Sal Peralta: Citizens need to seize control, restore grassroots democracy

As one who has been involved in public service for decades, I am alarmed about the deterioration of both our political system and the way we talk about public policy in this country.

I am not alone. According to recent surveys, 85 percent of Americans believe the tone of our political debate has become less respectful, less fact-based and less substantive. Another survey found that 64 percent of Americans have less trust in one another today.

For years, I have believed the central frustration voters have toward government is based on the degree to which government policies reflect the interests of powerful insiders — lobbyists, agencies, developers, partisan special interests and others — rather than the broader public interest. 

As a co-founder of the Independent Party of Oregon, I have spent most of the last 12 years working to promote common ground solutions on challenging issues — solutions that have broad public support, but find little traction in the Oregon Legislature. In 2019, we were part of coalitions that helped pass campaign finance reform, PERS reform and improved regulations for diesel engines, the latter capping a three-year effort to throttle back environmental emissions in Oregon.

Guest Writer

Sal Peralta harbors an enduring interest in public policy, reflected in a long record of public involvement. He helped found the Independent Party of Oregon and has long served as party secretary. He ran unsuccessfully for state representative and county commissioner before winning appointment, and later election, to the McMinnville City Council. He shares his home in McMinnville’s Ward 1 with his wife, Tanya, daughter, Bella, and two dogs. In his leisure time, he enjoys playing the violin.

That work has gotten harder as the country has gotten more polarized. Although I still believe public frustration with special-interest control is a core source of voter alienation, there are clearly other forces at work as well, making it harder for elected leaders to solve problems.

A multi-year study on political polarization and party identity found a “growing contempt for opposing partisans,” coupled with diminished trust for members of the opposing party and stronger support for unsavory campaign tactics, as long as they target “the other side.” 

Both in Oregon and nationally, Democrats and Republicans have generally sorted themselves into regional political parties, with Democrats controlling the cities and Republicans the rural countryside. Only a handful of congressional or legislative districts are thus “in play,” in terms of being competitive, in any given year.

In 85 percent or more of legislative and congressional districts across the country, Democratic and Republican politicians need only respond to the priorities of their party base, rather than priorities that are more broadly shared. When this is the case, there is little incentive to seek common ground and a great deal of incentive to cater to the worst aspects of partisanship.

Compounding the problem is the willingness of political campaigns to use social psychology to cater to people’s group identity and their negative biases about other groups, as long as it produces the desired outcome. More than ever before, political campaigns know exactly what buttons to push to create the kinds of fear, anger and distrust that help them win elections.

Too often slogans have taken the place of policies. And stimulating emotions is seen as more effective than fostering civic discourse.
These tactics make winning elections easier, but problem-solving harder. None of it truly serves the public interest.

There is no magic bullet solution, but I’d like to outline a few steps we could take to foster a meaningful public empowerment program:

Reforming campaign finance

First, we should ensure that those who spend large amounts of money to influence elections are held accountable for what they say.

After nearly two decades of work on campaign finance reform, including support for state and local ballot measures that passed with up to 85 percent of the vote, the Independent Party and its allies have persuaded the Oregon Legislature to refer a constitutional amendment to voters.

It would allow local and state governments to enact laws limiting spending and requiring campaigns to disclose their true sources of funding. It will appear on the November 2020 ballot as SJR 18.

Eliminating gerrymandering

Second, we should pass laws ensuring legislative districts are not drawn for partisan advantage, but are instead drawn by independent experts without regard for partisan favor.

The Independent Party is working with Common Cause, the League of Women Voters, Taxpayers Association and the Oregon Farm Bureau to collect signatures for IP57, which would take the process for drawing legislative districts out of the legislature’s hands and put it in the hands of a non-partisan commission. Those interested in signing that petition or helping with that effort should visit www.peoplenotpoliticiansoregon.com.

Reforming the election process

Third, we should consider reforming our election systems to give political parties less control over who appears on the general election ballot.

This year, our party will open its primary to the state’s 900,000 non-affiliated voters, allowing them to pick their preferred candidates for president, secretary of state and so on. That will feature an alternative voting system — either STAR voting (starvoting.us) or ranked choice voting (fairvote.org) to select candidates.

Several jurisdictions, including the state of Maine nationally and Benton County locally, are experimenting with these alternative voting systems. The aim is ensuring our elections better reflect the will of voters.

The groups controlling our political process benefit from having the public divided and distrustful. It makes it much easier for them to maintain control by catering to negative biases.

Probably the most important thing any of us can do, in addition to supporting reforms that reduce partisanship and restore citizen control over government, is remember there is more that unites than divides us as Americans. We need to treat clearly biased polemical media, partisan messaging and negative campaigning with the skepticism they deserve.


Bill B

Well said Sal!


Too bad the IPO can't develop a caucus large enough to force the Rs and the Ds, make sense and compromise. I understand a strong third party terrifies Ds and Rs and they are doing everything they can to keep it from happening. For one piece of the solution is a strong third party caucus which can broker reasonable legislation.

Christmas has Talons

I have seen one person put actions before rhetoric it's just to bad that people who offer a real example aren't in public office. I haven't seen such a positive movement locally like the one Heidi Parker inadvertently has created just by caring about others with her actions.
Heidi cares about each and every business in town and has worked tirelessly to help the homeless and to clean up MAC when I see Sal pick up garbage for two years without any fanfare he can talk.

Don Dix

More political parties will never be the answer -- zero would be perfect!

Bill B

ChT-what a ludicrous comment!


Don. USA has 360 Million people. The Constitution 1st Amendment gives us the right of people to peacefully assemble and to petition the government. You might have noticed humans are group loving animals. Being in Tribes of one variation or another is part of our nature. we don't like how our government is going we gather into a tribe, some could be considered a political party. In a nation of 360 million with complex problems how would you govern?


