By editorial board • 

Buck the big dogs and back top-two primary

Editor’s Note: The published version mischaracterized the Koch brothers’ involvement. This version has been corrected.

When the Oregon Democratic Party vows to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with fellow opponents of Measure 90, “including the Oregon Republican Party,” you can be forgiven for fearing you’ve fallen down the rabbit hole in Wonderland. But it did just that Aug. 19.

The party backs all six other measures on Oregon’s Nov. 4 ballot, including ones to legalize pot, grant driver cards to undocumented workers and mandate labeling of genetically modified food components. But it staunchly opposes adoption of a top-two primary system like the ones serving to re-enfranchise millions of voters in our neighboring states to the north and south.

What’s more, it’s being joined not only by the Oregon Republican Party, but also by the AFL-CIO, the Oregon Education Association and Right to Life, and the Koch brothers could well be next, based on their past open primary opposition. Even Wonderland author Lewis Carroll would be pressed to conjure up a stranger set of fellow travelers.

In a nutshell, the big party folk and their financial enablers are happy with the status quo because it’s so neat and clean. They gerrymander districts to maximize party locks and minimize tossups, then rain money on the tossups come November.

It works for them, but does it work for you? We join virtually every other Oregon newspaper in asserting that it does not.

Measure 90 would list all candidates on the same ballot in May and allow all voters a shot at them. Parties would be allowed to make endorsements and candidates to list those endorsements beside their names, but political affiliation would play no other role. The top two vote-getters would square off in November, even if it pitted Republican against Republican, Democrat against Democrat or Pacific Green against Libertarian.

The Democrats assail Measure 90 as a “radical,” “complex,” “confusing” and a costly “magnet for political mischief.” In support, they cite the fact California will have 19 single-party runoffs on its November ballot; Washington, 10.

But we see these results as an unqualified positive. It means voters of all political affiliations and persuasions will have meaningful choices in districts where, otherwise, there would not have been.

In the process, they will strike a blow for centrism, moderation and independence, serving eventually, perhaps, to break the two-party grip that has ground our nation’s political machinery to a virtual halt.

As of July, Oregon Republicans were outnumbered 663,197 to 650,407 by voters affiliating with so-called “minor parties” or eschewing affiliation altogether. Thus, Oregon’s current closed, two-party primary serves to disenfranchise almost one-third of the electorate every May.

By producing only a handful of truly contested general election races, it also serves to disenfranchise a majority of the electorate every November, including tens of thousands of Republicans and Democrats. After all, what say does a Republican really have in Multnomah County or a Democrat in Harney County?

Adopting a top-two primary like those pioneered by California and Washington would reinstate choice in both our primary and general elections. The opportunity to thumb our noses simultaneously at the likes of the Koch brothers and AFL-CIO merely makes the prospect all the sweeter.

Take a stand for participatory democracy. Vote yes on Measure 90.


Don Dix

Unless we can believe the political B.S. that will be forthcoming to defeat M90, It appears all these 'organizations' have a similar objective -- to make sure tax dollars keep flowing -- directly into their respective coffers!


You state that the "Koch brothers" are joining others in opposing Measure 90 and then state that voting yes on Measure 90 is a way "to thumb our noses . . . at the Koch brothers."

I can find nothing anywhere that supports the statement that the Koch brothers are opposing Measure 90.

The only political committee registered as opposing Measure 90 (Protect Our Vote) shows no contribution from any individual or organization connected in any way with the Koch brothers.

I wonder where you are getting that information.


The Koch brothers are not necessarily entering the Measure 90 fray, at least not at this point. However, they have been big-money backers of open primary and top-two primary opposition campaigns over the years. They were major funders of the opposition in California and Arizona, for example.
The intent, not made entirely clear, was to tie them to opposition to the concept, not necessarily to the measure currently before voters in Oregon. Hope that helps clarify.
Steve Bagwell, Managing Editor


Your answer indicates no evidence that the Koch brothers are opposing Measure 90 or spending money to do so. Your statement that the Democratic Party of Oregon is "being joined not only by the Oregon Republican Party, but also by . . . the Koch brothers" is unsupported by any evidence. It should be retracted.

You now say that the Koch brothers "were major funders of the opposition in California and Arizona, for example." That is not true for California. There is no evidence of spending by any Koch-related group against California's 2010 top two primary measure, and I am told by those active in the California campaign that no Koch organization got involved.

