Home / General / The Decline of the Oregon Republican Party

The Decline of the Oregon Republican Party


When I was a kid, the Oregon Republican Party was a real and legitimate enterprise. It elected senators that remained in office for a very long time (Mark Hatfield, Bob Packwood, before that Wayne Morse even if he eventually switched parties). It elected governors like Vic Atiyeh and Tom McCall. It could win the state legislature.

Then the state changed and the state Republican Party changed. As the state moved away from the timber industry and toward a urban focus, the Republicans decided to emulate their brethren in Idaho and Alabama and take up ever crazier positions (in truth, Idaho used to be a fairly bipartisan and moderate state as well, electing politicians like Frank Church, but at least the party and the state populace moved in the same direction). Now it can’t win anything. In a massive Republican landslide year like 2010, the best it can do is run a former TrailBlazer who doesn’t believe in anything except that he doesn’t like paying taxes and still lose the governorship.

Now the Oregon Republican Party has named a new chairman that really sums up its nuttiness. He’s Art Robinson, who has been the sacrificial lamb to run against Peter DeFazio for Congress a couple of times and is a true nutjob who among other things thinks that nuclear waste is safe and that public schools should be abolished.

So as you can see, the Oregon Republican Party is on its way back to statewide relevance.

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  • Amanda in the South Bay

    Random sorta OT observations:
    1. The Oregonian endorsed Bush in 2000
    2. Somehow Gordon Smith was elected relatively late in the GOP downfall

    • Smith ran the first time as a conservative and lost to Wyden. The second time he ran as a moderate and won against a lame Democratic candidate. But eventually, his actual voting record made him unacceptable to most Oregonians.

      • JustRuss

        I recall Smith becoming much more moderate around election time. He wasn’t horrible, for a Republican, but Merkely is orders of magnitude better.

        • Merkely is a traitor that tried to sell us out to the U.N.!

  • TribalistMeathead

    Makes total sense. As the state becomes more urban, you do more to appeal to the shrinking part of the pie.

  • c u n d gulag

    “Robinson has also declared that it’d be perfectly fine to just dilute nuclear waste and sprinkle it over America. He further claims that Oregonians should consider having the waste water in the drinking water supply in order to up our resistance to degenerative disease.”

    Ok then, Mr. Robinson – you and your family, FIRST!!!

    • Todd

      Just hint that you would be fine with that as long as he agrees to allow a few drops of the HPV vaccine into the water supply as well. That’ll shut him up.

    • Jordan

      Makes you wonder what side of the fluoride debate he was one.

      • BruceJ

        No wonder here at all, fluoridation is a commie plot to pollute our precious bodily fluids. Unlike sprinkling in nuclear waste, that is.

        Maybe that was General Ripper’s plan all along, sprinkle a little nuclear waste over everyone…

        • Jordan

          Ha. No on Fluoridation, Yes on … Radioactivation?

          Sounds like a winning platform!

  • verplanck

    Vermont has the same problem with its Republican Party. It has been hiring out-of-state consultants for its GOP candidates, and they ran attack ads that are out of character from our small state’s relatively friendly political climate (harder to personally attack someone in a small state).

    Our 2012 GOP candidate was kind of a joke, had to lend himself 300k to cover expenses, which were mostly to those costly out-of-state consultants.

    We have a conservative super PAC that’s funded by one wealthy woman, and injected (relatively) massive amounts of money in some downticket statewide races (auditor) with no success. The only statewide GOP office is Lt. Gov, a powerless position. And he kept his office by staying above the mudslinging, and focused on his bipartisan cred.

    • Stan Gable

      I think if you changed the names, you could write the same article about CA and WA as well. Not that all of the GOP candidates are a joke, but it wouldn’t make them that much less competitive if they were.

      • Bill Murray

        if you changed the parties and focused on the US congressional delegations you could say something similar about South Dakota. From 1971 to 2011, SD’s congressional delegation was either evenly split or majority Democratic for all but 6 of the 40 years. Now, I don’t see a Democrat winning a major race for many years.

  • mpowell

    Is this due to structural factors like a number of safe rural Republican state seats and few other electoral opportunities? Sometimes the issue is that due to the national brand name, Republicans have no chance to win urban seats and the only options left are districts that will prefer the far right.

    • Stan Gable

      I don’t think the national brand is the driver here – in many ways, the current GOP is a fair reflection of where the western GOP has been forever. If anything, I think the higher levels of the GOP try to push moderation on the locals. The WA GOP has put in a fair amount of effort to keep the loons off the ballot – shoving Dino Rossi on the ballot to keep Clint Didier hidden is an example.

