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Keisling's question.

Byline: The Register-Guard

Former Oregon Secretary of State Phil Keisling raised an interesting point in a column he wrote for The Oregonian a couple of days before the Nov. 5 election:

"While voters in the state rushed to the party door exit in the 1990s, state politics took an opposite turn that's reflected in widespread partisan bickering and a new state record: five failed special legislative sessions," he wrote. "One fairly obvious question might have been: Would electing and organizing the Oregon Legislature on a nonpartisan basis be any worse than the way we do business now?"

Keisling, a Democrat who served two years (1989-91) in the Oregon House from Portland and eight years (1991-99) as secretary of state, has the political credentials to raise such a thought-provoking issue. He's right that voters are less interested in a candidate's party than the politicians and the political parties. He's also right in pointing out that one-fourth of Oregonians don't belong to an organized political party. And he's quite right that the last few legislative sessions - and especially this year's five special sessions - have been dominated by partisan bickering.

Our instincts - and our long-time observation of the Legislature and legislative process - tell us that removing party labels from those who serve in the House and Senate might produce more common ground and less contentiousness. Legislators go to Salem only partly beholden to their parties. They also go with their own political philosophies that usually dictate which party they belong to. So removing party labels would eliminate just that - the labels - but would it also reduce the conflict of ideologies? It's doubtful, but it would certainly be an interesting experiment.

Keisling raised another interesting possibility in his column: What if voters in the May primary received the identical ballot, regardless of which party they were members? Under Keisling's proposal, candidates could list their party affiliation or not. Voters could pick the candidate they considered the best. If no candidate received a majority, the two top finishers would go head-to-head in the November general election. Most of the time, says Keisling, the two November finalists would be a Democrat and a Republican, but occasionally it could also be two Democrats or two Republicans, or two candidates unaffiliated with either major party.

Keisling rightly notes that such a system is already used in Oregon to elect judges, most city and county officials, as well as the state's labor commissioner and superintendent of public instruction.

Essentially, Keisling's nonpartisan Legislature and open primary would nudge the state's political system from one based on party membership and allegiance to one - theoretically, at least - based on issues, problem solving and consensus. At least, that's the idealist's view of it. Our view is that such a system would indeed be superior to the current partisan-driven system now in place. If nothing else, the 2003 Legislature and the new governor should at least debate the merits and/or demerits of such a proposal.
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Article Details
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Title Annotation:Should the Legislature be nonpartisan?; Editorials
Publication:The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)
Article Type:Editorial
Geographic Code:1U9OR
Date:Nov 19, 2002
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