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Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Voter-Owned Democracy, part 8: In a wired world, the end zone is now the 50-yard line

Portland, Oregon—

“The era of top-down politics—where campaigns, institutions and journalism were cloistered communities powered by hard-to-amass capital—is over. Something wilder, more engaging and infinitely more satisfying to individual participants is arising alongside the old order.” –Micah L. Sifry, The Nation, Nov 2004

Oregon residents will find themselves on the cutting edge of the transformational politics a wired world enables in this 2008 campaign season, the birth of a new Direct Democracy.

In the Old Order, the party system, the lobbyists and the special interest PACs combine to produce a favored candidate, such as my opponent, Jackie Dingfelder in Senate District 23.

New voices have little opportunity to succeed against a sitting legislator, and so few even take a run at it.

When I took this race on, I knew that none of the special interests, none of the lobbyists, would oppose a sitting legislator, particularly not one with the single-minded determination of my opponent.

Among members of the public, the Oregon Legislature has only a 30% approval rating, but among the lobbyists, a sitting legislator is the key to the bread and butter, the bacon and the thousand-dollar shoes.

Going into the campaign, I knew about the 30% approval rating, the fact that the voters want change, and—most crucially for a campaign like this—70% of Portland voters are wired, and are thus capable of getting past the gatekeepers and making decisions independently (not that they will).

Oregon’s mail-in balloting system is the other factor that makes a write-in campaign entirely feasible in the 2008 election cycle, kind of like an open book test with more than two weeks to fill in the answers.

The stage is set then, for a transformational change in campaign finance and election reform and Senate District 23 will be the first opportunity to test a new paradigm in Direct Democracy.

The party primaries are now the 50-yard line of electoral politics, and the traditional gatekeepers aren’t going to like it one bit.

The general public in Senate District 23 had few opportunities to gain an understanding of the choice before them, between two well-qualified but differently-qualified candidates.

There were no meaningful debates or public forums in Senate District 23 during the course of the entire primary race. I had a five-minute speaking opportunity in March and two minutes each in April and May.

The subjects of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and of veterans and military families’ issues never came up.

None of the special interests represented veterans or the people paying the price in Iraq and Afghanistan.

None of the special interest endorsement groups that interviewed me ever wondered at all about issues specific to Senate District 23.

In House District 45, the northern half of Senate District 23, which was going to have both a new State Representative and a new State Senator in 2008, no public forum or debate addressing the fact was held at all.

If this is the way you are going to choose a legislator, then you have no business criticizing the legislature afterwards.

Fortunately, in the New Order, the party primaries are not the last word.

The May 20 Democratic Primary will not represent the End of Choice in Senate District 23.

Now we move into Write-In Mode, and we will celebrate the end of the Old Order in November.

More on this later.

---Sean Cruz

Rex says, “Arf! Woof! Arf!”

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