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October 11, 2004

Minor parties and the primary

One reason Gov. Gary Locke gave for his veto of a bill that would have changed Washington's primary to one where the top two vote-getters advance was because he said it would give minor parties short shrift.

I doubted that reasoning, knowing that a green was way more likely to get elected in some parts of Seattle and a Libertarian more likely in some rural areas. After all, there are two avowed Green Party members on the Seattle School Board (although those are nonpartisan seats) and, in 2000, five Seattle City Council members were Greens (two since lost their seats).

Thanks to a recent study by Washington State Grange, I know my suspicions were more or less correct. The Grange is sponsoring Initiative 872 on Washington's Nov. 2 ballot that would do what the governor undid and establish a "top two" primary.

The Grange's election specialist, Don Whiting, looked at the 2000 primary election and found that, had the top two primary been in place, 13 minor-party legislative candidates would have advanced to the general election. In 2002, four minor party candidates for the Legislature would have advanced.

That year, Green party candidates would have appeared on the general election ballot next to Democrats Sen. Tim Sheldon in the 35th Legislative District and next to Sen. Pat Thibaudeau in the 43rd. In Eastern Washington's 9th district, Republican Rep. Mark Schoesler would have appeared only with a Libertarian and Democratic Rep. Sharon Tomiko-Santos would have faced only an independent candidate in the 37th.

In some districts, a Green might be a better representative of his or her district and certainly a Libertarian would be a better fit in others. While that might erode the strength of the Democratic and Republican parties in the Legislature, third party candidates might raise the level of debate and shoo backroom deals out of closed caucuses. That could be a good thing.

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Posted by Kate Riley at October 11, 2004 05:24 PM



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