to be wrong. Or bad. Or make mistakes. Post 9/11 it seems it’s assumed – and we’re constantly being coaxed to publicly acknowledge – that every single public safety officer is a hero. So when an officer does something bad or makes a mistake, it engenders a sense of real betrayal . You expect bad guys to be bad. You expect imperfect humans to make mistakes. You don’t expect either from a hero.

The unquestioned hero worship is unfair to officers as well. If an officer has been told for 15 years that they are without question a hero by putting on a uniform, there could be a sense of entitlement by that officer. Heroes may not expect to be criticized for their errors or may become overzealous because of righteousness. They may not expect to be talked back to or questioned. All of these behaviors are bound to lead to some very bad interactions with the public.

Without a doubt it takes a person with some bravery to enter a profession where you face bad guys and unpleasant situations on a daily basis. And even though police officer isn’t in the top ten most dangerous jobs (33 officers died by unlawful violence in the line of duty in 2013), it is still dangerous physically even if officer deaths. Officers engage in scuffles and incur minor and major injuries. And the threat of violence itself is stressful and mentally damaging.

I know a lot of officers and for the most part they are good decent people doing the best they can. They take their job seriously, some are very talented and positive influences in the community. And when they make mistakes, I assume they were acting in good faith doing the best they can. They simply made a mistake as we all do. Of course their jobs are particularly difficult at times, and their mistakes can carry severe consequences so we all hope that mistakes are rare. And if an officer makes too many mistakes, for the safety of the officer and others, it may be best for all of us if they to choose another profession. Either voluntarily or not.

And if they are dishonest, or corrupt they need to be immediately terminated, and if appropriate, prosecuted.

But applying for the job and putting on the uniform is too low of a standard to award a hero label. Some have acted heroically in the line of duty. And that is worthy of praise as a hero. But we can’t tell who has acted heroically based just on a uniform.

Our public servants who wear a uniform are humans. With human frailties and qualities. They may be in general a braver and more heroic group of people than most of us and in fact some of those people wearing uniforms do heroic acts in the performance of their jobs. It would be beneficial to officers, police forces and our communities if we just stopped the hero worship of the uniform. If we did that, maybe the public could more easily accept the occasional mistake for what it is, a mistake. And perhaps some officers would have a better understanding of a community’s legitimate concern and occasional outrage when officers engage in over reach, dishonesty, and abuse of power.

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harris ROBERT


The Oregon Secretary of States office released the November voter registration totals today. While total registrations shrank by 0.12%, The Independent Party grew by over a half a percent in a single month and now has 108,446 members. Democratic Party membership shrank twice as fast as overall voter reduction at 0.25% and and the Republican Party shrank at the same rate as registered voters – 0.12%

But the big news is that the Independent Party of Oregon is 292 members away from becoming Oregon’s first new major party in …..a lot of years. The IPO gained 534 new members in November and appears to be poised to hit the major party standard (5% of all registered voters as of the most recent general election) possibly as soon as December, 2014.

Phil Keisling has been heard to have said that the IPO reaching major party status would be a game changer. Especially if, as has been discussed, it elects to open it’s May 2016 primary to NAV voters.

IPO leaders have been in discussions with officials at the Oregon Secretary of State office to coordinate the implementation of major party status and do discuss how non affiliated voters could participate in the IPO May Primary election.

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harris ROBERT


We know that the Oregon Republican Party is in financial crisis. Not necessarily individual candidates or officials, many had well funded campaigns and were able to raise money and had money spent on their behalf by independent expenditure organizations.

But the Republican Party of Oregon itself has done little in the way of fundraising or candidate support. Here is some data from ORESTAR for December, 2014. And while the graph above displays cash balance, just as important is the data on money raised and money spent in support of organization and candidates. If the GOP had raised and spent $2,000,000, their cash balance wouldn’t be concerning.

PARTY 2014 Income 2014 Expenses Current Cash

Democratic $ 2,359,768 $2,328.974 $ 148,201
Republican $22,436 $29,836 $ 600
Independent $15,553 $11,050 $15,562

Of course each county has a local Democratic and Republican Party. Perhaps the Republican focused their party building efforts locally? A spot check of the larger counties dispels that theory.

The Multnomah and Washington County Democratic Party organizations combined raised $131,133, spent $180,148 and were left with a cash balance of $82,198.

The Clackamas and Washington County Republican Party organizations combined raised $38,884, spent $60,670 and had a cash balance of $12,167. So while the local Republican Parties did provide more candidate support than the State organization, they still trailed the local Democratic Organizations badly and don’t come close to providing the type of candidate support that the Democratic State Party provided.

