Willamette University College of Law – Federalist Society
Last week the Oregon House Republicans – outnumbered, outgunned, and surrounded – fixed bayonets and charged into a six hour floor debate on the Low Carbon Fuel Standard (“LCFS”), a backdoor gas-tax that brings no revenue into the state coffers for roads and infrastructure while also doing very little to limit greenhouse gas emissions. Instead, it adds to Oregon’s already high price for gasoline providing subsidies for green energy producers, some of the same companies who paid former First Lady Cylvia Hayes to lobby on their behalf while she acted as a policy advisor to disgraced former Governor John Kitzhaber.
Throughout the six hour floor debate House Republicans gave better than they got, but lost the final vote by one. Given the fact that Governor Kitzhaber recently resigned over allegations of corruption related specifically to green energy, it may be shocking to some that Oregon has gotten to this point.
Last November, Republicans almost everywhere won huge electoral victories surging to majorities in statehouses across the nation. Voters elected and reelected conservative governors in blue and purple states like Illinois, Maryland, Michigan, Wisconsin, Ohio, and Florida. Meanwhile in Oregon, voters reelected their scandal ridden Democrat Governor, increased the Democrats’ majority in the House, and granted Senate Democrats a super-majority.
The fact of the matter is that the 2014 cycle is proof that Oregonians do not trust Republicans to govern. This is not surprising given the fact that the GOP no longer bothers to compete credibly in places like Washington and Multnomah counties. As the GOP has ceded the urban centers to the left, the Democrats, gaining more safe seats in and around Portland, have felt comfortable moving the entire state further to the left.
Failing to engage voters in Oregon’s population centers has left suburban voters believing the GOP does not care about the issues that are important to them. For example, the Oregon GOP can speak articulately and passionately about gun rights or the need for rural counties to access timber. But when was the last time an Oregon Republican articulately addressed the growing number of local fees, taxes, and levies for our schools while the state continues to rank near last in education; or how the state’s restrictive land use laws artificially drive up real estate prices forcing middle and lower class families to rent instead of own their homes; or how public transit and bike lanes are funded at the expense of highway expansions leaving drivers stuck in traffic on highways 26 and 217?
Some believe that because voters in places like Washington and Multnomah counties culturally identify with the left that they are not worth appealing to. In many cases they support gay marriage, are pro-choice, and believe in reasonable environmental protections. Those that believe so forget that suburban voters do, however, support restrictions on late term abortion and that there are very real limits to their patience for do-nothing environmental regulations (such as the LCFS). Likewise, most suburban voters are already paying their fair share in taxes and would love to send their kids to private school but cannot afford to do so.
If conservatives can appeal to them on issues that matter specifically to them, they may be more receptive to listening to conservative arguments on guns, abortion, and other red-meat issues. These voters are natural allies who could be convinced to cast a ballot for the right kind of Republican. A plausible model to do so already exists.
In the 1990s the leaders of the Oregon Tax Revolt did just that, engaging suburban and urban voters. Their message was embraced broadly by conservatives, moderates, and liberals alike. Indeed, Oregonians voted yes on Measures 5, 47, and 86 establishing Oregon’s much needed property tax limits and the still very popular tax kicker.
The point is, for conservatives to be viable in Oregon politics the Republican Party must be a big-tent party, vigorously competing for a majority of the electorate. In Oregon a red-blooded conservative can (and should) get elected to seats representing Eastern and Southern Oregon. However, in the I-5 corridor, the Republican Party must learn to embrace candidates who appeal to libertarians, moderates, social-liberal-fiscal-conservatives, and pragmatic liberals. If not, Oregon’s conservative movement is dead.
When you throw up your hands and dismiss the WUCL Federalist Society as an establishment shill, remember gubernatorial candidate Dennis Richardson lost Washington County by nearly nine points. A few more suburban-moderate votes in Washington, Clackamas, Deschutes, Lane, and Multnomah counties and the extra bucks you will be paying at the pump from the LCFS could have been just another unhatched, nutty scheme drifting around somewhere in Cylvia Hayes’s squishy liberal brain.
The views and opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the Willamette University College of Law Federalist Society. These views and opinions do not necessarily represent Willamette University, its faculty, or its student body.