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A better way to choose the president

Thank goodness the stubborn citizens of New Hampshire came through for us last week, confounding the pundits and pollsters by giving Hillary Clinton a big victory in the Democratic presidential primary.

Now, before you dash off a letter to the editor, let us explain. We've got nothing against Barack Obama and are not, at this point, endorsing Clinton or anyone else to move into the West Wing.

Rather, we celebrate the vote in New Hampshire because it forced our breathless brethren in the national media to pause, at least momentarily, from anointing the presidential contenders before the race has even really begun.

We fear, however, that this will be a short-lived respite before the coronation.

As we've seen during the past two weeks, one of the more undemocratic traditions still alive in this country is the process for selecting the 2008 nominees for president.

Oregon citizens have a special right to feel disenfranchised by a 'system' of primaries that essentially leaves this state with no input into the presidential nominations.

By the time Oregon's primary rolls around on May 20, voters elsewhere will most likely have finished the job of picking the two people who will compete in November to be leader of an entire nation.

When lawmakers in Salem decided not to put the state in the Feb. 5 mega-primary, they relegated Oregon voters to watch as a small and unrepresentative slice of the nation's population plays an outsized role in what is arguably the most important decision of a democratic society.

Nearly everyone, of course, realizes that it is long past time to change the herky-jerky process for choosing presidential nominees.

We like Iowa as much as anyone. (We still tear up when Kevin Costner walks through that cornfield.)

But no one can argue with a straight face that Iowans have special qualifications for determining who the nation's next leader should be.

We've watched as Iowa farmers, teachers and mail carriers have been interviewed endlessly by the television networks, and we've seen that they are no more enlightened or informed than the average Oregonian.

And don't get us started on New Hampshirans.

The tradition of the Iowa caucuses and New Hampshire primary is just that - a tradition that ought not have any more power in picking presidents than a groundhog in Punxsutawney has in determining the arrival of spring.

It's easy to design a better way to pick presidential nominees - the National Association of Secretaries of State already has done so. The difficulty arises in getting such a system implemented.

What the secretaries of state - who are the top election officers in most states - have recommended for several years now is a system of rotating regional primaries. In each presidential election year, a different region of the country would get to go first. The regional primaries would be spaced on the calendar to allow adequate time for candidates to campaign in each region of the country.

The only disadvantage to the plan is that it still allows Iowa and New Hampshire to go first - a concession to the intractability of two states unwilling to give up their oversized influence.

But the regional-primary plan would put some order into a process that is now decided state by state. It would stop the stampede of states trying to establish earlier and earlier primary dates. And over time it would impose some semblance of fairness onto the nomination process.

A group of the nation's secretaries of state, including Oregon's Bill Bradbury, made another push for the plan in November. They would like to see it in place for the 2012 presidential election.

It won't be easy.

To be adopted, the plan must be accepted by both major political parties and then endorsed by each state legislature. That will be a grueling process. But it's one worth undertaking if the goal is to give all Americans - including perennially ignored Oregonians - a say in who should be running for president.

More information about the Rotating Regional Presidential Primaries Plan can be found on National Association of Secretaries of State web site, www.nass.org.