Do State Parties still matter? Today campaigns can be run separate from the Party so do these stark differences mean anything? Dark money groups and individual expenditure committees funded by wealthy individuals and corporate interests can and do finance individual candidates. But that strategy takes a toll on central organization and the ability to build a coherent brand, strategy and volunteer base. And the drawback of candidates going it alone is that their party is abandoned to the most active and partisan volunteers. Without adequate funding and investment by the candidates and party financiers, a Party’s brand can be hijacked by narrowly focused interest groups with a zealous agenda. And if the brand is tarnished in the minds of 60% of the voters, candidates in swing districts will be more harmed than helped by association with the Party.

Of course this could be a chicken and egg question for the Oregon GOP. Did the financiers abandon support for a centralized Republican Party because of zealous over reach by Party activists? Or did the zealous activists simply fill a void left when the financiers decided they could have more influence and control by more directly funding individual candidates. And if its the latter, can the Oregon GOP donors rebuild the brand by focusing on statewide party building efforts rather than individual candidates?

Regardless, there is currently no organization that adequately represents Oregon voters who are more economically conservative than the Democratic Party base, but more socially liberal than the GOP base. That void is evidenced by the boom of the independent voter movement and by studies that show both the Democratic and Republican Parties become more polarized and partisan. Whether the Independent Party of Oregon can fill that void and actively recruit and help finance candidates in Oregon Swing districts could be answered by the amount of funding it is able to attract between now and 2016, when its candidates will be appearing on the May primary ballot with the big kids.

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harris ROBERT


In the Governors election in Maine this year, voters had three candidates to chose from:

Current Governor Paul LePage of whom USA today wrote:

“Brutal” is also how critics describe LePage’s record since 2010, when he became governor with 39% of the vote in a three-way race. LePage cut welfare rolls, vetoed Medicaid expansion, passed an income tax cut and then reduced municipal revenue sharing to pay for it — all the while calling legislators “idiots,” state workers “corrupt,” and telling the NAACP to “kiss my butt.” “He’s piggish and bullheaded and not really listening to what the people are saying,” says Rebecca Kowaloff, 30, a doctor and Democratic voter in Portland.

Democratic candidate Mike Michaud described in that same article:

A third-generation paper mill worker who never attended college and stayed on the job until he went to Washington in 2002, he can compete with LePage for blue-collar and Franco-American loyalty. He criticizes LePage for kicking people off welfare — he wants to provide some benefits for people in low-wage jobs — and for “the negativity he keeps spewing.” Michaud has won six terms by hefty margins in the northern, more conservative half of Maine and before that served as president of the state Senate.

And Independent Candidate Eliot Cutler.

Cutler lost the Governors race to LePage back in 2010 by less than 2%. Cutler is an environmental lawyer and active in independent rights movement. In his 2010 campaign for Governor he was endorsed by virtually all the major newspapers.

Despite Cutlers nearly winning in 2010 in a one on one contest against LePage,this year in a three way race he received a meager 8% of the vote in 2014. Could his support have dropped that much? No. The reason is that our current system of voting – you select one candidate – means that in a three way race if you believe your favorite candidate can’t win, then you cast your vote against your least favorite.

It’s a sad form of Democracy that doesn’t let voters vote for their first choice.

But, luckily The Center for Election Science was on the scene in Maine on election day. They polled over 600 voters as they left the voting places and had them vote on the Governors race using approval voting and Instant Runoff Voting (IRV) with ranked choice. They also have them vote in head to head races between the three candidates.

The results should simply shock us and make people really think about whether the current voting method serves the people, or the Democratic and Republican parties.

Approval voting is a method of voting where a voter can vote for – or approve- of as many candidates as they wish. So many Maine voters who voted for both the Democrat and Republican also approved of Cutler as Governor. In fact, Cutler had the most voters approve of him.

IRV, or instant runoff, allows voters to rank their choices 1, 2 or 3. There is math done. The results in the graph show the result after the math is applied in a first round. Under this voting system Michaud would have been eliminated in the first round, and Cutler and LePage would have moved into a final head to head round. As you can see on the right side of the graph, Cutler would have slaughtered LePAge 60% – 40% in a top two runoff.

The circles are head to head races between the three candidates. The best candidate would be the one that could beat every other candidate head to head. That would be Cutler who holds a 20% margin over either the Democrat or Republican in head to head.

This should be shocking to voters. Simply shocking.

Cutler has the deepest and widest support among voters. It is clear that LePage’s victory made over 50% of the voters unhappy. A Michaud victory would have had the same effect. But a Cutler victory would have satisfied 55-60% of the voters.