Even if your statement about Arizona were true, that does not support your statement that the Koch brothers have joined the Democratic Party of Oregon in opposition to Measure 90.

A group thought to be "Koch linked" spent $1.6 million against two Arizona ballot measures in 2012, one of them the top two primary. The supporters of the top two primary measure there outspent opponents by more than 2-1. The biggest donors supporting the measure were real estate companies and public sector unions. Using your logic, that means that the public employee unions support the top two primary, which they do not. If spending against a somewhat similar measure in Arizona means that the Koch brothers have "joined" the Democratic Party of Oregon in opposition to Measure 90, it is equally "true" that the public employee unions have "joined" the the supporters of Measure 90. Neither statement is actually true.

In any event, there is no evidence supporting your statement that the Koch brothers have joined the Democratic Party of Oregon in opposing Measure 90. It should be retracted.


Regarding your new statement that the Koch brothers are "opposed to the concept" of top two primaries, there is also no evidence for that. Their opposition to top two in Arizona was probably because top two is perceived (incorrectly) as diminishing the power of the dominant political party in the state (in Arizona, the Republican Party), so the Koch brothers would naturally oppose adoption of a new system that would the power of the party they support.

In California, conversely, the Koch brothers did not oppose the top two primary measure, probably because they thought (incorrectly) it would diminish the power of California's dominant party, the Democrats. Instead, under top two, Californians have elected all Democrat statewide officials and have given the Democrats a 2/3 majority in both houses of the California Legislature.

If the Koch brothers get involved in Oregon at all, I would expect them to support Measure 90 (the top two primary), because they would perceive it as reducing the power of Oregon's dominant party, the Democrats.

In any event, your statement that the Koch brothers have joined the Democratic Party of Oregon in opposing Measure 90 is supported by no evidence.


Hi Steve Bagwell,

Dan Meek has made a compelling case based on facts that you should retract and correct your assertion that the Koch brothers are involved in Oregon elections regarding Measure 90, the move-the-general-election-to-May-and-repeal-democratic-partisan-primaries-and-force-a-runoff-when-people-are-typically-paying-attention-and-add-backroom-party-endorsements-on-the-ballot-directly proposal.

Your claims to the contrary are actually stating a different point, something not stated in the article. Why don't you make that point, instead of leaving the false claim in your paper?

As a journalism professor you know it's the right thing to do. It's easy to make a mistake. It's also simple to correct one. ORS 260.532 also requires it by law.

The proponents have already quoted you on it as a source.

Here's how to do it:

Delete three words: "the Koch brothers."

Add to the bottom:

"An earlier version of this piece erroneously implied that the Koch brothers are involved in the current Oregon election. The article has been updated. The Koch brothers opposed a different measure in Arizona, but didn't get involved in other similar proposals in other states. We regret the error and pride ourselves on publishing only fact-based editorials."

You also imply that Pacific Greens would appear on the ballot in a top two state. That's not how it works actually. If two major party candidates run, there are no third parties in the general election in such states. So you mislead people to think third parties will actually participate. Furthermore, the recent initiative review committee voted to oppose Measure 90 based on the fact that it would prevent minor parties from being able to qualify for the ballot based on significant drafting errors. Did you invite multiple viewpoints to participate in your editorial process?

Seth Woolley


Dan Meek and Seth Woolley both make strong points here. It should be clear from the facts, and even from Steve Bagwell’s response, that the Koch brothers are not involved in Oregon’s Measure 90. And yet your editorial states otherwise--something that is plainly untrue and unsupported by evidence.

A correction of the record would be important for readers to understand because anybody reading this editorial uncorrected would walk away believing that the Kochs were involved with or funding the No on 90 campaign. Not only is that not true, but Meek points out that they would likely support Measure 90, if they even know it exists.

A clarification for readers is important - Mr. Bagwell, will the paper print a retraction?


We accept your contention that we owe readers a correction on that point. We will be running one in Friday's edition.



Again, there is utterly no evidence that "the Koch brothers may well be next" in opposing Measure 90.


The Koch brothers did not oppose top two primary ballot measures in Washington or California or Oregon in 2008. Your claim that they "may well be next" in opposing Measure 90 is entirely made up.



