A Proposal To Improve the Electoral College

by Alan F. Zundel

As most U.S. voters are unhappily aware, the President of the United States is elected by the electoral college, not by the popular vote. In the 229 years since the U.S. Constitution was adopted this feature has been the target of a lot of complaints. I’d like to propose for discussion a way to improve how the electoral college works.

What’s the Problem?

Here’s how the electoral college now works in almost all of the states:

  1. The voters vote for President in the November election.
  2. Whichever candidate got the most votes in a state gets to have their proposed electors be the state’s official electors.
  3. In mid-December all the states’ official electors vote as a group, or “college,” on who will be President. If a candidate gets a majority of the electoral votes (which almost always happens) that candidate is elected.

Two of the chief complaints about this system are:

The “winning loser” problem. This is when the electors elect a candidate who didn’t get the most popular votes nationwide. This happened most recently in 2000 (Bush vs. Gore) and 2016 (Trump vs. Clinton).

The “spoiler” problem. This is when a candidate outside of the two major parties is accused of “spoiling” the chances of a major party candidate to win a close race in an important state, thus affecting the ultimate outcome. Ross Perot in 1992, Ralph Nader in 2000, and Jill Stein in 2016 have all been accused of being “spoilers.”

Notice that these two problems seem to be linked: the years in which a candidate was a “winning loser” were years in which there was a purported “spoiler” candidate.

How a Less Popular Candidate Wins

The reason for the “winning loser” problem is the magnifying effect of giving all of a state’s electors to a candidate who might have only a slight edge in popular votes in the state.

A simplified example: California has about 14 million voters and 55 electors. Utah has about 1 million voters and 6 electors. Suppose the Democratic candidate wins in California with 51% of the popular vote, gaining all 55 of its electoral votes, and the Republican candidate wins in Utah with 85% of the popular vote, gaining its 6 electoral votes. Here are the results:

Democrat: 7,290,000 popular votes (7,140,000 in CA and 150,000 in UT) and 55 electoral votes.

Republican: 7,710,000 popular votes (6,860,000 in CA and 850,000 in UT) and 6 electoral votes.

The Democrat is behind in popular votes, but way ahead in electoral votes, because a slight popular vote win in a state with lots of electoral votes gets you more than a big popular vote win in a state with fewer electoral votes.

So in “swing states” (states in which the vote is close) with lots of electoral votes, a slight edge for one candidate can mean victory in the electoral college even though that candidate is behind in the popular vote nationwide.

And the presence of a “spoiler” candidate makes a big difference when the vote is close, because it may give that edge to one of the major party candidates. This is why the “winning loser” and “spoiler” problems tend to crop up in the same elections.

My Proposal

As the electoral college is set up by the U.S. Constitution, it can only be abolished by a constitutional amendment, which is a very difficult process. A way around this is to change the way states select their electors. This requires only a change in state law.

My proposal would attack the “spoiler” problem directly as a way to address the “winning loser” problem indirectly. I propose a slight change in step 2 of how the electoral college now works as outlined above, which requires only a change in state laws. The new step 2 is actually composed of two steps, so I will call these steps 2A and 2B. It would work like this:

1.(No change.) The voters vote for President in the November election.

2A. All of the candidates’ proposed electors in a state vote on which candidate’s slate of electors will become the official electors in their state. However, the weight of each proposed elector’s vote would be adjusted according to the percentage of the popular vote their candidate received in the state. Thus if a candidate received 40% of the popular vote in the state, the votes of that candidate’s proposed electors would each count for 40% of a whole vote.

2B. Whichever candidate gets the highest vote in step 2A gets to have their proposed electors be the state’s official electors.

3. (No change.) In mid-December all the states’ official electors vote as a group on who will be President. If a candidate gets a majority of the electoral votes (which should still almost always happen) that candidate is elected.

This change creates an opportunity for a “spoiler” candidate’s proposed electors to throw their vote in step 2A to one of the major party candidates rather than their own candidate. In most cases they wouldn’t want to do this, and the outcome would be the same as if step 2 had not been changed. But in cases in which delivering their vote to one of the major party candidates would make a difference in the ultimate outcome of the Presidential election, they could save their candidate from “spoiler” accusations by delivering their state’s electoral votes to the major party candidate that their voters prefer.

The new law should also require candidates to announce ahead of the election whether their proposed electors might choose to throw their vote to another candidate, and if so which one. This would make it clear that the vote switch to another candidate represents the will of those voters who voted for the candidate endorsing the switch, and thus the outcome would more closely represent the will of the majority in the state.

This change would have the biggest effect if instituted in swing states, but even in other states it could avoid potential “spoiler” problems, thus give voters greater freedom to vote for candidates outside of the two major parties if they choose to do so. That in turn creates incentives for major party candidates to appeal to voters they might otherwise take for granted, because voters would be able to turn to candidates who address particular issues if the major party candidates fail to do so.

And if the system is shown to work smoothly in other states, there would eventually be pressure on swing states to adopt it as well.

What About the National Popular Vote Idea?

The most prominent reform proposal for changing the working of the electoral college is the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact. This would have states agree to choose their electors based on whichever candidate got the most popular votes nationwide, not whichever got the most popular votes within each state. The compact would not go into effect until the states adopting it had enough electoral votes to obtain a majority in the electoral college. As of May 2018, it had been adopted by 11 states and the District of Columbia (which has 3 electoral votes), representing about 64% of the electoral votes needed.

This proposal would solve the “winning loser” problem, but not the “spoiler” problem, which would be even worse. Instead of being limited to just the states where the race was close, the “spoiler” problem would apply to the nationwide vote, with the result that any vote recount to identify miscounted votes would have to be conducted in every part of the nation, not just in particular locations. From the standpoint of practicality and delay in confirming the winner, that would be a nightmare.

