EUGENE — Patrick Starnes just wants to get a word in edgewise.
The Independent Party’s candidate for governor has criss-crossed the state, often driving his pick-up truck, trying to drum up interest in his underdog bid to be governor of Oregon.
He tried at the first governor’s debate, where he was one of three candidates on the stage — along with Democratic Gov. Kate Brown and her Republican challenger, Knute Buehler — but rarely had a question thrown his way. He wasn’t even invited to the other two debates.
He’s tried in lobbies of radio stations, television stations and newspapers, who often say they don’t have the time, space or desire to hear him out.
He’s tried in public appearances in which the first question is often whether he will just be a spoiler in a tight election between Brown and Buehler.
And Starnes is doing it all with a pittance compared to his opponents. Brown and Buehler together have raised more than $27 million, on the way to the most expensive governor’s race in the state’s history.
“It can be frustrating,” Starnes said during a recent interview at Vero, a popular Eugene coffee house. “It’s like the chicken and the egg. You need recognition to raise money, but you need to raise money to get recognition.”
Starnes has attracted about $6,000 in contributions.
“Gas money,” he jokes.
But it’s that money math that Starnes most often targets in conversations: His No. 1 issue is campaign finance reform.
“I’m the only candidate for governor that wants to get big money out of politics,” he said. “It’s out of control in Oregon.”
Under state law, any individual, group or business can give unlimited amounts of money to a candidate. The Independent Party platform points out that the Center for Public Integrity has rated Oregon’s campaign finance laws as the worst in the country — with the exception of Mississippi.
A cabinet-maker and house renovator from Brownsville, a town of about 1,700 in eastern Linn County, Starnes originally wasn’t even the odds-on choice to be his party’s pick for governor.
Both Buehler and Brown vied to add the Independent Party line to their names during the May 15 primary. Sal Peralta, the McMinnville city councilor who is the party’s co-chairman, backed Buehler. But Starnes ran for the seat and beat out Buehler by 1 percent of the vote.
“Voters wanted a choice,” Starnes said. Peralta switched and backed Starnes.
Starnes has one advantage over other lesser-known candidates such as the Libertarians’ Nick Chen and the Constitution Party’s Aaron Auer — state-endorsed credibility.
Founded 11 years ago, the Independent Party is counted as the third major party in Oregon, giving it an automatic ballot line each general election. It currently has 122,000 registered members, according to the Secretary of State’s Office.
“We’re not a fringe party,” the Independent Party’s official statement says in the Voters Pamphlet. “We’re highly informed, rational and non-tribal voters. Our platform is socially liberal, fiscally responsible, and environmentally aware.”
Without the round-the-clock saturation television advertising of his opponents, Starnes is hoping that people will take the time to read his Voters’ Pamphlet statement that has been mailed to every household that received a ballot.
Starnes has three main poles to his political tent:
If elected, he will move within 100 days to push through the Legislature limits on campaign financing. He won’t consider any other issue until that is done.
Looking forward to the 2020 Census, Starnes wants to take partisan politics out of the reapportionment of political districts in order to “end unfair gerrymandering.” New maps would be drawn by a nonpartisan commission that would use computer mapping and other technologies to ensure “non-partisan districts that make sense.”
Finally, he wants an open primary that would allow the approximately 875,000 voters who are registered as “non-affiliated” to vote.
Starnes underlines the message in his campaign literature with the line “There’s a new game in town! And it’s NOT RIGGED. Help Get Big Money Out of Politics!”
Starnes says a key part of his proposed program would aid rural Oregon. The state would pay for technical and trade school training for residents.
“Oregon needs the right kind of workers,” Starnes said. “Look at the wood products industry. We’re great at chopping down trees and making 2x4s, then shipping them by the trainloads somewhere else.”
Starnes said Oregon should be the place where the finished products are made, with a local workforce.
The state could be a pioneer in transforming highways with an under-the-pavement wireless system that electric cars, buses and trucks could use without having to stop at powering-up stations.
“You could go farther, faster,” Starnes said. “They are already experimenting with the idea in Israel.”
As he spoke, Starnes’ phone alarm went off. He had to go to his next appointment. A newspaper interview — with the student publication at Lane County Community College.
Even if others see his quest as quixotic, Starnes doesn’t. He and the Independent Party are here to stay.
“If I’m a spoiler, I’ll be a spoiler for both parties because they aren’t talking about what concerns the voters,” he said. “I think people will be surprised. This is not our last rodeo.”
—Reporter: 541-640-2750, email@example.com