Sal Peralta - Third party emerges

Five years ago, I was asked by some friends to help them with a new project. They had just gathered 35,000 signatures to form the Independent Party of Oregon, and they needed someone to help them get organized.

Although I am skeptical about the degree to which any minor political party can influence events in Salem, the IPO has added nearly 100,000 members since it was formed, making the Independent Party the third largest political party in the state. It has more than twice as many members as the other minor parties combined.

Since the formation of the IPO, Independent parties have emerged in Florida, Massachusetts, Connecticut, New Mexico and Florida. In each case, the growth of the party has been rapid, an unusual phenomenon.

The major political parties are not winning popularity contests: only 34 percent of all voters favor either of them and more than half believe neither major party is “working for them.”

But, despite their belief that a third “Independent Party” is needed, very few voters actually favor the agenda of any of the best-known minor political parties.

Prior to the emergence of the Independent Party, no minor political party in Oregon had more than 15,000 members, and on a national basis, fewer than 10 percent of the people have voted for a candidate of any minor political party in a presidential election since 1992.

And therein lies one of the frustrating conundrums of American politics. While almost no one believes the two-party system is working well for the country, even fewer people share the values of traditional third-party alternatives.

One reason is that most third parties are deeply ideological, while most voters are not. Indeed, one can make the case, based on polling, that satisfaction with Democrats and Republicans has decreased as their partisanship, rigidity and inability to find common ground on major issues of the day have increased.

A second reason for the lack of support for minor political parties is their lack of resources relative to Democrats and Republicans. More than $7 billion was spent on elections in 2012, virtually all by candidates of the two major parties and their allies.

The biggest impact of that spending was making our political leaders less responsive to the will of the people, making our nation more cynical, more divided and less interested in finding common ground on the major issues of the day.

So most voters do not believe the major parties are working for them. Even fewer people think traditional third parties have the answers. It’s a situation lending itself to pessimism for anyone wanting government to work effectively for “we, the people.”

Is there a path forward? Perhaps.

If people are angry about the inability of the major parties to work collaboratively and frustrated by the ideological rigidity of all political parties, then maybe the answer is to build a political party decidedly not ideological. This party could be used as a lever to promote greater collaboration among candidates of major political parties on a range of issues believed important by voters across the political spectrum.

This is what the Independent Party of Oregon has tried to do. In 2009, the IPO successfully lobbied for election reforms, allowing candidates accepting nominations of more than one political party to list all those nominations on the ballot.

In 2010, we became the first political party in more than 100 years to conduct a primary election at the party’s expense. We opened the election to candidates of the major parties. Gov. John Kitzhaber, two members of Oregon’s congressional delegation and more than 50 state legislators participated.

More importantly, the party developed a platform based on a series of member surveys asking members to select the issues they most wanted to emphasize and tied that platform to actual measures under consideration in the state Legislature.

During this process, we have learned that “Independents” from across the political spectrum, liberal to conservative, share common ground on a range of issues, including the reduction of special-interest influence over our political process, consumer protection, controlling government costs to ensure a more efficient use of taxes and some form of incentive for businesses to hire Oregon workers.

The net result is that voters now have a lever beginning to pressure Democrats and Republican candidates to be more responsive to voters outside their core constituencies of partisans and big-money donors. Failing that, perhaps a non-ideological third party, like the IPO, may succeed in attracting broad public support where other third parties failed.

It is too early to know whether this experiment in democracy will bear fruit. Ours is a political system that yields slowly and painfully to change, but the early results are promising.

Guest writer Sal Peralta is a media consultant for the News-Register and secretary of Oregon’s Independent Party. He lives in McMinnville with his wife, Tanya, daughter Bella, and two dogs. When he is not working or thinking about public policy, he can usually be found playing the violin or enjoying lazy summer evenings with family and friends.


Don Dix

Question: Since Mr Peralta was a staunch supporter and a candidate under the Democratic banner, how does one know if this is truly an independent party? In my opinion, a true independent would lack affiliation with any political party structure.

Sal Peralta

Don, I think you will find that for most of my adult life I have tried to work towards moderate policy goals that are favored by large majorities of the general public, but that have been repeatedly killed by both major political parties. I have been registered as an independent since 2007, and have personally endorsed a roughly even number of moderate Democrats and Republicans since that time. I also collected about 86,000 signatures to put the open primary on the ballot in 2008. Read into that what you will.

Don Dix


I have never been 'registered an independent', and yet I don't belong to any party. The state lists me as a NAV (non-affiliated voter). Is there a difference?

The list of candidates in the Independent primary was mostly Demos. Where is the distinction, the independence, the change?

In my opinion, belonging to a political party pretty much expects the individual to follow guidelines. In many cases, these guidelines are established by who controls that particular party (with cash), and very seldom do those guidelines parallel the will of the majority.