It would also create a serious disincentive for voters throughout the nation to vote for non-major party candidates. This disincentive, which already exists in most of our elections, is anti-democratic because it discourages voters from voting for the candidates they truly prefer and artificially inhibits the chances for non-major parties to grow.

There is also the additional problem that under the compact a state will at some point have to award its electoral votes to a candidate who did not win the popular vote in that state. The first time this happens I would expect there to be a backlash by voters within that state against the compact, and I suspect it is a reason more states have not adopted it.


If swing states adopted my proposal, the incidence of “spoiler” problems in the Presidential election should be lessened and thus the chances of the “winning loser” problem occurring would also be lessened. Voters would feel more free to vote for the candidates they truly prefer and major party candidates would have to address issues that they otherwise might be tempted to ignore.

In other states the adoption of this proposal would have little effect on the outcome of the election, but it would prevent potential “spoiler” problems from arising in that state in the Presidential election, increase voters’ sense of freedom to vote for who they truly prefer, and create an example that swing states may want to emulate.

Your thoughts?

Social Advance Foundational Meeting Planned

Alan Zundel invites you join a meeting this month in Eugene, Oregon to discuss founding Social Advance as a membership organization. I expect the meeting to last no more than an hour and a half and to have a brief agenda to get us started:

  1. Discussion of the four values as central guiding principles for the organization: Citizen Empowerment, Emergent Economics, Responsive Democracy, and Universal Respect.
  2. Deciding on next steps, such as starting an online news service and drafting a constitution.
  3. Choosing leaders to move things forward until the next meeting. At a minimum this would entail ongoing communication with other leaders as an advisor, at a maximum taking on specific tasks in line with the next steps determined at the meeting.

If you are interested, contact alan@socialadvance.org and I will provide you with a link to an online meeting scheduler.

STAR Voting Initiative Petition Filed

by Alan F. Zundel

The 2016 elections exposed just how broken our election methods are. Now we have a chance to start changing that!

On Tuesday November 14 an initiative petition to institute STAR Voting for Lane County offices was filed at the Lane County Elections Office in Eugene. A parallel campaign is being organized in Portland for Multnomah County. If enough signatures are collected in each respective county, the initiatives will appear on their November 2018 ballots.

STAR (Score Then Automatic Runoff) Voting is a solution to multiple electoral problems. It:

  • Allows voters to express their preferences more fully and accurately,
  • Doesn’t force a voter to choose between more than one candidate they like,
  • Gives equal weight to each voter’s vote, and
  • Produces a winner with wide support.

In STAR Voting voters can score each candidate in the general election on a scale from zero to five, including giving two or more candidates the same score. Scoring candidates is similar to the familiar zero-to-five star scoring we use for products or movie reviews.

The two candidates with the highest overall scores are entered into an automatic runoff without the need of a second election. Each voter’s vote goes to the finalist who they scored higher, and the candidate who was scored higher most often wins.

STAR Voting builds on the long history of studying alternative voting methods by combining features of Score (or Range) Voting, Instant Runoff Voting, and Top-Two Elections, for a simple, integrated system that improves on all of them.

If the Lane County initiative passes, offices such as the county commissioners, the sheriff and the district attorney would be elected using STAR Voting instead of the current Top-Two voting method. For county elections STAR Voting has the added attractions of eliminating the cost and bother of a primary election and reducing the prospect of only one candidate appearing on the November general election ballot.

Mark Frohnmayer and Alan Zundel, both long-time activists for voting reform, are the chief petitioners for the Lane County initiative. Mark is a software and clean technology entrepreneur who was the Chief Petitioner in 2014 for an initiative to create a Unified Primary and is the founder of Equal Vote. Alan is a former political scientist who was instrumental in last year’s successful campaign to allow Ranked Choice Voting in Benton County and recently served on the Secretary of State’s task force to reform Oregon’s redistricting process.

Once the petitions are approved after review in each county, signature gathering will begin.

Volunteers for Lane County can contact lane@equal.vote, and volunteers for Multnomah can contact PDX@equal.vote. For news of the campaigns you can follow the STAR Voting Facebook page, and for more information on STAR Voting see the Equal Vote website.

Interested parties in Multnomah County are invited to join a planning meeting on Sunday, November 19th from 3-5 pm at Lucky Lab, 1700 Killingsworth in Portland. If attending please RSVP sara@equal.vote.

The Lane County campaign is currently accepting donations but only by check at the present time. Checks may be made out to “STAR Voting for Lane County” and mailed to:

STAR Voting for Lane County

c/o Alan Zundel

825 Monroe St., #1

Eugene, OR  97402

Update on Oregon Single-Payer Health Care

by Alan F. Zundel

Charlie Swanson of the Health Care for All Oregon (HCAO) board has written to correct some of my speculations about SB 1046, the bill for single-payer health care currently in the Oregon legislature.

I guessed that the plan to refer single-payer health care to the ballot was a way for state legislators to “pass the buck” to voters so they would not antagonize powerful interests such as the insurance industry.

According to Charlie, SB 1046 was introduced as a way to move discussions forward and build support in the legislature. It was not expected to get out of the Senate Health Care Committee, and it had only a courtesy hearing there.

He writes, “We knew before the session started that we were not going to try to convince the health care committee to move the bill forward, though at that time we were hoping for a courtesy hearing in both the house and senate health care committees.”

The bill was not regarded, even by HCAO, as ready for action. There are still many considerations about the best way to shift costs for health insurance from the private sector (for example, premiums, co-pays and deductibles paid by employers or individuals) to public insurance. The amount needed is also uncertain and subject to various factors.