Your insistence on attaching the Koch Brothers to the campaign opposing Measure 90, despite even a shred of evidence to support the claim, remains disappointing.

Dan Meek and Seth Woolley have both made solid points disproving your claims and the speculation in your correction. A real correction would have given your readers the ability to weigh the facts and make up their own minds. It's unfortunate that you're instead clinging to this false claim, only slightly reworded.

It would be easy to have a real discussion about who's actually on either side of the issue. Here's the full list of organizations who have joined the Protect Our Vote Coalition to oppose Measure 90 (

Oregon State Fire Fighters Council
Oregon Nurses Association
Oregon Education Association
The Free and Equal Elections Foundation
Democratic Party of Oregon
Oregon Republican Party
Pacific Green Party
Oregon Progressive Party
Ballot Access News
PCUN (Pineros y Campesinos Unidos del Noroeste)
SEIU Local 503
SEIU Local 49
UFCW Local 555
Pacific Northwest Regional Council of Carpenters
AFSCME Council 75
Our Oregon
Economic Fairness Oregon
Joint Council of Teamsters #37
Oregon School Employees Association
Eugene / Springfield Solidarity Network / Jobs With Justice
Planned Parenthood Advocates of Oregon
Alliance for Democracy
Bakery, Confectionery, Tobacco Workers, & Grain Millers Union Local 114
Oregon Federation of Nurses & Health Professionals
Tualatin Valley Firefighters IAFF Local 1660
American Federation of Teachers-Oregon
Oregon AFL-CIO
Main Street Alliance of Oregon
Oregon State Building Trades Council
Working America
Oregon Action
Asian Pacific American Network of Oregon

Don Dix

Nice catch, both of you!

....a list of organizations ( loosely termed ) which stand to lose the political influence they now possess if M90 passes. That prospect alone should be enough to convince voters 90 needs to pass. Wouldn't that twist some partisan panties?


I know I will be voting no on this, and I hope everyone else does the same. I have seen reports of the effect that similar laws have had in Washington and California, and I can't imagine a worse idea. It doesn't take much effort to imagine huge amounts of money being spent to influence primaries, and push a single party as the only option on the ballot. I can also see media outlets, such as this paper, enjoying the ad revenue that would come from entities on both sides exploiting our broken campaign finance laws to try and force that result every time. It's not hard to see why the News Register, and so many other newspapers would like this idea considering the windfall they stand to see from it. Unfortunately for the rest of us, the end result will always be that people who choose not to endorse either major party are left without a reasonable candidate to vote for in elections.

Don Dix


You are concerned that non-alliliated voters would not have a 'reasonable candidate to vote for' in an election.

Please correct me if I'm wrong, but I would offer that the present system seldom, if ever, produces a worthy choice. At present, if a candidate isn't somewhat partisan, he/she never get to the ballot!


I would add to that, there is no reason on earth to believe more money would be poured into a non-partisan primary than a traditional partisan primary, or that the News-Register would ever see any of it.
Virtually 100 percent of political revenue currently goes into television advertising at the upper levels and a combination of direct mail, lawn signs and such at the lower levels. We get barely a dollop under the current system, and there is nothing about a top-two primary system that could conceivably change that. Thus, our self-interest is zero, nada, zilch.
Further, how could one of the major parties possibly work to see two of its candidates through in a open primary process. Contributing to one of them would inevitably hurt the chances of the other, and vice versa. The very thought of uncontrolled intra-party competition is one of the factors that drives both major parties to ardently oppose the idea.
Two candidates of the same party are only likely to emerge in districts that are utterly dominated by that party. In those cases, voters would at least get a real choice in a top-two system — a choice between two candidates having a realistic chance of prevailing. They certainly don't get that under the current system, where many candidate either run unopposed or face only token opposition.
A Republican has no chance whatsoever in many districts in Lane, Benton and Multnomah counties, whereas a Democrat has no chance whatsoever in many counties on Oregon's dry, sagebrush side. A top-two primary would be much more likely give voters a real race in the general election — one featuring two viable candidates.
More than one-third of the electorate is either unaffiliated or affiliated with a so-called minor party. It is therefore entirely shut out of Oregon primaries and often effectively shut out of Oregon general elections, as they are a foregone conclusion.
The top-two primary would solve that.


