Krist Novoselic: Transpartisan Primary


Photos by Krist Novoselic. Hendrik Hertzberg, left, and David Keating.

Note: Krist Novoselic's column appears every Tuesday in The Daily Weekly.

This weekend I was in Washington DC at the Claim Democracy Conference sponsored by FairVote. I?ve been serving on the board of Directors since 2004. (This is also a disclaimer.)

The event was a convergence of various individuals and organizations working toward making our democracy better. A diversity of voting issues were discussed at the event.

There was an interesting keynote presentation titled, Seeking Common Ground. It included Spencer Overton (author and law professor), Grover Norquist (Americans for Tax Reform), David Keating (Club for Growth), Hendrik Hertzberg (New Yorker magazine) and moderated by FairVote Executive Director Robert Richie.

The idea behind the panel was to hear if there was anything the Right and Left could agree on. Mr. Hertzberg, who also sits on the FairVote board, brought up the mechanics of voting. He said Americans are not irrational for not participating. And, it?s the antiquated structure of our elections that depresses turnout. Hertzberg was on home turf, so he tried to lead the discussion toward Ranked Choice and Proportional Voting.

Mr. Norquist started to use the term transpartisan. He spoke of collaborating with the ACLU to prevent the overreaching of presidential power by Bush II and Clinton, respectively. He also shared how environmentalist and conservative taxpayer groups worked together to stop the government from subsidizing coastal development.

TRANSPARTISAN: The Nicer, Holistic Bi-Partisan?

Unlike bipartisan, where two sides come together in convenience, or nonpartisan, avoiding political affiliation, transpartisan can be described as respecting partisan beliefs while identifying deeper common values. (There?s even postpartisan, which seems like a rhetorical device for California?s Republican governor to work with that blue-state legislature.)

Maybe the time for a transpartisanship has come? Proponents claim it?s an evolving theory. I?ve seen something like it in my local Grange. One of the reasons I participate is the mix of folks: liberal, center, conservative. It?s always neat to experience the humanity above the fray of partisan politics. Most people do have something in common.

Of course, mixing divergent personal values isn?t all warm and fuzzy. Some perspectives may not get reconciled, but they can be settled. Our democratic institutions are the forum to resolve issues.

Worthy Patrons

The venerable Washington State Grange is important in our state history. Many of the achievements are founded in the precepts of the order.

As mentioned above, the Grange is not a monolithic group. I disagree with some positions adopted by the state organization. I never signed the I-872 petition nor did I vote for it. I believe the partisan top-two system not only harms free association (and I?ll get to that in another post), it?s not a very dynamic voting system either.


The Grange, by sponsoring I-872, routed the Pick-A-Party primary by garnering nearly 60% of the vote. Indeed, most Washington voters don?t like the Pick-A-Party system. But the longstanding and pervasive nonpartisan Top-Two isn?t really anything to cheer about either.

Just look at the Seattle City Council races held last week. There were two races that demonstrate the lack-luster dynamic of qualifying primaries.

In the Godden / Szwaja match, the incumbent Godden received 53% in the August primary. Barring any revelations or incidents, it was easy to assume that she would carry this majority into the general. This harmed her opponent and the race never took off as competitive.

There were incidents and revelations that impacted the Velasquez / Harrell race. A once very competitive contest got lopsided and voters, by law, had only one other candidate to choose on that ballot line.

Meaningful Choice

If, as expected, the US Supreme Court rules I-872 unconstitutional, there are rumblings about the nonpartisan blanket primary replacing Pick-A-Party. Ignoring party affiliation by removing the little R, D or whatever identification from the ballot is just a simple patch-up. Do Washington voters really want only two choices on their ballots? Considering the meager dynamics mentioned above, we must ask: is this the best our politics will get?

I don?t see transpartisanship as some kind of utopian ideal. Politics will always be politics: a little messy. And unusual coalitions aren?t anything new either. Perhaps the emergence of this term is an indicator of a transition from polarization and reactionary thinking? Just like the current shift toward more dynamic voting methods, it promises better politics.


Robert Richie (left), Spencer Overton (center), and Grover Norquist.

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