Funding considerations are a major aspect of a single-payer plan, and still need more discussion, research and reflection to create a sound plan.

In any event, a single-payer bill will entail provisions for raising revenue, which in Oregon requires a 60% super majority in both legislative chambers, not a simple majority. Even if all Democrats backed it, it would still need Republican support, unless there is a large shift in party representation in the legislature.

(As an aside, State Senator James Manning recently claimed at a meeting of Our Revolution Lane County that if Democrats could gain “six seats” in the 2018 election, they would pass a single-payer bill. They are currently one seat short of 60% of the seats in each chamber.)

But even if a bill did pass the legislature, it is virtually certain someone would institute a referendum on the bill, placing it on the ballot to give the voters a chance to approve or disapprove of it. As it will end up in the voters’ hands anyway, it would be much easier to move it forward in the legislature by asking them to refer it to the ballot in the first place.

2018 Election Preview for Eugene-Springfield Voters

by Alan F. Zundel

How are the races for the 2018 elections shaping up? Let’s take a look at the top offices Eugene-Springfield voters will be casting their ballots for.

The primary election will be on May 15, 2018. Voters registered with each of the major parties—Democratic, Republican, or Independent Party—will choose their respective party’s nominees in the primary. Candidates for nonpartisan offices will also be on the primary ballot, vying to be one of the top two candidates (or in some cases the only candidate) to appear on the November ballot.

Filing to run as a candidate in the primary election closes on March 6, 2018. Let’s take a look at who has filed as of October 10. (Candidates for minor parties will be chosen at their conventions held at various times in 2018, generally after the primary election.)

Federal Elections

On the federal level, 2018 is not a Presidential election year nor are either of Oregon’s two U.S. Senators up for election. In the U.S. House of Representatives, the Eugene-Springfield area is covered by U.S. Congressional District 4, which extends north to Corvallis and Lebanon, south to the California border, west to the Pacific coastline, and east into the Cascade Mountain Range.

Democrat Peter DeFazio has held the seat since 1987 and is expected to seek the nomination of his party again, although he has not yet filed as a candidate.

Two candidates for the Republican nomination have filed so far, Stefan Strek and Jo Rae Perkins. In 2016 Strek was a candidate in the primary election for Eugene mayor. Perkins lives in Albany and was a primary candidate for U.S. House District 4 in 2016 and the U.S. Senate in 2014.

Statewide Elections

There are two statewide seats up for election in 2018, Governor and the Commissioner of the Bureau of Labor and Industries (BOLI).

The incumbent Governor, Democrat Kate Brown, has filed for reelection. On the Republican side, Knute Buehler, Keenan Bohach, and Bruce Cuff have filed. Buehler, who lives in Bend, is the best known of the Republicans, currently serving as a representative for Oregon House District 54. Bohack is a farmer and U.S. Army veteran living in Keizer, and Cuff is a real estate broker in Lyons and also a veteran.

The BOLI Commissioner is a nonpartisan office. The current incumbent, Brad Avakian, has stated that he will not be running for reelection. So far Val Hoyle and Jack Howard have filed for the office. Hoyle ran for Oregon Secretary of State in the 2016 primary. She previously represented Oregon House District 14 and was majority leader in the state house. Howard, from La Grande, is an attorney and County Commissioner in Union County.

Oregon State Senate

Three state senate districts cover areas of Eugene and Springfield: districts 4, 6 and 7. The terms of state senators last for four years and all three of these are up for election in 2018.

To date no one has filed for District 4 (south Lane County into Douglas County). The current incumbent is Democrat Floyd Prozanski, who has held the seat since 2003. Prozanski is expected to run again.

Democrat Lee Beyer, the current incumbent of District 6 (north central Lane County into Linn County), has filed to run again. Beyer has held the seat since 1999 and so far no challenger has filed.

Democratic James Manning was appointed to District 7 (west Eugene area) in December of 2016 and has filed to run for the seat. As a new legislator he is expected to draw challengers, but no one else has filed yet.

Oregon State House

Every seat in the Oregon State House is up for election every two years. Six seats cover the Eugene-Springfield area.

No one has filed yet for District 7 (east Lane County into north Douglas County). The seat has been held by Republican Cedric Hayden since 2015, and he is expected to run again.

Democrat Paul Holvey, the incumbent in District 8 (southwest Eugene area), has filed to run again. He has held the seat since 2004. Democrat Phil Barnhart, the incumbent in District 11 (west Lane County) since 2003, has also filed to run again. No one has yet filed to challenge either of them.

To date no one has filed for District 12 (Springfield) or 13 (north central Eugene). Democrat John Lively has held the District 12 seat since 2013 and is expected to run again. Democrat Nancy Nathanson has held the District 13 seat since 2007 and is also expected to run again.

Democrat Julie Fahey is in her first term as representative of District 14 (northwest Eugene). She has filed to run again and Rich Cunningham has filed for the Republican nomination. Fahey is a business consultant and Cunningham a retired insurance broker.

Lane County Commission

The terms for Lane County Commissioners are four years and three of the five seats are up for election in 2018. These seats are nonpartisan.

In District 1 (west Lane County), incumbent Jay Bozievich is running for reelection. So far I am not aware of anyone else running for this seat.

In District 2 (Springfield), incumbent Sid Leiken is running for reelection. Former Lane Education Service District board member Joe Berney of Springfield is challenging Leiken for the seat.

And in District 5 (east Lane County) incumbent Gary Williams is running. Williams was appointed to the board in April of this year to fill out the term of Commissioner Faye Stewart. This seat has attracted a number of competitors. Eugene property manager Heather Buch, former county commissioner candidate Kevin Matthews, and real estate broker James Barber are all actively engaged in campaign activities.