Our system is structurally set up to not select the best most satisfying winner. Many of us cannot vote for our favorite candidate, we have to vote against our least favorite. At least as long as the psychology that only a Democrat or Republican can win a three way election.

And if that psychology can’t be changed, we need to change the way we vote from plurality to approval – or arguably to IRV.

A ballot measure switching our voting to approval voting should be the highest priority for election reformers. In fact, it should be the top priority for those who seek campaign finance reform. Because if voters are allowed to approve of third party candidates without the fear of throwing the election to their least favorite candidate, you may even see some third party or independent candidates win some state elections.

And approval voting doesn’t require an amendment to the US Constitution. It just takes some signatures on a ballot and educating the voters on the merits of moving our voting into the 21st century.

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harris ROBERT


The Strategic Decision:

In early 2014, as a group of election reformers were strategizing on their best chances to change our voting system they made a critical decision.

Mark Frohnmayer, one of the chief architects of the four different draft initiatives, favored initiative 54 which included an open primary with approval voting and a top two final election.

newsApproval voting is a scientifically tested model of voting that according to voting experts will produce a more satisfying result for the most voters and is not as subject to manipulation as other types of voting. (For more on voting theory go to The Center for Election Science).

Jim Kelly, an active and generous supporter of election reform, favored initiative 55. I-55 included the open primary with a top two general election, but not approval voting. It continued our current system known as first past the post voting. All electors would vote for a single candidate in an open primary and only the top two would move onto the final general election.

Kelly and his supporters believed that including approval voting and an open primary would be too big of a leap for voters. Kelly’s argument won the day and all the money coalesced behind Initiative 55 which won a place on the Oregon General election ballot as Measure 90. (Note: Frohmnayer believed that M90 included an implicit charge to the Legislature to implement a form of approval voting or IRV as well. Others contest that mandate)

When A Door Shuts a Window Opens:

Measure 90 was crushed. It wasn’t enough of a change to inspire many independents, it ignored the legitimate concerns of minor parties who felt marginalized, and it went too far for major parties and their base who believed an open primary threatened their influence.

But while M90 failed it did stir up a lot of debate and ideas by opponents, many of whom did agree that there were ways to improve our democracy through election and voting reform. While it may have been a cynical position, the meme from many major party activists during the election was that they weren’t against election reform and getting more people involved in voting per se, but that M90 was not the answer. The most common theme was that an open primary wasn’t real reform. Real reform would be some form of instant runoff voting (IRV), or ranked choice voting, or some other similar voting method. One that would empower more voters while respecting the rights of major and minor parties.

These major party activists who were fighting against M90 were making some of Frohnmayer’s argument. It isn’t necessarily the top two feature that is the critical reform, it’s the voting mechanism that is critical to making reform work and empowering voters.

So, in continuing that conversation with open minded Democrats and Republicans I’d like you to consider this.

Approval voting as applied to news sources.

Pew Research recently released a study which asked news consumers to rank their favorite news source and the trustworthiness of most of the better known news sources. The results were sorted by political leaning.

Using this data we can demonstrate the differences between first past the post and approval voting, and how approval voting with an open primary leads to more satisfying choices for more people, and allows for incremental changes and a political consensus without the need to compromise on principle when voting.

Pew’s Methodology:

Pew first identified five political cohorts of news consumers.

Consistent Liberals
Mostly Liberal
Mostly Conservative
Consistently Conservative

These consumers were asked two specific questions producing data sets for each question broken down into the political cohorts.

What is your main source of government and political news
Do you Trust or Distrust a source of news

The Set up:

Lets assume that we were to take a national vote on the following question.

If there was a national emergency and all communications were compromised in the US, and we could use limited public resources to re-establish communication for a single news source, which news source would it be?

The Pew data lets us simulate this vote using both a closed primary and first past the post voting method and the approval voting method with or without a closed primary.

I. Closed Primary, First Past the Post

First, we sort the data into “parties”

The consistent liberals and mostly liberal will stand for Democrats
The Mixed will be the independents and non affiliated
The mostly conservative and consistently conservative represent Republicans

Next using the data set “What is your main source of news broken down by political type” which is identical to a first past the post voting method, we determine the Democratic and Republican closed primary winners. The independent cohort is ignored. Here are the “primary results” for Democrats and Republicans

Democratic Primary:

CNN: 35%
NPR: 22%
MSNBC: 17%
Local TV: 16%
New York Times: 10%

And the Republican Primary Results:

Fox News: 77%
Local Radio: 17%
Local TV: 11%
CNN: 9%
Yahoo News: 6%

A general election would feature CNN and Fox as well as any minor party and independent candidates.

