Krist Novoselic's Alternative Politics: The Nirvana Bassist on Voting, Farming, Anarchism, Heroin, and Kurt Cobain

By Gillespie, Nick | Reason, August-September 2014 | Go to article overview

Krist Novoselic's Alternative Politics: The Nirvana Bassist on Voting, Farming, Anarchism, Heroin, and Kurt Cobain


Gillespie, Nick, Reason


Krist Novoselic is best known as the co-founder and bassist of Nirvana, one of the most influential music groups of the past quarter century. The release of the band's albums Bleach, Nevermind, and In Utero not only mainstreamed what became known as grunge but helped to forever end what was once known as the mainstream. After Nirvana it seems there is only alternative music and alternative culture, a transformation that is both liberating and anxiety-producing.

Born in 1965 in Compton, California, but raised in Aberdeen, Washington, Novoselic (pronounced know-voe-selitch) embodies the forces Nirvana helped to unleash. Since the 1994 suicide of band leader Kurt Cobain, Novoselic has continued to play with various groups, including a stint with the legendary post-punk band Flipper and sporadic collaborations with former Nirvana bandmate Dave Grohl. But the bass player is also pushing to create an alternative approach to electoral politics.

In 2004, Novoselic published Of Grunge and Government: Let's Fix This Broken Democracy (Akashic), and these days he's chairman of FairVote, a nonprofit that lobbies for electoral reform such as instant runoffs and proportional voting. After serving as chairman of his county Democratic committee for several years and supporting Barack Obama early on, he has broken with the Democratic Party, in part because "it's a top-down structure" impervious to change from the grassroots.

Like Nirvana's music, Novoselic's politics cannot be easily categorized: He has donated money over the years to Ron Paul's campaigns, and he speaks in favor of the liberal-loathed Citizens United Supreme Court decision, which ended limits on noncoordinated political spending by corporations in federal elections. He's active in his local chapter of the fraternal farmer's organization, the National Grange of the Order of Patrons of Husbandry, proving you can go from grunge to Grange.

Novoselic spoke to Reason TV's Nick Gillespie in May. For a video version of the interview, scan the QR code at left.

reason: So let's talk about FairVote. One of the goals that you and the organization have is to get more people more involved in politics. What are the voting reforms that you champion and how do they accomplish that idea?

Krist Novoselic: I'd like to see a new paradigm in our election system. There's so much cynicism and people are angry. Things are really out of whack and the lawmakers, they've circled the wagons.

We want proportional representation in the United States. We're calling it fair representation voting. These are systems that are in use in the United States that are constitutionally protected and they have an American flavor. They speak to American values. Like in Europe, you vote for a party. In the American version, you vote for the person.

reason: Walk me through this.

Novoselic: For the United States House of Representatives, we have a plan where we would take three districts and combine them into one district. So you'd have three representatives representing you. Then we would just change the ballot a little bit. The simplest way to do it would give voters one vote to elect three candidates. So what does that mean? It means it takes percent of the vote to get elected.

Everybody votes. You count the votes and then basically the top three vote getters win.

reason: As long as they cross a minimum threshold?

Novoselic: Well, the threshold is fluid because it depends on how many candidates and how many votes they get. The system's kind of a plurality system. It's semi-proportional.

reason: And candidates could be independent?

Novoselic: Absolutely. You can have parties nominate candidates. You can have independents. It's candidate-centered. This system that I'm explaining right now is called the single non-transferrable vote and it's used in school board elections in the United States in some places. …

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