At the risk of sounding like an after-school special, we had a lot of fun at Dorchester this weekend. The issues provided thought-provoking table and floor debate (and were actually connected to real current events). Our keynote and lunchtime speakers were outstanding and gave the cause of Republicanism something to be proud of nationally, as well as hope for a bright red future. Friday night’s legislative town hall was certainly worth the trip as BFF’s (at least until next year) Bruce Hanna and Arnie Roblan assured delegates they could put aside petty differences and work in the best interests of all Oregonians as Co-Speakers. Even the (in)famous Dorchester Tent Show was better than last year- providing lots of laughs and no major walkouts. And there were after-parties. Moving on . . .
But what have we learned after such a fun weekend? It’s quite easy to return home without taking away much in the way of lessons- besides the cliches of not calling each other RINOs and striving for an inclusive, big tent Republican Party. Perhaps the best opportunity in this regard came in the Founder’s Day speech Saturday night, delivered by Rob Cornilles. He, as we all know by now, was victimized by the short-sighted and hyper-partisan nature of voters in the First Congressional District, who last November chose to re-elect a crazy man in a tiger costume. The loss was symbolic of the continuing electoral drought of the Oregon Republican Party which- excluding federal offices- hasn’t won a statewide race since 1998.
The need for change within the ORP is clear, and Cornilles’ speech reflected that. It may not have been the message everyone wanted to hear, but it’s tough to argue with twelve-plus years of electoral futility (and the successes of Republican parties in such deep-red strongholds as Massachusetts, California, and Michigan). What the ORP needs is not a rebranding or a reinvention. We need not become clones of the Democrat Party, or any other party for that matter. Instead, the Republican house in Oregon needs a renovation- the foundation of limited government is strong, as are the pipes of individual liberty and the wiring of lower taxes. But perhaps the paint job could use an updating- maroon for as long as I’ve been living in it. While were at it, the drywall of divisive and incendiary intra-party rhetoric could be taken out, which keep different styles of Oregon Republicans locked in separate rooms.
It would also behoove some of us to realize that as long as we keep telling our neighbors they’re crazy when they point out the mushrooms in the siding, they’re probably not going to want to come over when we host a dinner party. When it comes to political parties, winning isn’t everything- it’s the only thing, requiring not the best candidates for the most rigid of ideological believers but the right candidates who fit the state or the district. So yes, many voters in Oregon are idiots- Cornilles’ defeat proved that- but we keep missing the reasonable I’s and D’s who would otherwise want to visit. Geography matters, and Delaware puritans found out the hard way that not everyone loves the Jim DeMints and the Michele Bachmanns as much as they do. They punted away a safe seat to the Democrats and expressed shock and outrage at their own side after rejecting centrist Mike Castle, anointing far-right Christine O’Donnell, and receiving far-left Senator Chris Coons.
The right candidates matter, and for too long some Oregon Republicans have confused collaborating on policy with compromising on principle (or worse, treating an emphasis on matters other than their pet single-issue as a form of acceptance of the other side). Rigid ideologues have never performed well in statewide or even congressional elections here in Oregon. Congressman Greg Walden is hardly right-wing and he’s arguably the most popular Republican in Oregon. Vic Atiyeh, Mark Hatfield, and even Bob Packwood are thought today as elder statesmen in the party, despite being as moderate today as they were when they dominated a Republican Party that consistently won elections. Contrast that to candidates from elections past who campaigned on the wrong priorities, alienated and spurned the wrong people, and found themselves either ending their election parties disappointed by 8:05 PM Tuesday night or waking up heartbroken Wednesday morning.
Most if not all Republicans in Oregon are in a general consensus on principles. That includes the aforementioned themes of limited government, personal liberty, and low taxes, but even the scary social issues as well. We Oregon Republicans hate abortion, want to see fewer of them, and certainly don’t think taxes should pay for them- whether some of us think legislation or contraception is the best way to prevent them should not throw us in to civil war. We’re all living under the same roof, so renovating the Republican house will be a collective effort. It’s a tough job, so we should remember to pick the right color paint that goes with the neighborhood and not threaten to move out if we don’t like the kitchen cabinets. The end result will be the best-looking and most modern house on the block and a place our friends and neighbors will no longer find excuses to avoid visiting.
Brendan is a graduate student at Portland State Universty, where he hosts the KPSU “Right Jab” radio program. Brendan is studying politcal science, and graduated from The Ohio State University in 2007, with a degree in political science.