Former Nirvana member speaks about political involvement

By Ben Keller
Published October 23rd 2008 in The Collegian

Formerly the bassist for legendary grunge band Nirvana, Krist Novoselic visited Fresno State yesterday to enlighten students on innovative ideas regarding voting and political participation.

His presentation, “Blueprint for a 21st Century Democracy,” was made possible by an endowment from the Printise J. Womack Lecture Series. Speaking before a packed audience at the Sattelite Student Union last night, Novoselic entertained the concept of an an election system in which candidates are ranked and eliminated according to voter preference.

Such ideas were the subjects of Novoselic’s book “Of Grunge and Government: Let’s Fix this Broken Democracy” released in October of 2006. The book describes how Novoselic’s roots and rise to stardom as third part of the Nirvana trio made him to realize how important music is in bringing about change. The band was known to take bold stances for minorities and frequently performed at events opposing unethical legislation.

“We had this state government and city government and they were really anti-music,” Novoselic said of the early 90s Seattle rock scene, “We decided to become proactive and stopped reacting to bad legislation.”

After Nirvana, Novoselic created JAMPAC (Joint Artist Promotions Political Action Committee) in 1995 and battled government actions such as the Teen Dance Ordinance that restricted live music to teenagers. Four years later, he performed with musical artists Kim Thayil, Gina Mainwal and Jello Biafra at the “No W.T.O. Combo” to demonstrate against shady negotiations at the World Trade Organization in Seattle.

In 2005, Novoselic joined the board of FairVote, an organization that seeks to transform the current election process to one that allows more candidates to participate. In 2008, he was appointed FairVote’s chair and continues to promote rank-choice, or instant run-off elections throughout the country.

“Rank-choice voting has a history in the United States,” Novoselic said. “It’s been used for about a hundred years here.”

Novoselic explained that rank-choice voting works by a process of selecting multiple candidates in order of preference and awarding the one who has the most top-rankings. He said such a system allows more competition and gives third-party candidates a chance to garner favor among the public.

“If competition drives our economy, it can drive our democracy,” Novoselic said. “Because in a competitive election, people pay attention.” He also pointed out that rank-choice voting would have the tendency to reduce excessive campaign contributions and questionable special interest groups.

For much of the presentation, Novoselic took questions from the audience, addressing everything from the effectiveness of voter reform to the unlikely possibility of making new music with former bandmate Dave Grohl.

“See, I’m thinking about it . . . so enticing,” Novoselic joked.

Novoselic took time out afterwards to sign autographs and talk to the audience individually.

Novoselic’s discussion was part of the progressive politics portion of the Womack Lecture Series made possible by a bequest by Rhoda H. Womack in memory of her husband, Printise, a long-time employee of the Henry Madden Library. Next spring will fulfill the librarianship portion of the series when the topic will be on publishing for faculty.