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November 2010, Week 4

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In Oregon, Working Families Party Appeals to Rural
Populists, Reagan Democrats

Barbara Dudley |  November 23, 2010
http://www.labornotes.org/2010/11/oregon-working-families-party-appeals-rural-populists-reagan-democrats

In Oregon, unions and community organizations are
challenging the two-party system and testing the limits
of what they can do together to promote their agenda in
elections without being marginalized as "spoilers."

In November 2005 representatives from 13 local unions
and eight community organizations met to begin working
toward a Working Families Party in Oregon. We collected
about 28,000 signatures in 30 counties and in June 2006
were certified as a minor party.

The real strength of the Working Families Party comes
with "fusion" voting, which allows minor parties to
nominate any qualified candidates who support our
platform, even if they have been nominated by another
party as well. The WFP does not want to be charged with
taking away enough votes from a less-bad candidate to
throw the race to an even worse one.

We introduced bills in 2007 and 2008 to legalize fusion
voting, but were stalled in both legislative sessions
because of overt opposition from the county clerks, who
have routinely opposed election reforms on procedural
grounds, and covert opposition from leaders of the
Democratic Party, who don't want competition.

We finally succeeded in 2009 with a compromise bill to
create "aggregated" rather than full fusion. Full
fusion, which exists in New York, Connecticut, and a few
other states, provides for cross-nominated candidates to
appear on separate ballot lines for each party's
nomination.

Full Fusion
Democrat	Sarah Jones
Working Families	Sarah Jones
Republican	Elmer Smith
Aggregated fusion
Sarah Jones	Democrat, Working Families
Elmer Smith	Republican
The idea is that if, say, 10 percent of voters vote for
the candidate on the WFP line, that tells the candidate
that 10 percent of his or her votes came from people who
support the WFP platform--and he should pay attention. It
makes a clear statement to both the voter and the
candidate about which party the voter supports and thus
which issues matter most to the voter.

Aggregated fusion in Oregon--sometimes called fusion
lite--lists up to three parties that have nominated the
candidate next to the candidate's name, giving the voter
information about which parties support that candidate,
but without dividing up the candidate's votes by party.
It is not all we wanted, but it gave us a place to
begin.

BACK IN THE DAY
In the 19th century, when our democracy was younger and
more vibrant, fusion voting was legal throughout the
country. The Populist Party was a viable third party and
fused regularly with the Democrats.

The Populists tended to be rural, native-born,
evangelical Protestants; the Democrats were more often
urban, blue-collar, recent immigrants and often
Catholic. They feuded over temperance, the "cultural"
issue of the day, but they could join forces on populist
economic issues involving the massive power of the
banks, the railroads, and the dominant agriculture
corporations. (Sound familiar?)

Through fusion, Oregon voters back in the day elected
many Populist state legislators and even a Populist
governor.

Precisely because fusion voting gave a choice, and a
voice, to militant workers and farmers, the major
parties outlawed it in all but a few states in the early
1900s. The two major parties have so dominated our
election and legislative processes since then that
Oregon is the first state to re-legalize fusion voting
in 100 years.

NOMINATING PROCESS
Labor Notes Special Report:
Working Families Party
In Oregon, Working Families Party Appeals to Rural
Populists, Reagan Democrats

New York WFP Takes Its Lumps, Endorses Cuomo

In the 2010 election, our first election since regaining
fusion, the process of making our nominations was in
many ways more significant than the election outcome.
The Working Families Party notified all candidates that
we would consider nominating them based on their support
for our key issues:

* establishing a state-owned bank for Oregon, modeled
after the Bank of North Dakota

* a universal short-term disability insurance program
for all workers

* debt-free higher education at Oregon's public colleges
and universities if a student works full-time during the
summer and 10 hours a week during the school year

* insistence that no public monies be spent on job
creation unless the jobs pay a living wage, are
permanent, and are located in Oregon. (Learn more at
Oregon Working Families Party.)

We held regional nominating caucuses, one in each
congressional district. All OWFP members--thousands
across the state--were invited, to review the
questionnaires submitted by candidates in that district.

The caucuses made recommendations to the statewide
nominations committee. Where a candidate's answers were
ambiguous, the committee held telephone or face-to-face
interviews to clarify. We used the nominations process
to get commitments from the candidates at the time when
they are most likely to pay attention: during the
election season.

In the end, we cross-nominated 35 Democratic candidates
for the legislature and for state treasurer, and one
Congressional candidate, Peter DeFazio. We also ran one
stand-alone WFP candidate, Bruce Cronk for U.S. Senate
against free-trade Democrat Ron Wyden.

RESULTS
Oregon's election results were similar to those around
the country: In safe Democratic, urban districts around
Portland, the voters returned incumbent Democrats to
office. In safe Republican districts in the state's
southern and eastern reaches, they kept incumbent
Republicans.

In the handful of "swing districts," where the
electorate had swung to the Democrats in 2008, they
swung back to the Republicans. And with only one
exception, all open seats went to the Republicans,
leaving the Oregon House split 30-30, and the Senate
still hanging on a cliff but probably 16-14 in favor of
the Democrats.

Because we have aggregated rather than full fusion, it
is hard to say exactly what the WFP's impact was on
these races. But we do know that 24 members of the next
legislature as well as the state treasurer are on record
supporting Working Families' issues.

That gives us a strong platform from which to move an
agenda in 2011.

Our stand-alone candidate, who ran on a strong fair
trade platform, got 1.3 percent, allowing the Oregon WFP
to remain qualified for the ballot.

Cronk out-polled all other minor party candidates and,
as we had predicted, did much better in "red" counties
than in the traditionally Democratic counties.

What we are learning is that the Working Families Party
appeal in Oregon is with the same people who supported
Populist candidates a century ago, the populists in
rural areas and disaffected "Reagan Democrats" in former
manufacturing areas. We have the makings of a new`
populist coalition and we intend to work hard to
strengthen it over the next year.

We will have to defend aggregated fusion from the major
parties, and fight for full fusion down the road. WFP
will push the creation of a state bank through
legislative champions.

The hard part will be sticking to our guns in the next
election season, when we'll have to take into account
whether the legislators we nominated did--or didn't--stick
to their commitments.


Barbara Dudley is co-chair of the Oregon Working
Families Party.

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