Stay Tuned!

We’ll be looking at each of these races in more detail as the election season progresses. Check back with us or sign up for our email list on our website to keep in touch.

Politics and the Clash of Economic Stories

by Alan F. Zundel

Politics in the U.S. has always been organized primary around competing stories about the economy. These stories help people make sense of what’s going on in the larger society, what it is that threatens them, and what the government should do about it.

The stories typically start with a “once upon a time” beginning, go on to explain how a problem arose, identify heroes and villains, and end with a call to action. In the last Presidential election four stories were in play, and they are still in play today. Which story someone accepts defines their political orientation and shapes their political actions, most importantly how they vote.

The New Deal Progressive Story

The New Deal Progressive Story was most famously framed by President Franklin D. Roosevelt and became the organizing story of the Democratic Party for about a half a century. It goes like this:

Once upon a time America was a land of economic opportunity for ordinary people, but then big corporations, greedy for power and profits, took over the economy and led us into a horrible depression. Roosevelt brought people together to restrain the economic elite by putting limits on the actions of big corporations and creating a social safety net for people in times of need.

The story dominated U.S. politics for several decades but began to lose its hold on the Democratic Party by the 1980s. It has returned to prominence with the Presidential campaign of Bernie Sanders and is also popular among progressive Democrats such as Elizabeth Warren. The new version goes like this:

Once upon a time FDR’s New Deal policies resulted in 25 years of prosperity and rising incomes for all, but then big business leaders conspired with extreme conservative politicians like Ronald Reagan and undid our progress. Now we have to rebuild and extend Roosevelt’s coalition to defend and extend the social safety net and again regulate the actions of big business.

The Libertarian Conservative Story

The reason the New Deal Progressive Story lost ground, however, is not addressed by its new story tellers. Ronald Reagan was not just a creature of big business, he was a widely popular President because he told a compelling story that explained the economic problems of the 1970s. His story was the Libertarian Conservative Story, and it goes like this:

Once upon a time we had economic freedom and opportunity in this country, but then ambitious politicians created big government programs that promised too much to too many people in the 1960s and ruined the economy in the 1970s. President Reagan brought people back to traditional values and revived the economy by lowering taxes and freeing the economy from excessive regulation.

This has been the defining story of the Republican Party since the Reagan administration, and was told by virtually all of the 2016 Presidential candidates except Donald Trump.

The Neo-Liberal New Democrat Story

When leaders of the Democratic Party found themselves losing voters to the Republicans’ Libertarian Conservative Story, some of them came up with a new story, the Neo-Liberal New Democrat Story. It goes like this:

Once upon a time the Democrats’ New Deal led us into rising prosperity for all, but then the economy changed and we didn’t change with it. As a result we lost voters to the Reagan Republicans, who led people in the wrong direction. President Bill Clinton saw that we needed to adapt to the globalization of the economy with new trade agreements and provide education and training to bring workers into the new economy. We need to fight for this against the forces of the Reagan Republicans.

This has been the story told by most Democratic politicians since the Clinton administration, and was best represented in the 2016 Presidential election by Hillary Clinton. (Of course!) But because the Clinton era policies did not bring their promised benefits to working people, the New Democrats were challenged by Bernie Sanders’ revival of the party’s New Deal Progressive wing. The two wings are now fighting over the future of the Democratic Party and which story will represent it.

The Alien Undermining Story

The Alien Undermining Story is an old one, but did not have as much influence as the other three stories until it was picked up by Donald Trump in his 2016 Presidential campaign. It goes like this:

Once upon a time we were a united people and things were good, but then we were betrayed by a political elite pandering to alien forces who don’t accept our values. We need a strong leader to sweep this elite from power and drive out or suppress these alien forces.

At the risk of sounding overly dramatic, I have to point out that the historic precedent for this story is that it was told during the Great Depression by fascists like Adolph Hitler. The Alien Undermining Story has its greatest power in times of confusion in which multiple stories clash and none seem to be able to pull people together well enough to move the country forward. People then look to a strong leader to unify us against the alleged perpetrators of our chaotic situation.

What Now?

Our political stories unite us with those who share them, but divide us from those who adopt divergent stories. When no story is capable of gaining majority support, there are only two paths open to us. One is persistent divisiveness that allows the rise of fascist forces and ultimately leads to greater chaos. The other is to find a new story capable of winning majority acceptance.

This new story might be a variation of one of the old stories that allows it to incorporate the persuasive elements of a competing story, or it might be something radically different from any of the older stories.

But to persist in clinging to one of the old stories without identifying why many people find it unpersuasive, or without finding a way to adapt it so as to bring two stories together into a better story, is a recipe for disaster.

Is National Health Insurance a “Far Left” Proposal?

Ted Kennedy

by Alan F. Zundel

National health insurance was first instituted in Germany in 1883 by chancellor Otto von Bismarck. Who was Bismarck? An arch-conservative trying to win worker support away from the growing socialist movement, which he suppressed with the Anti-Socialist Laws of 1878.

Far from being an idea nurtured solely by socialists or the “far left,” national health insurance has long been a proposal within the mainstream of modern politics.

In the United States the idea was first taken up by Teddy Roosevelt, who switched from the Republican to the Progressive Party in his Presidential campaign of 1912. (He lost in a three-way race to Democrat Woodrow Wilson.)

Opponents from business, the insurance industry, and medicine soon mobilized against the idea and tagged it first as foreign German idea (our enemy in World War I) and then after the Russian Revolution a communist one.

Yet President Franklin D. Roosevelt picked it up in the 1930s for his New Deal program to address the Great Depression. He had his Committee of Economic Security develop a secret report for a system of national health care, but he held back from proposing it until he passed the Social Security Act of 1935.