II. Open primary using first past the post voting. Top two final election

Using this same data set – what is your main source of news – and including the independent voter results creating an open primary election would result in this:

CNN: 16%
Fox: 15%
Local TV 10%
NPR: 5%
Local Radio 4%

So, whether you have an open or closed primary, if you were to use first past the post voting the results are the same. The final top two are CNN and Fox News. The downside with the open primary with a top two and first past the post voting is that no smaller market niche news sources (MSNBC, Wall Street Journal) would appear on the General election ballot. That seems to be the worst result of all options. In a closed primary using first past the post voting, even though the smaller news outlets may stand no chance of winning in a final election (see full Pew results) their voices can be important in the final election as their points of view may be adopted by the major contenders in order to reduce the chance that the minor choices could act as spoilers. And this was the exact argument that I believe won the day for M90 opponents

III. Approval Voting – Closed Primary- Top two

The second set of data, whether a news consumer trusts or distrusts a news source, is an approval style of voting. If you trust a news source I would argue that it’s the same as saying you approve it. If you distrust it, you would pretty clearly not give it an approval vote.

Here are the top 5 most trusted news sources by party in a closed primary

Democratic Primary

CNN: 61%
PBS: 60.5%
NBC News: 59.5%
ABC New: s 55.5%
NPR: 54%

Republican Primary

Fox News: 80%
Sean Hannity Show: 45%
Rush Limbaugh Show: 42.5%
Glenn Beck Program: 37.5%
Wall Street Journa: l 31%

(Important note: CNN is the Republican’s 6th most trusted news source)

You get identical results using approval voting in a closed primary. You would again have Fox and CNN facing off against each other in a general election. And since it’s a closed primary you would again have minor party and independent candidates on the general election ballot in a closed primary system.

IV. Approval Voting – Open Primary (With or without top two or runoff)

Adding the approval/trust ratings of the independents, Democratic and Republicans into an open primary with approval voting and you get:

CNN: 54%
ABC News: 50%
NBC News: 50%
CBS News: 46%
Fox New: s 44%

Now there’s something drastically different. Fox isn’t even in the top four most trusted. Because so many independents and Democrats simply don’t trust Fox.

Since the Pew data doesn’t do a head to head comparison of CNN and ABC/NBC (tied for the second spot but lets say ABC news was in second. For the sake of argument), it’s not possible to say who would win in a top two runoff between CNN and ABC . If there were no top two runoff, then CNN is selected. If there is, then ABC and CNN face off against each other in a final election or runoff.


Simply changing to an open primary while maintaining first past the post voting may not change any dynamics or options in a general election for major parties. But it would exclude Minor party candidates in November. A bad result and a good reason to have opposed M90.

Simply changing first past the post to approval voting in a closed primary may not change the dynamics of our elections, at least as long as the major parties maintain such a high degree of partisanship. Though it would allow minor party and independent candidates to participate in November. A better result IMO than open primary with first past the post.

An open primary with approval voting and a top two final election provides better choices for independents and even arguable for mostly liberal and mostly conservative voters. Because having ABC or NBC news in the general election provides the mostly conservatives with a better chance of seeing their second most trusted news source rather than their 6th most trusted news source (Remember only 16% of Republicans trust CNN – the presumptive winner in a head to head against Fox – as a news source)

With an open primary, approval voting, and top two general election, ABC or NBC news would have an opportunity to convince more news consumers to change their vote in the general election, perhaps by hiring Wolf Blitzer, or adding programming like All Things considered or Radio Lab to their lineup which could attract some independent liberals)

Check out the top five in the closed and open primary. Both with and without approval voting. Under first post the post and closed primary with or witout approval voting, you see what some would consider very liberal and very conservative top finishers. However In the open primary with approval voting you see more consistent mainstream media in the top 5. While some may claim this is a bad outcome, and reduces clear choices, that’s only true if you don’t believe in incremental change and government by consensus. But, it is a valid critique.

You could reach the same result as the open primary + approval voting without a primary. Which would allow minor parties to participate in the most important election. The benefit of having preliminary vote is that it allows a short time for the top two to form coalitions to attract voters prior to the general election. Consider a September preliminary open primary with approval voting and a November top two. Or no primary, a general election with approval voting, and a runoff in December if no one achieves 50% plus one.

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harris ROBERT


Almost a hundred people attended The Equal Vote Conference held at the University of Oregon Law School Saturday October 4th

Former Attorney General Dave Frohnmayer greeted the attendees/ The conference focused on election reforms and featured a debate between proponents and opponents of Measure 90 (top two primary).

