Eric Shierman: Art Robinson for ORP Chair

by Eric Shierman

Art Robinson has announced he is seeking to chair the Oregon Republican Party. For more than a month now I have been watching all manner of internal ORP debating about how to move forward after the devastating electoral losses that still keep GOP Facebook groups aflutter with earnest dialogue. I have noticed a consistent theme: the ORP desperately needs a new chair that can both unite all the various factions of the party’s base into a common unified purpose while at the same time growing the size of that base. It seems rather clear to me that Art Robinson is the man for the job.

He certainly holds the skill set traditionally considered crucial to succeed in this job. Many see the state party chair as primarily a fundraiser-in-chief. In Robinson’s race for Oregon’s 4th Congressional District, his attempt to do the impossible, toppling Peter DeFazio from a safe seat representing the People’s Republic of Eugene, Robinson proved himself to be one of the ORP’s most successful fundraisers, a remarkable achievement for a district that was never really in play. Far from being the kind of sacrificial lamb DeFazio has become used to goring every two years since 1986, Robinson literally gave the left-wing Democrat a real run for his money.

I’m not so sure however that Robinson’s success came from his fundraising. Robinson is an extremely effective public speaker who showed a remarkable ability to appeal to new voters outside the ORP’s usual demographics while at the same time motivating established activists of his party’s base to work hard for him. In 2008 DeFazio won 82% of the vote. In 2010 Robinson shocked Oregon’s political establishment by winning over 43%. Getting that percent of the vote from that district required an ability to sell the message of limited government to new voters, many of whom were enrolled in the University of Oregon. The rematch Robinson and DeFazio held this year involved a massive surge in Democratic turnout and thus a lower percent of the vote for Robinson, but the most interesting take away remains the fact that in a terrible year for Oregon Republicans, Robinson actually won more votes in 2012 than in 2010 even though the population of his district remained flat over those two years. This is what the ORP needs, a chair that can help win over new votes, even in down years.

Ever since the progressive movement replaced party authority with primary elections, and years of campaign finance regulation have removed party “soft” money from the commanding heights of electoral finance, Republicans don’t need their party chairs to be the head of some kind of a politburo; Republicans simply need a state party chair who will be an inspiring figure for all their activists from every corner of this state. Republicans need a chair that actually shares the values of its base but who can also articulate those values in a persuasive manner to newcomers. Therefore, Art Robinson is just what the ORP needs.

Eric Shierman lives in southwest Portland and is the author of A Brief History of Political Cultural Change. He also writes for the Oregonian’s My Oregon blog.