Local Politics

Saturday, Nov 03 2012 02:00 PM

Fastest growing party is ... no party

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    By Michael Fagans / The Californian

    Terry Phillips, a No Party Preference candidate, and Congressman Kevin McCarthy, R-Bakersfield, debate face-to-face at KGET in October. They're running to represent the 23rd Congressional District.

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BY JAMES BURGER Californian staff writer jburger@bakersfield.com

Barbara McCoy of Bakersfield has been a Republican all of her voting life.

But in late October, she re-registered to vote and switched her allegiance to the fastest-growing community of voters in Kern County.

She became a No Party Preference voter.

The move came after watching two of the presidential debates between President Barack Obama and Republican challenger Mitt Romney.

"I'm not happy. I'm not happy at all. I do not like either guy," McCoy, 65, said. "Neither one of them are honest."

She said she watched the two men ignore questions and divert topics during the debate and that, she said, makes her certain she can trust neither one.

All they have to offer are empty promises, McCoy said, and she doesn't think either person plans to keep them.

"One of them already hasn't and the other one, who knows what he's going to do?" McCoy said.

Her disgust with her choices for president has trickled down to how she feels about both major parties, she said: "Because I'm confused, how can I say I'm a pure Democrat or Republican?"

McCoy is clearly not alone.

Between October 2010 and October 2012, 10,388 additional voters in Kern County registered as No Party Preference, a jump larger than the 8,853 added to Democratic totals by an aggressive registration drive or the 217 new Republican voters.

And in districts where Democratic registration drives were less intense, the numbers tell an even more stark tale.

In the Kern County portions of the heavily Republican 22nd Congressional District represented by Kevin McCarthy, the number of Democratic and Republican voters dropped by 3,741 while no party voters -- called Decline to State at the time -- increased by 2,348 between 2008 and 2010.

By May 2012, after much of the geographical area of the 22nd in Kern County was moved into the new 23rd Congressional District, the registration of the two major parties in the Kern County sections of that district dropped by an additional 9,648. Some of that change was likely due to the redrawing of district boundaries.

But No Party Preference registration in the county sections of the 23rd District climbed by 4,415.

And the trend has held true as data from the new district has come in.

Between May and late October, major party county registration in the 23rd District rebounded somewhat, adding 2,346 Republicans and 1,456 Democrats as the two organizations poured serious money into registration efforts.

But No Party Preference registrations continued to grow, with the group adding 1,347 members without anyone actively working to boost its numbers.

Terry Phillips, a No Party Preference voter challenging McCarthy in the new 23rd District, sees those numbers as both good for him and a barometer for the future.

"In my lifetime, we are going to see people like me in the majority," he said. "I think we are going to be the new majority."

And when no party candidates do begin winning elections, they will, Phillips said, take control of the gulf between the two major parties and command great political power.

There is no denying the growing presence of no party voters throughout California. Since 2000, the number of non-party affiliated voters statewide has steadily grown.

In the 2000 presidential election, there were 2.2 million Decline to State voters in California, representing 14.2 percent of the state's registered voters. In 2012 there are 3.8 million, representing 21 percent of the electorate.

Back in Bakersfield, McCoy says that because she's caught in the middle of the two parties, she's struggling to decide how to vote Tuesday.

"I don't know what I'm doing. I keep reading over the propositions," McCoy said. "It's probably bad to say this, but I'm about ready to just throw a dart -- or just not vote."

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