As the Independent movement gains strength and momentum, it is only logical to expect a backlash from the partisans in the major parties. In Oregon, Independents are fighting for the very right to represent themselves as Independents.
Today, the Rules Committee of the Oregon state House is scheduled to consider a bill – HB 2442 – that would force the Independent Party of Oregon to change its name or face dissolution. More precisely, the proposal would prohibit any party from using the word ‘Independent’ in its name on the basis of the assertion that such use of the word “independent” causes confusion among voters and even threatens the integrity of the elections process. Absurdly, the bill goes so far as to declare a state of emergency regarding the matter, claiming that it is “necessary for the immediate preservation of the public peace, health and safety,” according to the official summary (.pdf) available at the state legislature’s website.
The Independent Party of Oregon is the third largest party in the state. Founded in 2006, the party already has more members than all other third party organizations in the state combined, with over 65,000 registered voters. The proposed bill apparently seeks to address the possibility that voters who do not intend to affiliate with any party might inadvertently inflate membership in the Independent Party by registering “Independent” rather than non-affiliated.
While leaders of the Independent Party of Oregon do not dispute the fact that such a misunderstanding is possible, it hardly merits a declaration of emergency. Just 3% of voters in the state are registered with the Independent Party, compared with over 20% who are registered as non-affiliated, 32% who are registered Republican and 41.5% registered Democrat, according to the most recent statistics from the Oregon Secretary of State’s office.
At the time of this writing, it remains unknown who the sponsor or sponsors of the bill in the Oregon legislature are. It was introduced anonymously by the House Interim Committee on Rules. Co-chair of the House Rules Committee, State Rep. Andy Olson, professed ignorance on the matter. “No one seems to be able to own it,” he told the Democrat Herald newspaper.
Needless to say, members of the Independent Party of Oregon are outraged at the measure, as are all Americans who value the First Amendment should be.
“The free speech and free association implications of this bill are stunning, particularly when you consider that no legislator has listed his or her name as a sponsor,” said Party Chair, Linda Williams in a statement on the measure at the party’s website. “This is a transparent partisan attempt by a handful of legislators to strangle the Independent Party of Oregon in its infancy," she continued.
Over 400 supporters of the party have already signed a petition in opposition to any effort to restrict the rights to free speech and association of the members of the Independent Party of Oregon. In one of the more polite comments appended to the petition, Jule Johnson of Brookings, writes:
“I have been a Democrat and then a Republican and I am now proudly a member of the Independent Party. I have never in my years as a voter been more disgusted with the way either of the major parties have dealt with all of the important issues facing our wonderful country and our beautiful state.”
The proposed bill is unprecedented in US history. Ballot access expert Richard Winger writes that “no state has ever passed a law telling a party that was already ballot-qualified that it had to change its name.”
The bill has been scheduled to have its first public hearing at the meeting of the Oregon House Rules Committee today at 3pm with committee co-chair, and Democratic party leader, Rep. Dave Hunt presiding. The leadership of the Independent Party suspects that Hunt is responsible for the bill, according to the Democrat Herald.