FDR then had the Social Security Board then do further work on the plan and presented it at a major conference in July 1938. He sent the plan to Congress in January 1939 but his attention was diverted to World War II. He revived the issue in his 1943 State of the Union address, calling for a “cradle to grave” social insurance system, and in 1944 campaigned for an economic bill of rights that included universal health care. FDR supported national health insurance again in his 1945 State of the Union address but unfortunately died that April.

Where Roosevelt was cautious, his successor Harry Truman was bold. Truman backed the Wager-Murray-Dingell bill for universal health care and took on the conservative opposition. After winning an unexpected election victory in 1948, he submitted a plan for national health insurance but it was stalled by the rise of anti-communist McCarthyism. The Democrats then turned to a step-by-step strategy.

Bills to establish national health insurance for seniors were introduced in 1959, 1960, 1961, and 1962, throughout the terms of Presidents Dwight Eisenhower and John Kennedy, but got stuck in the House Ways and Means Committee. The chair, Arkansas Democrat Wilbur Mills, was concerned that national health insurance would force southern hospitals to treat black patients and so refused to hold hearings on the bills.

Kennedy worked on Mills and was able to get hearings in 1963, but was assassinated that November. His successor Lyndon Johnson next took up the cause and after a landslide election in 1964 passed Medicare and Medicaid, landmark programs providing government health insurance to seniors, the poor and the disabled.

But this was not the end goal. After the assassination of Bobby Kennedy in the Presidential campaign of 1968, his brother Senator Ted Kennedy took up the unfinished task of universal health insurance during the Nixon Presidency.

Nixon, worried about a Presidential bid from Kennedy in 1972, developed his own plan for national health insurance, relying on mandating employers to offer health insurance and subsidized insurance for poor families. However, when he unveiled it early 1971 it proved to be too liberal for conservatives and too conservative for liberals, who stuck with Kennedy’s plan for single-payer health insurance.

During Nixon’s second term he again wanted to get in front of the issue and instructed his staff to consider all options, even single payer. They came up with the “Comprehensive Health Insurance Program,” which was similar to his previous plan but more extensive. It provided for an employer mandate, a comprehensive benefit package, and government subsidies for those without government or employer insurance.

(Nixon’s plan was essentially the template for Governor Mitt Romney’s health care plan in Massachusetts in 2006 and President Barack Obama’s Affordable Care Act in 2010.)

Nixon even entered into secret negotiations with Kennedy and Wilbur Mills for a compromise plan, but with the Watergate issue heating up Kennedy and Mills decided to go forward with a bill of their own, a single-payer plan with cost-sharing by consumers and an intermediary role for employers. When the Watergate scandal forced Nixon from office his successor Gerald Ford worked with Mills on a bill until Mills was caught up in a scandal himself.

Ford lost the election of 1976 to Jimmy Carter, a conservative Democrat more concerned with controlling health care costs than extending coverage. When he repeatedly rebuffed Kennedy’s overtures to support single-payer, Kennedy challenged him for the 1980 Presidential nomination.

Republican Ronald Reagan won that election and initiated the conservatism of the Reagan-Bush years of the 1980s, during which there was an ill-fated catastrophic coverage bill which passed but almost immediately repealed. Bill Clinton took up the gauntlet when he finally recaptured the Presidency for the Democrats in 1993. However Clinton rejected single-payer for a “managed competition” approach which spectacularly failed to pass Congress.

Senator Kennedy, frustrated with Clinton and working around him, managed to pass a successful bill in 1997 to extend health insurance to children just above the poverty line by funding it with a tax on tobacco. The State Children’s Health Insurance Program (SCHIP) was the biggest expansion of government health insurance since Medicare and Medicaid. Six years later Kennedy worked with the George W. Bush administration to extend prescription drug coverage to Medicare patients, although he bitterly opposed the final form of the resulting bill.

After gaining a commitment from Barack Obama to make universal health coverage a top priority of his administration, Kennedy endorsed him over Hillary Clinton for the 2008 Presidential nomination campaign. Kennedy continued to engage in the health care negotiations leading up to Obama’s Affordable Care Act of 2010, although he died of brain cancer before it passed.

Now it is Senator Bernie Sanders, a longtime proponent of single-payer, who has become the leading figure to bring single-payer health insurance to the United States. Sanders’ continued popularity after his Presidential run and widespread dissatisfaction with the complexity of the ACA have brightened the prospects for a “Medicare For All” bill, which has its opponents panicked.

Is single-payer national health insurance a far-left proposal from the fringe of politics, as they claim?  Only someone ignorant of American history could think so.


State Legislators Passing the Buck on Health Care for All?

by Alan F. Zundel

Health Care for All Oregon (HCAO) is a citizens’ group that has been working for several years to bring publicly-funded health insurance to all Oregonians.  The Affordable Care Act, passed by Congress in 2010, provided the opportunity for this by allowing waivers for states to set up their own health insurance systems, provided they cover the same number of people with the same level of benefits as under the ACA.

HCAO has managed to get a study funded and is developing a bill to create a single-payer system in Oregon. “Single-payer” means that instead of having a confusing maze of multiple health insurance plans, both private and public as we currently have, the state would provide health insurance that covers everyone. HCAO is aiming to put an initiative on the ballot in 2020 to create a single-payer system.

State-run single-payer systems are essential to the larger goal of bringing a single-payer system to the entire nation, such as the “Medicare for All” concept promoted by Senator Bernie Sanders. While a bill in the U.S. Congress can continue to keep the concept in the public eye and give supporters a rallying point, it is unlikely to pass a Republican President or a Congress dominated by Republicans. (Not to mention the fact that Congressional Democrats aren’t all on board with it either.) But if the concept can be shown to work in one or more states, the prospects for a national system will greatly improve.

