The Resurrection of Oregon Republicans

Oregon’s Republic Party is in big trouble. It lacks focus, direction, leadership and money. It’s field of candidates for statewide and national elections is troubling. It is mired in ennui, fiscal irresponsibility and broken promises.

The Democrats currently hold every statewide office. They control both houses of the state legislature (the state senate by a 2:1 margin), the state supreme court and the state appellate courts. They dominated the reapportionment process during the last census through what can only be described as the most partisan plan ever proposed in Oregon’s history by one of the most partisan politicians ever to hold office — Bill Bradbury. They are set to repeat that process with the likely election of Sen. Kate Brown (D-Portland) as Secretary of State — a person even more partisan and more ruthless than Bradbury.

One of Oregon’s least trustworthy Republicans, Ben Westlund, is now the Democrat candidate for State Treasurer. The Republican’s best chance to gain a congressional seat was lost by nominating a sleaze ball like Mike Erickson over Kevin Mannix — a man who has lost so many times that he has become the Alf Landon of Oregon politics. The Republicans were unable to field a candidate for attorney general or for the Fourth Congressional District.

The Democrats now hold a margin of over 200,000 registered voters and, given the seventy plus percent of Independents who vote Democrat, that number swells during general elections. In this most recent primary, the Democrats had a 73.5% voter participation while the Republicans struggled to break 50%.

The only bright light remaining for the Republicans is Congressman Greg Walden and there are those in the Republican Party who seem to be hell bent on convincing him to run for governor in 2010 — an almost certain disaster given the state of the Oregon Republican Party.

The purpose here is not to “pile on” but rather to suggest some substantial degree of introspection.

Currently there is a schism amongst Oregon Republicans. There are the social conservatives who dominate the party structure as witnessed by the high priority given to social issues in the party platform. There is a decided lack of focus, or perhaps understanding, of fiscal issues and government structure. And more importantly, there is a belief among this segment of the party that government is the means for imposing social mores on Oregonians. Kevin Mannix left the Democrat Party because its stands on social issues — particularly abortion — were an anathema to him. But Mannix never left his belief that government was the solution to almost every problem as evidenced by the myriad of new government programs that he proposed in his various unsuccessful runs for public office. Many in the social conservative movement supported Mannix and his view of the role of government. Such a notion is a decidedly non-conservative point of view.

There are the Gordon Smith Republicans who believe that the way to get elected in Oregon is to avoid difficult issues and pander to traditional Democrat constituencies such as the environmental community, the anti-war movement and the entitlements advocates. The latest evidence of this is Smith’s first campaign ad which condemns his Democrat opponent for failing to garner enough votes in the last session to bypass the Oregon electorate and impose the cigarette tax increase which Oregonians subsequently rejected by an overwhelming majority. In doing so he intimates that his fellow Republicans should have voted for it. Clueless.

Often times this group is epitomized by the Portland business community who have supported Smith through three elections and garnered virtually nothing for their support. But then again, having your picture taken with an public official is often times more important than doing the right thing.

And finally, there are the fiscal conservatives who eschew tax increases, demand government accountability and seek new solutions for our failing schools. That group is most often represented by a handful of state legislators — most often from Eastern and Southern Oregon. They represent the broadest segment of the Republican Party — the working Oregonians who spend most of their time trying to keep their businesses open, keep their families together and find some means of providing a decent education for their children. They have virtually no time to engage in the routine of politics and, therefore, trust more than most that the politicians will do the right thing. They are also the group most often disappointed by Oregon’s Republicans and, as a result, the most willing to step away leaving the field for the activists.

All of these groups mistrust the others. Each competes with the other for issue priority and when they fail to win they tend to retire and withhold their active support. Until such time that these disparate groups are brought together under common leadership, the Republican ship will continue to founder.

Responsibility for the resurrection of Oregon’s Republicans rests with all of these groups. It starts with those who provide the financial support for Oregon’s Republicans. It is incumbent upon them to begin this process by finding a leader who will undertake this difficult task, and to provide him the means by which to exercise the discipline necessary to complete the task. The task will be Herculean.

My suggestion is that rather than encourage Greg Walden to undertake a difficult and risky campaign for governor that he be encouraged to remain in Congress and undertake the difficult task of repairing and re-uniting Oregon’s Republicans. The resurrection of the Republican Party can be done. But unless is begins soon, it will a generation or more before the opportunity presents itself again.