Don Dix, I understand that unaffiliated and third party voters are seldom offered the opportunity to vote for a viable candidate, but I like having the option that I currently have to vote for a reasonable one like I said. Currently any election can produce a wide variety of options from several parties, giving me the chance to vote for whoever best fits with my values. If this goes through, and the primary results in only two candidates that I cannot in good conscience vote for, then I am left out of the process. If you want to further entrench the two major parties that will almost certainly dominate every election, thereby pushing out any other voices, then I guess you can go ahead and vote that way. Personally, I refuse to further restrict my options.

Don Dix

Steve's response put an exclamation point on the many reasons to pass this measure. And all those listed by meghanmoyer might have to endure a life without the favors that have been fostered for them until now, such a tragedy!

Oh, expect to hear and read all sorts of arguments in opposition to M90. But keep in mind, it's mostly B.S., disguised as concern and care to protect 'your vote'.


sbagwell, I know that if the Democratic and Republican parties thought they had the chance to buy both positions on a ballot, they would flood that market with money. We are a small market, so the effect locally might be limited, but this is a statewide measure. We have already seen these effects happening in Washington and California.

All that this measure will do is force independent and third party voters to pick between two choices that are without exception going to come from the two major parties, sometimes both from only one, effectively pushing out any dissenting voices. You say that this will open up the choices during the primary, and that may be true, but once the field has been narrowed for the general election, I know that my party of choice will not be represented locally anymore. I, and thousands of others like me, will be left without a candidate we can vote for without compromising our values. My vote is important to me, and I know it will be damaged and restricted by this measure. If any of you value the integrity of the act of voting I encourage you to vote no on this and preserve what little voice you still have.


Minor party candidates attract a scattering of protest votes in general elections. At most, they might swing a close race between two major party candidates — and, ironically, in the direction most objectionable to their supporters.
Under a top-two primary system, you still have the option of casting your protest vote. You can do it as a write-in. And you won't risk electing the worst of the two major party alternatives.


Mine is never a protest vote, it is a values vote, and picking the lesser of two evils, or writing in a vote that will be ignored are not good enough options for me. I honestly don't know if you mean well in your support of this, but I do know how it will hurt a lot of people that want to see change instead of further dominance by the major parties.


sbagwell, Honestly, I consider it rather unprofessional and unsettling that you would assume my carefully considered vote for the person I feel would best represent me is nothing more than a protest against someone else. Maybe you are satisfied with picking from the few choices that the major parties present, but I take my time to learn about every candidate, and only vote for the best, regardless of what affiliation they carry.

Don Dix

If one takes the position of voting for the 'best candidate', outside the 'few choices that the major parties present', then it is safe to assume your votes seldom result in any form of real representation ( for oneself). Those outside the major parties don't win elections often.

One third of Oregon voters don't belong to the majors, so as of now, that block is left completely out of the primary decision. The Dems and Reps dominate who gets to the general. With 33% of total voters on the sidelines, it's easy for both to qualify their respective candidates. Allowing all to vote ( in primaries ) could effectively reduce the partisan divide by weeding out those who thrive on the extreme.

The list provided above reveals who doesn't want to lose considerable political influence. Unless one is a member of one or more, there is no concern for you or your values. And if there is any chance to keep the status quo, you can rest assured all avenues will be filled with cash and favors.


That's not true though, I have no problem voting for someone from either major party if they represent the best choice, I am only saying I don't want to be restricted in my choices during the general election. Plenty of people I have happily voted for over the years have won their elections. Others have not, but I took pride in all my choices, and feel that having more than two to choose from, when it matters in the general, gives me the best opportunity to apply my values to the process. Additionally, the list you refer to is largely populated with groups that currently have very little influence, and represent a wide variety of ideologies and opinions. It almost sounds like you want to limit the amount of information available for people that want to learn about who and what they are voting for. I want to know as much as I can, and I find it rather disgusting that people are working to silence ideas and limit participation.


Surely you can't be serious when you say, "The list you refer to is largely populated with groups that currently have very little influence."
The union roster alone includes the Oregon Education Association, Service Employees International Union, American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, American Federation of Teachers, American Federation of Labor/Congress of Industrial Unions (AFL-CIO), United Food and Commercial Workers, Oregon School Employees Union, Oregon Nurses Association, Oregon Federation of Nurses, Teamsters Union, Carpenters Union, Building Trades Council and Bakery, Confectionery, Tobacco Workers & Grain Millers Union.
That's a veritable king's row of power, money and influence in the American labor movement. Then you throw in the Oregon Democratic Party and Oregon Republican Party.
PCUN and the Pacific Green Party may lack influence, but the rest of the list is about as star-studded as it gets. Those are big money boys.

