Third Parties in Oregon’s Elections

The Democratic and Republican Parties together dominated the results of Oregon’s November 6 election. 35 out of the 60 state representatives are Democrats, the rest Republicans. 17 out of the 30 state senators are Democrats, and 13 are Republicans. Four out of Oregon’s five representatives in Congress remain Democrats, and the fifth is a Republican. Democrat Kate Brown was re-elected governor, beating Republican Knute Buehler 50.0% to 43.9%. Where the Democratic Party leaves off, the Republican Party fills the gap. There are no independent or third party candidates serving in Oregon’s legislature, or representing Oregon in Congress.

However, a decent number of third party candidates ran for office throughout Oregon. Candidates from the Libertarian, Independent, Progressive, Constitution, and Green Parties ran for Congress in Oregon’s first, third, and fifth districts, as well as for governor and various positions in the state legislature. 13 third party candidates were represented throughout these races. All five “third” parties were represented in the gubernatorial race; together they received 6.1% of the vote. Most of these candidates’ chances of winning were meager at best, and the election results display this. Nonetheless, some consider the outcome of November 6 a success.

Marc Koller ran for Congress in Oregon’s third district as a member of the Independent Party of Oregon. Koller received the third most votes in the district: 20,682 to Democratic Incumbent Earl Blumenauer’s 273,368. His platform focused on promoting campaign finance reform, increasing access to health care, and addressing climate change, among other issues. Koller was inspired to run after attending a Bernie Sanders rally in 2015. “I saw that there was just an unbelievable amount of energy and support for his agenda, and Bernie was an independent,” said Koller. Meeting with community members and local organizations, Koller ran a campaign on a tight budget, and relied mostly on grassroots outreach. “Trying to win an election… I knew that wasn’t going to happen because of the sheer influence and size of the Democratic Party in Oregon—it wasn’t going to be an election that I could win—but it was an election that I thought was important to be able to get my views [in].”

The results of the election did not take Koller by surprise. “I was actually very pleased,” he said. “I was hoping for fifteen [thousand votes]; with over twenty [thousand] I’m very happy.” Koller feels that his outreach work paid off. “If you are a registered Democrat… you just check all the boxes with a ‘D’ next to their names—you may not know anything about any of the candidates,” explains Koller. “My difference of course is that my almost 21,000 votes… There’s only about 11,000 registered members of the Independent Party in this district, and only about 30% of them apparently vote, so probably about a quarter of my votes came from people who saw the ‘I.’” The rest, he says, came from people who were reached by his campaign.

Chris Henry ran for Governor of Oregon as a member of the Progressive Party. As with Koller, campaign finance reform was an important part of his platform. Henry is unsatisfied with the way elections are currently run in Oregon. “Money kind of links the whole thing together, and money can corrupt the entire system,” said Henry. Oregon’s gubernatorial race in 2018 was the most expensive such race in state history, in terms of how much money was spent by the two main candidates, Kate Brown and Knute Buehler. Henry believes this has made an impression on voters. “I think it was an exclamation point—my race—on the situation of money in politics, and how behemoth it is… It definitely was a game changer in that we’re running campaign finance reform in Portland, and we got that on the ballot, and we got that passed,” he said, referring to measure 26-200, which will limit large political campaign contributions in Portland elections.

For Henry, being in a third party is only part of what makes him a unique candidate. Though politics are his main endeavor, he is also a veteran truck driver and teamster. “I drive 70 hours a week. I drive up towards the Canadian border. The Canadians come across and we trade freight, so I work for the global freight industry,” says Henry. He is also working on completing his bachelor’s degree. “I’m a dad, I’m a grandfather now, and I went to school so that my daughter would see [that] education is valuable,” says Henry.

Both Henry and Koller find third parties extremely valuable. “I think where [main parties] lose perspective is in the system itself, and I think the system is corrupted… third parties bring us back from that abyss,” says Henry. Both candidates ran their campaigns in hopes of voicing a strong political message, to the main parties and to others. “There is a reason why people are not happy with the two major parties, and if there’s no other vehicle to express yourself, then that dissatisfaction doesn’t get voiced,” says Koller. “So if nothing else I think third parties really give an opportunity for that disgruntled group of people to have a place.”

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