HCAO wants the state legislature to refer their initiative to the ballot so that they don’t have to spend a lot of time and money gathering the thousands of signatures that would otherwise be needed. This raises the question: If the legislature could be persuaded to refer such an initiative to the ballot, why wouldn’t they be willing to simply pass it into law themselves rather than having the voters decide it?

There are two ways to answer this question. One is that legislators might like the idea of a single-payer system but feel that such a big change should be decided by the voters themselves. The other is that legislators prefer to pass the buck to spare themselves the heat from private health insurance lobbyists. I suspect the second is closer to the truth.

It is predictable that private health insurance companies will oppose a single-payer system, as it essentially would put them out of business. Other powerful players that now profit from people’s health care needs, such as pharmaceutical companies, would also oppose it. These opponents are going to rally their formidable resources against a single-payer system whether via a bill passed by the legislature or an initiative passed by the voters.

If you were a legislator, would you rather have them threatening your reelection prospects or aiming their fire at defeating an initiative? The question answers itself. An initiative gives a double bonus for legislators. Not only do they escape the direct wrath of opponents of a single-payer system, but if an initiative is defeated they can say, “You see, the voters didn’t want this anyway.”

It’s up to us as voters to pressure our legislators to support a single-payer system. Preferably they’d pass a bill themselves, but if we don’t actively engage them they may not take any action at all.

A bill in the recently ended legislative session, SB1046, would have set up a state board to develop, implement and oversee a single-payer system in Oregon. It got stuck in the Joint Ways and Means Committee, which failed to act on it before the session ended.

The bill was co-sponsored by 8 out of 17 Democratic state senators and 24 of 35 Democratic state representatives. (No Republicans were co-sponsors.) If you live in one of their districts, please contact the co-sponsors to thank them for their support for the bill and encourage them to continue to actively support a single-payer system. They are:

  • Sen. Michael Dembrow, chief co-sponsor (District 23, Portland)
  • Sen. Lew Frederick, chief co-sponsor (22, Portland)
  • Sen. James Manning, Jr., chief co-sponsor (7, Eugene and Junction City)
  • Sen. Rod Monroe (24, Portland)
  • Sen. Floyd Prozanski (4, Eugene)
  • Sen. Chuck Riley (15, Hillsboro)
  • Sen. Elizabeth Steiner Hayward (17, Portland and Beaverton)
  • Sen. Kathleen Taylor (21, Milwaukie)
  • Rep. Alissa Keny-Guyer, chief co-sponsor (District 46, Portland)
  • Rep. Chris Gorsek, chief co-sponsor (49, Troutdale)
  • Rep. Jeff Barker (28, Aloha)
  • Rep. Phil Barnhart (11, central Lane and Linn Counties)
  • Rep. Deborah Boone (32, Cannon Beach)
  • Rep. Margaret Doherty (35, Tigard)
  • Rep. Julie Fahey (14, Eugene and Junction City)
  • Rep. David Gomberg (10, central coast)
  • Rep. Ken Helm (34, Washington County)
  • Rep. Diego Hernandez (47, Portland)
  • Rep. Paul Holvey (8, Eugene)
  • Rep. John Lively (12, Springfield)
  • Rep. Sheri Malstron (27, Beaverton)
  • Rep. Pam Marsh (5, Ashland)
  • Rep. Rob Nosse (42, Portland)
  • Rep. Carla Piluso (50, Gresham)
  • Rep. Karin Power (41, Milwaukie)
  • Rep. Dan Rayfield (16, Corvallis)
  • Rep. Jeff Reardon (48, Happy Valley)
  • Rep. Tawna Sanchez (43, Portland)
  • Rep. Barbara Smith Warner (45, Portland)
  • Rep. Jennifer Williamson (36, Portland)
  • Rep. Brad Witt (31, Clatskanie)
  • (Rep. Ann Lininger of District 38, Lake Oswego, resigned from office in August)

If your state senator or representative is not on the above list, contact them to ask them why they did not support the Oregon single-payer bill.

Also important to contact would be the members of the Joint Ways and Means Committee, which had jurisdiction over the bill but failed to take any action on it. The members of the committee who did not co-sponsor the bill are:

  • Sen. Richard Devlin, co-chair (Democrat, District 19, Tualatin)
  • Rep. Nancy Nathanson, co-chair (Democrat, 13, Eugene)
  • Sen. Betsy Johnson, vice-chair (Democrat, 16, Scappoose)
  • Rep. Greg Smith, vice chair (Republican, 57, north central Oregon)
  • Rep. Jackie Winters, vice-chair (Republican, 10, Salem)
  • Sen. Alan DeBoer, (Republican, 3, )
  • Sen. Fred Girod (Republican, 9, Stayton)
  • Sen. Bill Hansell (Republican, 29, Athena)
  • Sen. Arnie Roblan (Democrat, 5, Coos Bay)
  • Sen. Chuck Thomsen (Republican, 26, Hood River)
  • Rep. John Huffman (Republican, 59, the Dalles)
  • Rep. Mike McLane (Republican, 55, Powell Butte)
  • Rep. Duane Stark (Republican, 4, Grants Pass)
  • Rep. Gene Whisnant (Republican, 53, Sunriver)

Contact them and urge them to support single-payer health care in Oregon.

(Senators Frederick, Manning, Monroe, and Steiner Hayward, and Representatives Gomberg, Holvey, Rayfield, Smith Warner, and Williamson were both on the committee and co-sponsors of the bill.)

Creating a Political Un-Party

by Alan F. Zundel

“Happy un-birthday to you!” the Mad Hatter congratulated Alice. He explained that un-birthdays are better than birthdays because they give you 364 days to celebrate on each year instead of just one.

