OLYMPIA – Former Nirvana bassist Krist Novoselic is running for clerk of tiny Wahkiakum County, one of the most sparsely populated counties in the state.
He made it clear Thursday that he doesn’t want the job. He’s voting for the incumbent clerk.
“I’m voting for Kay Holland,” said Novoselic, 44. “I love Kay. She works hard in that office and she’s a good public servant. I’m behind her 100 percent.”
So why run against her?
Because Novoselic, the county Democratic Party chairman and author of a book on election reform, is trying to shed light on what he called a “moral outrage” built into the state’s new top-two primary.
Under the current rules, candidates are allowed to list a party preference on the ballot. The parties have no say in who uses the name. The ballot includes a disclaimer noting this.
Making the point that the labels are meaningless, even misleading, Novoselic’s election paperwork says he prefers the “Grange party.”
“There’s no such thing as the Grange party,” he said. Yet candidates can say whatever they want on the ballot. Last year, candidates running for Statehouse seats said they preferred things like “America’s Third Party,” the “Cut Taxes G.O.P. Party,” and, famously, the “Salmon Yoga Party.”
Novoselic is making the same complaint that the state’s major political parties have: that candidates they don’t support can still use the party’s name on the ballot.
That cheapens the rights of those who band together as a political group, he said, and do the hard work of meetings, bake sales and agreeing on platforms.
“It’s an assault on grass-roots association,” he said.
At the next statewide Grange meeting, he said, he’s going to propose statewide changes that would ban people from using party designations without permission. That used to be the law, he said.
Dave Ammons, a spokesman for Washington Secretary of State Sam Reed, says the new system works well, with safeguards for parties.
A lawsuit by the state’s major political parties several years ago briefly led to a wildly unpopular “pick a party primary,” in which voters had to select a party’s ballot and vote only among those candidates. That’s how the primaries work in Idaho and Montana.
After years of litigation and legislation, the state now has a hybrid: the top-two primary. Candidates declare a party preference. Parties have no say on that. And the top two vote-getters in the primary – regardless of party – face off in the November vote.
Ammons said about 75 percent of voters say they like the new system.
They key thing, he said, is that the primary is not a party nominating process. It’s simply a winnowing of candidates.
Parties can choose who will be their standardbearer, he said. And those candidates are free to trumpet that news in brochures, ads or in the voters’ pamphlet.
Ammons said he’s glad that Novoselic is adding to the debate, but in this case, “I think you’ve got a solution in search of a problem.”
And parties are free to publicly disavow people whose politics they question. The Franklin County Republican Party, for example, recently “censured” state Rep. Maureen Walsh, R-Walla Walla, for allegedly voting too many times with Democrats.
Novoselic said he decided to run for county clerk because it was the only partisan election on the ballot near his Deep River home.
Novoselic is still in touch with his rock-star roots. He’s in a band, with a new recording due out soon.
But he’s also involved in the rural community where he and his wife make their home. He’s the master of the Grays River Grange No. 124, presiding over meetings and rituals. He and his wife grow cabbage and other crops. They’re trying to encourage a local-food movement. He speaks and writes on behalf of election reforms.
Thursday, Novoselic called Holland and “apologized for dragging her into this.”
But what if he wins?
“That’s a good question,” he said.