Law and Politics

Oregon Needs an Open Primary

August 12, 2014
By Nelda Wilson

As the old saying goes, "he who writes the rules wins the game."  When it comes to our election system, the rules are written by the two major parties.

I am currently a member of the Democratic Party in Oregon and a leader in my union, the International Union of Operating Engineers. 

Our union members built the bridges, roads and offices on the Portland metropolitan skyline. They also maintain the Columbia River channel to allow the import and export cargo shipping that drives commerce in the region. When you see a construction crane or a piece of heavy machinery on a worksite, there is a good chance you will find a union operating engineer behind the controls.

In my 30-plus year career, I have spent my fair share of time working those pieces of machinery, representing members of my union in contract negotiations with employers and working to elevate the issues that matter to our members to the attention of politicians in this state.  

Based on my experience, there is one thing I can say with absolute certainty: Working people are held hostage by our current political system, which is designed to benefit the more powerful forces of the two major parties. Working people's issues will never rise to the forefront in such a system.  

For this reason, I am proud to stand with the Oregon Working Families Party in their support of the Oregon open primary.  Our current closed primary system has excluded far too many people for far too long. It is time we elevate a new set of diverse voices to help set the governance agenda of the state.

So why support the Oregon open primary?  Simple.  While California and Washington have both recently implemented versions of an open primary, the Oregon open primary is substantially different in very positive ways.

First, the Oregon open primary will finally allow members of minor parties — as well as non-affiliated voters — to cast a meaningful vote in the primary.  I used to be registered as a member of the Working Families Party, but had to re-register as a Democrat in order to receive a ballot with more inspiring options than just voting on 20 non-partisan judge positions. The Oregon open primary would let me and those like me register as a minor party member, while still having a meaningful impact in setting the election agenda in the primary when it actually matters.

Second, the Oregon system not only preserves, but strengthens Oregon's fusion voting system.  Under fusion voting minor parties such as the WFP can cross-endorse candidates from other parties and have that endorsement appear directly on the ballot.  It is a "good housekeeping seal of approval" that a candidate will be a champion of working people.

As a fifth generation Oregonian, I believe we need more voices in politics, not fewer, and we need to break the ways in which our system is rigged against working people, which is why I plan to vote yes for Measure 90.

***Nelda Wilson is business manager and financial secretary of the International Union of Operating Engineers Local 701 in Gladstone.

August 12, 2014

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