Don Dix

Seriously? You believe those on the list have very little influence? You might want to revisit that notion. The OEA, SEIU, AFSCME, and the other unions spend millions to keep their political minions in office. And with that spending comes favorable legislation that effectively entrenches the status quo. One would only need to inspect how PERS became so out of control. Many of those on that list could be found culpable in some way or another.

In what scenario would allowing all voters to participate in every election be limiting anything, including information and participation? The major parties don't even pay to have their closed primaries. We all pay -- even those not allowed to vote. Guess who came up with ploy?

If you have sometimes been pleased by who won or lost, great! That's about as coincidental as it could get. You didn't actually get them elected (or defeated) -- don't fool yourself, those big spenders did? You just happened to vote with them.

In my opinion, it's been far too long since 'our representatives' actually stuck to the job description. So, when all these deep pockets that never agree politically get together in a common cause, that isn't bi-partisan cooperation -- it's fear of losing grip!


Maybe you are just too weak minded to see past their influence, or too caught up in the endorsements they push through their ads and mailings, but I don't consider them a factor at all in my choices. Also, I would be willing to entertain opening up the primaries, I haven't said anything against that, I just don't want to see it come at the cost of limiting the general election to only two candidates. I'm not the one advocating the addition of further restrictions to people having information and options, while both of you seem to want anyone that doesn't agree with you marginalized. It's obvious you are set in your opinions, as am I, and I know I am likely on the losing end of this proposal based on the latest polls, but I am determined to push for more rational thought on every issue I can. To me this one is bad, and I hope others will see that as well.

Don Dix

Clearly, when one third of Oregon voters have no voice (ballot) in a primary, participation IS limited. Please explain if not so.
That several opposing parties are teaming up to defeat M90 should awaken one's senses. Coalitions such as this are very rare in the political arena. Shouldn't that simple fact place a cloud of suspicion over the campaign, and raise the question, 'why'?
And finally, not believing that list of M90 opponents, strange bedfellows as they are, have 'very little influence' is completely out of touch (certainly not a 'native assumption'). Oregon government is bought and paid for by many on this list. That one doesn't know or acknowledge that fact is, well, _____________ (use the adjective of choice).

Stating that I can't see past 'their influence' (your words, after claiming there was very little influence by those opponents) pretty much brings your delusional argument full circle, but that's just this weak mind elaborating on the obvious!



As I predicted in my comments here on August 27: "If the Koch brothers get involved in Oregon at all, I would expect them to support Measure 90 (the top two primary), because they would perceive it as reducing the power of Oregon's dominant party, the Democrats."

And now it has happened. Associated Oregon Industries PAC (AOI) has reported on Sept 3 receiving a $10,000 contribution from Koch Industries. AOI on September 2 reported a $50,000 contribution to the to Yes on 90 campaign. A more direct conduit for the Koch brothers to support Measure 90 can hardly be imagined.

Are you still predicting that the "Koch brothers could be next" in opposing Measure 90? Or would it be better to issue another editorial, pointing out that the opposite has occurred?


Contributing to Associated Oregon Industries does not equate to contributing to the Measure 90 opposition. Apples and oranges.



So you see no connection between essentially simultaneous transfers of money that leaves the Koch brothers $10,000 short and the Yes on 90 campaign $10,000 to the good?

And why would the Koch brothers contribute $10,000 to a PAC that is simultaneously supporting a measure (M90) that you say that the Koch brothers either oppose or are about ("next") to oppose? Note that AOI is now the largest contributor to the M90 PAC. And the Koch brothers are the second largest contributor to the AOI PAC.

Can you seriously think that "Koch brothers could be next" in opposing Measure 90? Really?

BTW, your two sentence response above says the opposite of what I think to meant to say. I say that the Koch $10,000 contribution to AOI PAC, simultaneous with AOI PAC's $50,000 contribution to the Yes on Measure 90 campaign does equal to the Kochs contributing to the Measure 90 support, not to the Measure 90 opposition.

I guess you will not be reporting these financial transactions to your readers.

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