Oregon GOP must appeal to moderates to win

The Federalist Society_thb

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.

  • Bob Clark

    All we can do is fly the flag of keeping taxes stable at current rates and trumpeting small business and dialing back on the size of state government. The competition usually roles out the children and the old saw do it for the children, and this is especially difficult to compete against especially when so many Oregonians are dependent on government subsidies, a dependency encouraged by the competition.

    A number of folks in deep blue Multnomah County actually identify with the competition because of social issues, and even as they sport a streak of fiscal conservatism. It’s been really difficult to get the GOP from dividing into social conservatives and fiscal conservatives. I think Richardson handled the Social Conservative agenda appropriately in competing for governor by reducing it in priority to economic issues. I still believe this is the way forward, even if success doesn’t follow. Got no choice.

    The demographics of younger immigrants settling in Oregon is not helpful to the GOP, as young college or just out of college folks tend have the hearts of a 20 year old; but lack the brain of a 40 year old person or older who has witnessed more than a few major fiscal blowups by supposed good intentioned state and local government.

  • Ed B.

    “The fact of the matter is that the 2014 cycle is proof that Oregonians do not trust Republicans to govern.” Not quite. Too many people’s livelihood depend on democrat control of the levers of power. Examples are the teachers union, other unions, state workers, radical environmentalists, and special interests who want to sell something that the people do not want to buy, so they buy the legislature that will vote to force the people to buy it. Example is The Low Carbon Fuel Standard. They have a quaint word for this. It’s called patronage.

    • Eric Blair

      That doesn’t explain all the other voters who went Democrat in that cycle. Nor does it explain RIchardson’s loss despite the hints of scandal in the Kitzhaber administration. Dennis was too conservative for most Oregon voters… and I disagree with Bob, I don’t think Dennis put the concerns about his social conservatism to rest (which is why he lost).

      • guest

        Would Richardson’s social conservatism been welcomed in the Dem controlled Oregpn Legislature and passed forthwith? NOT a whit, monsieur left winger E.B. drummer for all thangs secular.

  • TheFrequentPoster

    As a former long-time Democrat and now independent, I applaud the article. It speaks volumes that the Republicans couldn’t defeat Kitzhaber. The Rs are too conservative in their policies, in the way they talk about them, and in what they choose not to talk about.

    If the Rs concede Washington and Multnomah, they will lose all statewide elections. Moreover, they’ll abandon people in those counties who are looking for alternatives but who are moderate to liberal on social issues.

    A good example of the kind of Republican who could have a broader appeal was Jon Justesen, the Sherman County rancher who was pro-gay rights and pro-sales tax, and who got nowhere. Now, I realize that the sales tax is a flaming sword in Oregon, like an income tax is a flaming sword in Washington. But there’s a deal to be done there, by swapping a sales tax for a reduced income tax, and then freezing the rates for both in the state constitution.

    Even if that can’t be done, there’s a bigger point: There are plenty of Rs like Justeson who can appeal to independents and disaffected Ds. They should be nurtured by the Rs, not tossed away.

    • guest

      Oregon needs Scott Walker style leadership and for low information voters to wake up and realize what DNC Oregonized crime is staging like a PAC of Detroit lions.

      • Out, out Dem fouls

        PAC or pride? of Detroit loins, PERS se.

      • TheFrequentPoster

        Your fire-breathing bumper sticker rhetoric is the kind of thing that keeps the Rs of Oregon from ever winning the state.

        • guest

          Arse of curse, your post token from a left saddled blog…leaded by weights sans balances.

          • TheFrequentPoster

            Could you please write in the official language of the United States? Thanks.