The House Rules Committee today held a hearing on House Bill 2442, which would force the Independent Party of Oregon to drop the word "Independent" from its name.
The Independent Party's name irks some Democrats, who say the rapidly growing IPO has taken unfair advantage of some voters' desire not to be affiliated with either major party.
(Although the IPO has been Oregon's fastest growing political party in recent years, its 65,693 members make up only about 3 percent of the Oregon electorate. Democrats are 42 percent; Republicans 32 percent and those non-affiliated voters who haven't been fooled into joining the IPO, 21 percent. The other 2 percent, according to state figures, belong to five other minor parties).
The heavy-handed attempt to side-swipe the IPO met with some equally weighty criticism today, particularly in the joint written testimony submitted by former Secretaries of State Norma Paulus (a Republican, who served from 1977 to 1985) and Phil Keisling (a Democrat, who served from 1991 to 1999).
Here is their joint testimony:
Chairs Olson and Hunt, members of the House Rules Committee,
It has come to our attention that your committee is weighing the merits of House Bill 2442, which would ban the use of the word “independent” in the name of a major or minor political party, and force the Independent Party of Oregon to change its name by the end of the year, or be disbanded.
During our combined 16 years of service as Oregon Secretary of State, we have administered more than 600 elections for state and federal office, and were responsible for regulating numerous minor and major political parties.
We are aware of no legal precedent in any jurisdiction in the United States that would allow a legislature to ban the use of a word in the name of a political party, and are highly skeptical that the Oregon Constitution, with its broad protections for free speech, would permit such an intrusion on the association and speech rights of a duly constituted political party. Pass this bill -- or even treat it semi-seriously -- and what's next? Bills to ban the word "republican" or "democratic" from other parties because one party in power feels threatened?
Since leaving public office, we have spent a great deal of time working to reform a system that has become increasingly partisan, to the detriment of the public interest. We have witnessed a steady erosion of public confidence in our democratic institutions as a result of this partisanship, to the point where recent polls have shown that nearly 60 percent of voters believe that a third party is needed because they do not feel well represented by either major party, and several recent polls that show record-levels of dissatisfaction with both the Oregon legislature and the US Congress.
Such public cynicism is justified when legislation is pushed by one or both major parties to silence the voice of a minor political party that is taking steps to encourage greater collaboration between the major parties and greater transparency in government.
Whatever one may think of the party's name, the Independent Party of Oregon has clearly established itself as a legitimate entity in this state. It provided all of its members with an opportunity to select the party's 2010 candidates by holding the largest nominating process ever conducted by an Oregon minor political party, and has distinguished itself as the first party in more than 100 years to hold a primary election at its own expense.
This bill is cynical, political mischief of the worst, most juvenile kind -- worthy of being thrown on the legislative scrap heap, so this body can get down to the important business at hand.