Nick Brana, a former staffer for Bernie Sanders’ Presidential campaign, is trying to persuade the Senator to help create a new political party to run with in 2020. For now Bernie seems to be sticking with a strategy of working inside the Democratic Party. His followers are conflicted.

This issue of which party is the best vehicle to carry forward a progressive agenda has been roiling the troops since Bernie lost the 2016 Democratic nomination. The Democratic Party? A new People’s Party? An existing party such as the Green Party or the Working Families Party? Which is most promising?

But why must we all work in the same party? Why not create an un-party instead?

Think of the chief functions of a political party. It gives voters a common identity for their political orientation. It holds an organizational structure to mobilize people to support candidates in elections. And it offers a path to get candidates on the ballot.

All of these can be done without needing everyone to choose a single party or create a new one.

A 501(c)4 “social welfare organization” can engage in activities such as voter education and candidate scorecards, and an affiliated political action committee could organize voters to support particular candidates. This kind of hybrid organization could give members from any or no political party a common identity. It could offer an organizational structure to mobilize voters on behalf of the candidates most in line with their agenda, regardless of the party affiliation of the candidate. And its members could support good candidates in the different party primaries while helping non-affiliated candidates get on the ballot where desired by gathering signatures for them.

The one thing it cannot do, a least in a closed primary state such as Oregon, is get all of its members to vote together for the same candidate in a specific party’s nomination process. But the attempt to get everyone on board with joining the same party is based on a fruitless hope, driving people apart instead of pulling them together. Given the nature of our two-party electoral system and the difficulties of reforming the Democratic Party, people will take different paths on the party question for justifiable reasons.

I propose accepting the reality that people will join different parties and create an un-party so those of us who are willing can work together.

The building blocks of an un-party are a common political orientation, an attractive name that reflects its orientation, a sound organizational structure, and trusted leadership. It is well worth taking the time to attend to these fundamentals so that the un-party can hold up under the inevitable internal and external pressures it will encounter. “Politics ain’t bean bags,” as some wise person once said.

Although at some point in an organization’s growth it will be necessary to raise money, it would be best to maintain a focus on organizing people power with somewhat less emphasis on fund raising. This is because it is harder to divert a committed membership than to divert a pot of money to purposes in conflict with an organization’s founding vision.

So rather than picking one party to engage with and putting all of your energy into that, why not join together and work to elect the best candidates we can regardless of their party? It is worth working to elect progressive Democratic candidates, but it is also worth supporting alternative candidates when a nominated Democrat does not live up to our principles.

Having 364 days to celebrate is better than having just one. And having multiple pathways for moving forward together is better than having just one.

If you are interested in this concept, let’s talk.

Oregon Non-Spoiler Electoral Opportunities

by Alan F. Zundel

For independent and alternative party candidates who would challenge the policy agendas of the major parties, running for office is a good way to promote different ideas. But running can also raise the prospect of acting as a “spoiler” by increasing the chances that a “greater evil” major party candidate will defeat a “lessor evil” major party candidate. This prospect dampens the willingness of voters to vote for alternative candidates, and can inhibit the decision of potential candidates to run. As a result, the political debate is narrowed and the choices available to voters are reduced.

However, there are many electoral opportunities to run with no or a very low chance of acting as a spoiler. And I am not talking about low-level nonpartisan offices, but partisan offices in the U.S. Congress or the state legislature.

Some seats have an uncontested candidate, usually an incumbent, and so it would be impossible for another candidate to act as a spoiler by challenging them. Other seats are regularly won with very high margins and so gaining votes that would have gone to the leading candidate will not be enough to cause some other “greater evil” candidate to win.

For example, in the 2016 election for the Oregon House of Representatives, eleven of the sixty seats were uncontested. In the Oregon Senate, five of the sixteen seats up for election were uncontested. And in many more, the leading candidate won by over a two-to-one ratio over the second-place candidate.

Here are some of the seats to watch for the 2018 election, which judging by recent history may present good opportunities for non-major party candidates to run without being accused of being a spoiler.

U.S. Congressional Seats

In the 3rd Congressional District in the eastern Portland area, Democrat Earl Blumenauer won with 71.8% of the vote in 2016 and 72.3% in 2014, making this seat relatively safe for alternative candidates to run without the concern of being a spoiler.

In the 2nd U.S. Congressional District covering the eastern half of the state, Republican Greg Walden won with 71.7% of the vote in 2016 and 70.4% of the vote in 2014. However, his role in the effort to replace the Affordable Care Act may have given the Democrats an opportunity to make gains, so this may not be an ideal seat for alternative candidates trying to avoid acting as spoilers.

Oregon Senate Seats

In the Oregon state Senate, fifteen seats should be up for election in 2018. (Each of the thirty Senate seats are up for election every four years, half of them each election year.) Potential candidates should keep an eye on whether candidates for both major parties file for their districts.

In Oregon Senate District 7 in the northwest Eugene area, Democrat Chris Edwards was uncontested in 2014. However, Democrat James Manning replaced Edwards by appointment and will likely attract a Republican challenger in 2018.

Democrats Richard Devlin in District 19 (south of Portland) and Rod Monroe in District 24 (eastern Portland) were also uncontested in 2014. As incumbents they might again scare off Republican challengers; however, in 2010 their share of the votes were each below 55% when they were challenged.

Three Oregon Senate candidates won with high margins in 2014, all of them against minor parties challengers with no other major party candidate in the race, but only two of these seats will be up for election in 2018. In District 10 (south and west Salem), Republican Jackie Winters won with 87% of the vote and in District 16 (northwest of Portland), Democrat Betsy Johnson won with 70%. Against major party challengers in 2010, they received 68.3%, and 54.4% respectively. Winters’ seat would seem to be safe for challengers who wish to avoid being spoilers.