Sal Peralta

Yes, there is a difference. :) In 2005, in its infinite wisdom, the legislature decided to remove the word "independent" as the term used to describe voters or candidates who were not affiliated with a political party. It also made it more difficult to run for public office without being a member of a political.party. These "reforms" were intended to keep people from running for office as something other than a Democrat or a Republican and to make that candidate less attractive to voters if they did run. For example, "Independent" means strong, self-reliant; "Not affiliated" suggests disaffected or loner.These changes are part of what prompted my friends to form the Independent Party. One of the first things we did was to get the legislature to reverse the rules that made it more difficult to run as "not affiliated". We opened up our party elections to all candidates, which meant that people could have ballot access as an "Independent" without being a member of the party. You are right about how most political parties operate. We decided to take a different approach. Rather than dictating policy, we conducted a series of surveys (over 4 years) to determine the agenda. The first survey each year asks members about generic policy preferences, and then we take the highest performing responses and develop a more specific set of questions based on legislation that is under consideration in the Oregon legislature. The policies that have the strongest support became, in effect, the party's platform for that legislative cycle. As the article indicates, the agenda going forward is "the reduction of special-interest influence over our political process, consumer protection, controlling government costs to ensure a more efficient use of taxes and some form of incentive for businesses to hire Oregon workers." These issues have broad support among voters, but often fail in the legislature.

Sal Peralta

Also, it is wrong that "mostly Dems" ran in our primary. We had a roughly equal number of D's and R's. Our members voted and the results are what they are. Good for the D's in 2012. Good for the R's in 2010. From a strategic standpoint, we try to run "our own" candidates against D's and R's when we can recruit them, and especially when we can set up a one-on-one race, but it is very difficult to recruit minor party candidates for state office.

Don Dix

I visited your website and this item caught my eye:

IPO members were also asked "Which groups you believe have the most influence on state government? (select all that apply)" The results were rather striking:

Big corporations 72.2%
Interest groups funded by wealthy individuals 66.5%
Public sector Unions 65.1%
Environmental lobby 53.2%
Private sector unions 35.2%
"Folks like me" 3.2%

Most of the people I know (who have an opinion on the subject) wouldn't be pointing the bad finger at big corps -- by a wide margin. Is that why 'the results were rather striking'?

But it may be more interesting that 3.2% actually believe they personally have any suck at all.

Sal Peralta

It was a preference survey, meaning that people could pick as many choices as they agreed with for each question. 72% said corporations. 66.5% said special interest groups 65% said public employee unions. Whether you agree with the percentages chosen, do you really disagree that *any* of those 3 categories of entities don't wield disproportionate influence? Seriously?

Also, do you really think that's such a big margin -- 72 - 66 - 65? You are trying to paint the IPO as a left-leaning org. So is Larry George a leftist? He was a nominee. How about Knute Buehler? Do you think, for example, that 65% of Democrats -- I think that's the narrative you are trying to paint both of me and the IPO -- believe that public employee unions wield a disproportionate amount of influence?

Fact is, most Americans believe that corporations, special interests run by the wealthy and public employee unions wield disproportionate influence over government. And why not? It's pretty clear that they do.

What gets lost in all of that is the public interest to not see windfall tax breaks that benefit only the very wealthy, or the very biggest corporations; public pension funds that cannot be sustained, etc.

Where I think our politics is losing ground -- and I am guilty of this at times, as I think you are in these conversations -- is that too many of us look for things that we disagree with and too little attention is paid to finding common ground. I would encourage you to not fall into that trap.

Don Dix


Quote: "You are trying to paint the IPO as a left-leaning org."

Not at all. Plus your website used 'the rather striking results' line, not me. What would be the alternative explanation for using that statement?

However, the point I wished to make was people working outside the government bubble (private) would never list corps as the biggest government influence, at least in this state, whereas those inside that bubble would. Maybe the survey says something besides who is the biggest evil (just my observation).

I do agree that we all look for the 'disagreeable things' in politics, but who laid the foundation for that mistrust? Every level of government has somehow morphed into 'an all knowing what's best' behemoths, and strayed far from the original intent of a people's government. That may be only issue that is indisputable, in my opinion.

Sal Peralta

Don - agree with part, but on the corporate influence question, I think that a big part of what fueled the Tea Party movement and the occupy movement is that the public was royally ticked about the giveaways to big banks. Do a google search on "corporate influence polling" and let me know if you still believe that your perception coheres with that of a majority of Americans, including Republicans.


Who is the "IPO"? I mean the people behind it. Another party would be great but it needs to be a real party, not a fake party that secretly is controlled by "Progressives"....or conservatives. If it is the real deal ( by which I mean that it has monthly meetings, fundraising, full communications and an extended leadership ) then that would be great and electing candidates who represent it would go along way to challenging the status quo. That would get my vote and support. But if it is not the real deal, then it be exposed so that we can all move on to something better.

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