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Independent Party of Oregon faces obstacles

In another first for Oregon, the state has become the only one in the nation with three major political parties — just barely. And therein lies the initial challenge facing the Independent Party of Oregon: not only to retain major party status but to build on it, by continuing to add members and electing some of them to office.

Secretary of State Kate Brown announced last week that the party had met the threshold for recognition as a major party — having more than 5 percent of the registered voters in the last gubernatorial election. But the party made the cut by only three voters. It's up for reverification on Aug. 17, and it could lose major party status if its membership drops below 108,739.

Meanwhile, the IPO will be eligible to run candidates in the May 19 primary election. The bad news is, this is an odd-numbered year, meaning no legislative seats will be on the ballot, and many of the offices that will be are nonpartisan. That will make it tough for the party to gain much momentum until next year.

There are other difficulties facing the Independent Party, starting with its name. About a third of Oregon registered voters are not affiliated with either the Democratic or Republican parties. Most of those voters are nonaffiliated, commonly referred to as independents with a small "i."

An unknown number of voters listed as Independents with a capital "I" may in fact have intended to register as nonaffiliated, which doesn't make them enthusiastic advocates for growing a new major political party. As the IPO gains a higher profile, some of those voters may ask to be listed as nonaffiliated. The acronym IPO, also, is a bit problematic, as it conjures images of Wall Street and initial public offerings of stock.

Another difficulty is the Independent Party's platform. Featured prominently on the party website, www.indparty.com, the platform is brief, sensible and relentlessly uncontroversial:

"The Independent Party of Oregon favors reducing special interest influence over our government processes; increasing transparency in government, particularly with how our tax dollars are spent and how the public's business is conducted in Salem; protecting Oregon consumers, particularly with respect to banks, insurance companies and private utilities; providing incentives for small businesses to thrive and for larger businesses to expand in Oregon in a way that returns more benefits to the public than it costs."

Unless you are far to the left or to the right, it's hard to argue with any of those positions. It's also hard to get enough people fired up about them to do the kind of volunteer work that wins elections.

None of these obstacles are insurmountable. We have consistently supported opening up the Oregon election process by allowing nonaffiliated voters to cast ballots in primaries, and we supported the unsuccessful open primary measure last year. A third major party option for primary voters has the potential to push the Democratic and Republican parties to run candidates that appeal to a broader slice of the electorate.

We wish the Independent Party well.