I went to Ron Wyden's town hall yesterday, and I was impressed by the effort he made to represent all Oregonians, regardless of what hats we were wearing. Questions from both sides were answered with respect and thoroughness, which also inspired the audience to behave the same way. What a contrast from "our" current president, who tells me, every time he opens his mouth, that he is not MY president.

Our elected leaders, if they choose to, can have a huge impact on the problem of divisiveness that Mr. Peralta is discussing. I wish they would all make that choice.


Talons, your narrow-minded dismissal of Sal’s opinion perfectly exemplifies the point he was making. Sal has given himself to this community, and some of it’s least-favored inhabitants, in ways that have clearly escaped your notice. But, I’m not surprised that you don’t know about them since they are done “without any fanfare”, which you appear to find laudable. If your only litmus test for expressing a legitimate opinion is silent garbage collection, perhaps you should get out more.


I like this article ! It’s really “too bad” that more folks don’t run for office - we need more “commoners” not just ideologues and career politicians on committees and in city council spots. I really think (even at the local level) we would be better served by truly volunteer politicals who meet in the evenings and allow more engagement by folks who work “real jobs” , too. And seriously if you ask around it’s sad that people can’t even name their local leaders - mayor , a commissioner , a city councilor. Let alone actually be involved ....


As far as non gerrymandered districts that would be easy to pull off with a software program to just draw them totally automatically based on populations and no other factor .....


This is a valuable contribution to our discussions.
Sal Peralta remains a welcome voice of reason and common sense in our divided politics.

carolsm: I appreciate and agree with your observations.
I was there too and, as with his previous town halls,
I feel very grateful for Ron Wyden’s dedication to his constituents.
He represents us – ALL OF US – extremely well.

Christmas has Talons

If Sal actually walked his talk it would be different.
@Sponge, I guess if listening to a guy who exemplifies partisanship then complains that other's do the same things gets you where you want to go...cool, not me. I have to see someone who really cares about our community before they will get my vote. I also want honest people in our local offices and that doesn't describe Sal.
You can pay Sal to be in his "Independent Party" if you really believes he isn't partisan but that just tells me you haven't been around. #Salperatapayforplayscandal# #bustedbythesecretaryofstate#


Character assassination reads like a cheap shot masquerading as opinion.

Don Dix

If one sees and hears the rhetoric from both sides of the isle, it's all completely partisan. Each side works 'against the other' 24/7/365. That's about as unproductive as it gets -- and adding more politically-bent parties to the equation only creates more gridlock.

msantone wrote -- ' In a nation of 360 million with complex problems how would you govern?' Without any 'sides of the isle', in two words -- much better!

Bill B

Don Dix - Have you seen your suggested model work anywhere in the world at any time?


Don Dix
More political parties will never be the answer -- zero would be perfect!

Wow Don. Might turn our town into “Woodstock II” everybody doing their own thing… wouldn’t need money, committees, meetings, etc. just loose as a goose. How do we get it all started? Have a meeting, gather folks, we’ll need s o m e organizing, If we can’t all agree where to gather we might need some leaders. Oops, guess we better have 3 groups to get things going. Call one “rights” another “lefts” and last one “we could care less”. It helps if you hold your leg higher while I’m pulling it.

Don Dix

Bill B -- 'Have you seen your suggested model work anywhere in the world at any time?'

Nope, but we have all seen how this dysfunctional one doesn't.

Katesoren -- political parties (in US) today are designed to oppose nearly anything the other side proposes (gridlock). The business of the country and what is best is definitely not at the top of the list. Acting like spoiled, privileged brats cannot be found in their job description.

Speaker Nancy wants Biden as the candidate (to keep her position of power), so keep a close eye on how Pelosi, Shumer, and the Ds begin to rig their primary so Bernie gets screwed again. That's the government you get when few dictate (not govern) to the many.

David S. Wall

Mr. Peralta has yet to discuss McMinnville's alleged $1.4 Million dollar deficit and solutions to resolve the financial quagmire.

How did Mr. Peralta "Vote" on the Baker Creek Development issue?

Did Mr. Peralta "Vote" to retain (and FUND) "Visit McMinnville?"

Did Mr. Peralta "Vote" to require a "Request for Proposal" to hire a local Attorney as an "Independent Contractor" to fill the position of City Attorney for McMinnville or did an "Insider" get the job?

Text for [SJR 18] can be viewed here:


Testimony for [SJR 18] can be reviewed here:


David S. Wall


Don. Without any 'sides of the isle'. Just what would that look like? no difference of opinion? an authoritarian leader (like a king)? Oh maybe everyone just magically agrees. Come on. Get real. Where there are vested interests and difference of opinion folks will gather together to press their point of view. We have a system to deal with it called democracy. It is a grand experiment. do you want to throw it out. How would you make decisions on difficult decisions?

Don Dix

msantone -- the DNA of the reps and senators that go to DC pack an agenda that automatically opposes the other side. It doesn't matter whether the 'idea' is a good one or not. Look at how many bills pass or fail along party lines.

Then take into account how many bills are not actually written by congress or their aides -- they are written by lobbyists. And the payoff is financial support for those members of Congress who carry that water. Many bills do very little for the general public, but certainly are welcomed by special interests and big corps (business).

So those who are sent to DC to represent the public can afford to be highly partisan to their particular cause. Their 'money train' does not originate at the grassroots level, but flows from the deals made to sponsor bills written by those who would benefit.

The bottom line is most reps in congress don't do the work they are assigned, but blindly follow the respective leaders of each party, almost without exception. That is quite a stretch from a 'representative government' that the Constitution instructs.

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