Oregon House Seats

Turning to the Oregon House of Representatives, in which all sixty seats are up for election every two years, the following seats were uncontested in 2016:

  • District 2 (Roseburg), Republican Dallas Heard. In 2014 Heard won about 63% to 31% against a Democratic challenger, nearly twice as many votes. (All the percentages below are rounded to the nearest whole number.)
  • District 4 (Grants Pass), Republican Duane Stark. In 2014 Stark won against a Democrat about 68.5% to 31%, over twice as many votes.
  • District 6 (Medford), Republican Sal Esquivel, who was also uncontested in 2014.
  • District 27 (Beaverton), Democrat Sheri Malstrom. In 2014 Democrat Tobias Read won against a Republican challenger with nearly 81% of the vote.
  • District 43 (Portland), Democrat Tawna Sanchez. In 2014 Democrat Frederick Lew ran uncontested.
  • District 45 (Portland), Democrat Barbara Smith Warner. Smith Warner was also uncontested in 2014.
  • District 46 (Portland), Democrat Alissa Keny-Guyer. She was also uncontested in 2014.
  • District 49 (Troutdale), Democrat Chris Gorsek. This seat was more competitive in 2014, with Gorsek winning about 60% to 39% against a Republican.
  • District 57 (north central Oregon), Republican Greg Smith. He was also uncontested in 2014.
  • District 58 (Cove), Republican Greg Barreto. In 2014 Barreto won with about 73% to his Democratic challenger’s 25%, nearly three times as many votes.
  • District 60 (Ontario), Republican Cliff Bentz. In 2014 Bentz won with over four times as many votes as his Democratic rival, about 82% to 19%.

All of the above seats, with the possible exception of District 49, would be unlikely to be affected by any spoiler dynamic. The following seats had candidates who won with high margins in 2016, and were either uncontested or also had decisive winners in 2014:

  • District 3 (Grants Pass), Republican Carl Wilson, about 73% to 27% against a Democrat. In 2014 he won 64/26% against a Democrat.
  • District 7 (Roseburg), Republican Cedric Hayden, 64/24% against a Democrat. In 2014 he won 78% of the vote against a Libertarian candidate.
  • District 8 (Eugene), Democrat Paul Holvey, 69/27% against a Republican. In 2014 he ran uncontested.
  • District 13 (Eugene), Democrat Nancy Nathanson, 66/30% against a Republican. In 2014 she won 69/30% against a Republican.
  • District 15 (Albany), Republican Andy Olson, 83/17% against a Progressive Party candidate. In 2014 he was uncontested.
  • District 16 (Corvallis), Democrat Dan Rayfield, 58/21% against a Republican. In 2014 he won 72/27% against a Republican.
  • District 17 (Scio), Republican Sherri Sprenger, 79/21% against an Independent Party candidate. In 2014 she won 74/26% against a Democrat.
  • District 18 (Silverton), Republican Vic Gilliam, 66/32% against a Democrat. In 2014 he won 66/34% against a Democrat. In early 2017 Republic Rick Lewis replaced Gilliam by appointment, and so may face a more competitive race.
  • District 31 (Clatskanie), Democrat Brad Witt, 81/19% against a Libertarian. However, in 2014 he won only 54/40% against a Republican.
  • District 33 (Portland), Democrat Mitch Greenlick, 70/30% against a Republican. In 2014 he won 82% of the vote against a Libertarian.
  • District 36 (Portland), Democrat Jennifer Williamson, 89/11% against a Libertarian. In 2014 she won 85% of the vote against a Libertarian.
  • District 38 (Lake Oswego), Democrat Ann Lininger, 70/30% against a Republican. In 2014 she was uncontested.
  • District 39 (Oregon City), Republican Bill Kennemer, 65/32%. In 2014 he was uncontested.
  • District 41 (Milwaukie), Democrat Karin Power, 72/28% against a Republican. In 2014 Democrat Kathleen Taylor won 70/29% against a Republican.
  • District 42 (Portland), Democrat Rob Nosse, 89/6% against an Independent Party candidate. In 2014 he won with 91% against a Libertarian.
  • District 44 (Portland), Democrat Tina Kotech, 81/19% against a Pacific Green Party candidate. In 2014 she won 85/14% against a Republican.
  • District 47 (Portland), Democrat Diego Hernandez, 67/33% against an Independent Party candidate. In 2014 Democrat Jessica Vega Pederson ran uncontested.
  • District 48 (Happy Valley), Democrat Jeff Reardon, 63/28% against a Republican. In 2014 he won 67/32% against a Republican.
  • District 53 (Sunriver), Republican Gene Whisnant, 68/32% against a Democrat. In 2014 he was uncontested.
  • District 55 (Powell Butte), Republican Mike McLane, 76/24% against a Democrat. In 2014 he won 72/22% against a Democrat.
  • District 56 (Klamath Falls), Republican E. Werner Reschke, 82/18% against an Independent Party candidate. In 2014 Republican Gail Whitsett ran uncontested.
  • District 59 (The Dalles), Republican John Huffman, 71/29% against a Democrat. He ran uncontested in 2014.

Altogether over half of the Oregon House seats could be safe for independent and alternative party candidates to run in without concern of being a spoiler.

Potential candidates interested in running should keep an eye on who files for the spring 2018 primaries to run for office in their districts. The filing period runs from September 7, 2017 through March 6, 2018. Filings are listed on the website of the Oregon Secretary of State: https://secure.sos.state.or.us/orestar/CFSearchPage.do