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Independent Party of Oregon says it's now a major party

By STEVEN DUBOIS

Of the Associated Press

PORTLAND — Oregon has only had two major political parties in its history — Democratic and Republican.

It might soon have a third.

The Independent Party of Oregon says it's up to 108,744 members, giving it 5 percent of the state's registered voters. That's the threshold for becoming a major political party.

Party secretary Sal Peralta said the party will send a letter to the Secretary of State's Office, asking it to confirm the development.

Besides bragging rights, the main benefit of being a major party is an appearance on the primary ballot. Peralta said attaining major party status would also help it recruit candidates and perhaps start winning legislative races.

“There is a tremendous amount of frustration with the two major parties right now,” he said. “I think that more than anything is what's driving our growth.”

Tony Green, spokesman for the Secretary of State's Office, said it's too soon to say whether the Independent Party qualifies as major, though he said the party is correct on its membership figure.

Established less than a decade ago, the Independent Party quickly surged past other minor parties in membership, if not profile.

From the start, however, there's been talk that the confusing name is what's driving the rapid gains. In Oregon, voters who don't want to align with a party are supposed to register as non-affiliated. The assumption is that voters who consider themselves independent (with a lowercase ‘i’) are accidentally joining the Independent Party.

“I can't read into people's hearts and minds,” Peralta said of that speculation.

Jim Moore, a political science professor at Pacific University in Forest Grove, said the evidence is that the rate of Independent Party growth is much quicker than for other minor parties.

“And there's no reason the Independent Party would be growing at a faster rate,” he said. “It's certainly not an advertising campaign that they're doing or anything.”

Unlike conservative Republicans and liberal Democrats, the Independent Party of Oregon has lacked a clear philosophy or platform. The party surveys its members to learn what its priorities will become. Peralta said its supporters have shown a strong preference for consumer protection, campaign finance reform, economic development and increased transparency in government.

Now that the party appears on the verge of joining the majors, Moore said it will have to start acting like it.

“They've been in this weird, semi-party state, where people like me look at them and say ‘you know, you're not acting like a party, because you don't have a platform or candidates who are registering as Independents,’” Moore said. “Now, with major party status, we're going to be looking at do they become what we've been looking for in the United States for a long time — a true third option to beat a Republican or a Democrat.”

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