The conference opened with explanations of two main voting reforms. Rob Richie Executive Director of FairVote.org presented the case for preferential voting with instant runoff elections (IRV), while Aaron Hamlin from the Center For Election Science, argued the benefits of Approval Voting as a superior voting system.

That session was followed by Jackie Salit, a national figure promoting the rights of independent voters and President of IndependentVoting.org. Salit humorously recounted listening to OPB’s “Think Out Loud” while in her rental car driving to Eugene from Roseberg, where she had met with an organization of independent voters the day before. The OPB analysts had seemed confused how the pro top two primary coalition could include both major candidates for Governor, the Working Families Party, wealthy philanthropists, independent voters and businesses, while opponents included the leaders of both the Democratic and Republican Parties. She was not shocked about the inability of the political establishment to understand the independent voter movement. However she noted the movement’s positive influence on politics already. “We’ve brought the Democratic and Republican Parties together and reduced partisanship” Salit joked.

A panel discussion followed Salit’s presentation. Salit Joined minor party leaders Barbara Hughes of the Working Families Party, Blair Bobier of the Pacific Green Party, Dan Meek of the Independent Party of Oregon. Hughes said the Working Families Party was in favor of M-90. Bobier explained that the Pacific Green Party was in favor of election reform, but not M-90. Bobier beleived it would lead to the elimination of smaller minor parties and business interests would dominate the general election.

Dan Meek said the Independent Party platform focused on anti corruption and that election reform was a major part of the anti corruption efforts. Meek said that the inability of non affiliated voters to participate in the May primary would be addressed by 2016. By that date, according to Meek, the IPO would have reached major party status and participate in the May primary along with the Democratic and Republican parties. The IPO intended to allow non affiliated voters to participate in IPO primary elections. Given the growth of the IPO and non affiliated voters, and the decrease in GOP membership, it’s likely an open IPO primary would have more eligible voters than the GOP primary. (NOTE: Shortly after the conference the IPO formally endorsed M-90)

The next main session was a debate on Measure 90 between proponents Chief Petitioner Jim Kelly, and co draftsperson Mark Frohnmayer and opponents Rep. Phil Barnhart and Lane County Democratic Chair Julie Fahey. There were two memorable things from the debate. First, Barnharts continued refusal to answer questions he finds difficult. He simply labels them red herrings. And Second, Barnhart revealed that Democrat Rep. Val Hoyle was drafting a Democratic Party election change that would allow non affiliated voters to participate in the May primary election. They would simply have to request a Democratic of Republican ballot and wouldn’t be required to change party affiliation. This is actually a more restrictive type of semi open primary.

While the Hoyle proposal is a concession to voters unhappiness with Oregon’s closed primary, it’s worth noting that in New Hampshire, the only legally recognized political parties are the Democratic and Republican. How any election changes based on a State where the election laws have resulted in only two legally recognized political parties can fairly be characterized as “reform” I’d like explained to me. (1)

Some observations/comments:

Election reformers need to quit arguing about the “best” way to count votes. Whether it’s approval voting or preferential voting is not worth arguing about. Pick one. Then get together and work for legislation. Lack of agreement is being used by opponents of reform.
Anti Corruption reforms requires both election reform and campaign finance reform (CFR). Election reform by itself is subject to attack as both insufficient reform and subject to manipulation by powerful interests. Coupling CFR with election reform would innoculate the argument that large businesses are behind the anti corruption efforts.
I listened to discussions and debates about election reform between attendees during breaks. Non affiliated voters are naive to believe they can make any substantive improvements in our Democracy without a political organization that uses Oregon laws to their fullest effect. Forming the IPO and using the power of laws that were supposed to be intended to benefit solely the Democratic and Republican Parties is the most effective way to bring change. What the Democratic and Republican leaders most fear (not the average D or R member) is that non affiliated voters actually organize into a political force using the laws as they exist now. They are more than happy to debate all the laws you think should be implemented because they will talk them to death and propose a “non reform” reform.

Lastly, another conference should be held shortly after the November election. Whether it’s a discussion of how to implement M-90 – should it pass – or a discussion of other ways to reform our Democracy – should M 90 fail.

See you there.

1. I’ve read the New Hampshire “open primary” laws and believe the Oregon Democratic proposal – if based on these laws- is intended to give the illusion of choice, but designed to force minor party voters to choose between participating in primary elections or being minor party members. (More on that analysis as soon as the Democratic Party releases it’s primary election changes)

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