By Andrew Miller
I generally avoid discussing why I give politically, but I wanted to respond to The Oregonian's recent front-page story discussing my support for the Independent Party of Oregon (IPO).
The credit for the IPO's major party status rests solely with its party leaders. They saw a need to reach voters who are bailing on the two-party system. When I learned about a concerted effort by special interests trying to subvert the IPO from becoming a major party, I offered minor assistance by paying for a mailer to help them reach voters. The result: People who were non-affiliated actually wanted to join and changed their party affiliation.
But I also wanted to understand their level of engagement. Was the IPO a fluke, or were Oregonians ready to embrace more voices in the political process? The result of a poll I commissioned was that IPO candidates could indeed be competitive in legislative and statewide races.
Voters choosing to not affiliate with a major party are at a significant electoral disadvantage. If politicians really believe the playing field should be level, then every party in Oregon should have access to taxpayer-funded primaries. However, legislative Democrats have worked to undermine minor parties by making it more difficult for them to participate as equals.
The political power structure is also fraught with special interest groups benefitting from the status quo. Rarely do we see competitive primaries, and gerrymandered legislative districts have left voters stuck without a choice at the ballot. Look how many legislators got a free pass to re-election last year. The system is broken.
Oregon has shown a lack of innovation and vision, especially in our political process. What the IPO has done without much money is engage more voices in politics. I find that refreshing. Understandably, voters attracted to minor parties are tired of relentless feuds between Republicans and Democrats.
Over the years, I've supported both Democratic and Republican candidates. I'll continue meeting with candidates across parties who are interested in growing the economy and treating taxpayers with respect. Oregon's minor-party and non-affiliated voters represent an important segment of Oregon's voting population, but the law doesn't allow their candidates a fair political process.
Like many voters, I look past party labels to see candidates for who they are, with no expectation of agreeing with anyone 100 percent of the time. I seek out candidates who care about Oregon, understand the fiscal implications of policy decisions and seek assurances that they will work across the aisle to enact laws that will make a difference in our daily lives. I also appreciate candidates who will stand for their communities, not protect special interests.
I'm convinced we need increased competition from parties like the IPO, particularly for statewide and state legislative offices. The Republican Party has allowed itself to be defined by social issues instead of connecting with voters on their policy ideas for good governance, education reform and personal prosperity.
Oregon taxpayers have been poorly served by the continued failures of the elected Democratic political class. Cover Oregon, the Columbia River Crossing, the state radio project, numerous agency IT projects and the Business Energy Tax Credits fiasco at the Department of Energy have cost Oregon taxpayers over a billion dollars that could have been spent on our education system. Instead, we're stuck with high student-teacher ratios and one of the worst graduation rates in the nation.
Why hasn't the current leadership done more to fix these systemic problems? Because six people control the entire legislative process. And those six people are carrying out an agenda of deep-pocketed special interests who only care about scoring their next taxpayer-funded project. Meanwhile, Oregonians suffer the consequences of policies that fail families.
When I give politically, I do so based on the caliber of an individual candidate, rather than with blind allegiance to any one political ideology. For the same reason, Portland city leaders and entrenched interests are rebelling against sharing-economy innovators like Uber and Lyft, Oregon's political elite and their highly paid consultants are working to keep an iron-clad grasp on a system that encourages power and greed over service to the people.
When candidates compete for voters with their ideas, Oregonians are better served.
Andrew Miller is CEO of the Portland-based Stimson Lumber Company.