      • Bruce Baugh

        I was going to make this very point. The Republicans of Orange County in California, Howard Jarvis, the Oregon Citizens Alliance…what the national Republicans did is hook this kind of crazy up with the power of neo-Confederate activism, rather than invent a lot of new crazy.

        • burritoboy

          The Republicans of OC County, however, are now largely gone, even though they were a big deal even as recently as 20 years ago. What has gone unappreciated is that the OC Republicans were extremely dependent on national defense / aerospace engineering jobs, which were vanished from Southern California under Bush I. That basically destroyed the base of the OC Republicans – those aerospace engineers that were their heart either needed to find Internet or software programming jobs in Bill Clinton’s economic boom of the mid to late 1990s or they retired to Idaho and became open white supremacists. Then the Republicans bankrupted Orange County, and what was a feared machine simply withered away to nothing.

          • Bill S Preston Esq

            Doesn’t Darrell Issa represent part of OC?

            • burritoboy

              A small part. He mostly represents the northern suburbs of San Diego. Dana Rohrabacher is really more the rep from OC. Don’t get me wrong, OC is still Republican – but it’s not a strong, huge machine like it used to be. OC used to vote R by 30 or even 40 points, but it’s been much tighter in the past decade.

              • Nathanael

                I’ve never quite figured out San Diego politics, which has been Republican for a long time. My only guess is that the Hispanic population must vote less than you’d expect, and the liberal tourist-focused population must be smaller than I think it is.

  • Bill in Section 147

    It is too late to Gerrymander, perhaps a voter ID requirement and a raise in the voting age to 68.

    It is sad because I like the word Republican so much more than Whig.

    • Brian Schmidt

      Oregon has universal vote by mail. I’ve been waiting for Republicans to start fighting that in order to make it harder for undesirables to vote.

  • Chris Mealy

    For national races Oregon and Washington look real blue, but when it comes to the state politics the Republicans do pretty well. That’s the problem with having all the good guys crammed into a handful of urban districts.

    • Stan Gable

      I disagree with that at least in WA. The GOP controls one branch of the leg by virtue of having two Ds caucus with the GOP. That doesn’t seem like a very sustainable situation for them.

      • Nathanael

        Oh, I don’t know. It could go on for years and years.

        In NY, the Republicans pulled that off *two election cycles in a row*. Three of the “Dems” who caucused with them the first time were thrown out and the fourth learned that he shouldn’t, but they found *TWO MORE* for the next legislative session.

        This is *after* gerrymandering the state within an inch of its life, making all the “Republican” districts 5% smaller than the correct size and all the “Democratic” districts 5% smaller than the correct size, and managing to lose control *anyway* due to losing several of the “Republican” districts.

        The Republicans in the NY State Senate are running on pure corruption and bribery now, but damn that seems to be powerful fuel.

  • Pingback: Erik Loomis: The Decline of the Oregon Republican Party: Noted for August 13, 2013()

  • Sockie the Sock Puppet

    I wonder if some of the problems the Oregon GOP is having is a long-term backlash to the relative influence conservatives had while I lived there in the early 1990s. A California-style tax revolt (Measure 5) narrowly passed and has caused on-going revenue problems for the state government. A couple years later, an anti-gay initiative (Measure 9) lost more soundly, but really exposed the fault lines within the state and showed the sort of nonsense conservatives would get up to if they ran the state.

    Hell, in 1990, the Christian Right ran an independent candidate for governor to (if I remember this right) torpedo the chances of the mainstream Republican. It felt to me at the time that the state was just one bad election away from getting taken over by the wackaloons.

    Not the whole state, it turned out, but at least the whole Republican Party. And as long as wackaloonitude remains a cultural signifier for opposition to urban/hippie/modern Oregon, I don’t think there’s any chance that the Republican Party is going to change, which means the state is going to stay just one bad election away from serious grief.

    • Chris Mealy

      Remember Lon Mabon and the Oregon Citizens Alliance? Anybody who does and isn’t an asshole won’t vote for Republicans any time soon.

      • Sockie the Sock Puppet

        Oh, do I. My wife still references his wife Bonnie as the lace-collar-wearing diametric opposite of who she wants to be. I guess he’s disappeared, but at the time Lon Mabon seemed like a genuine threat to the kind of country I want to live in.

        During the whole Measure 9 fight, I picked up a useful frame for thinking about gay rights: “straight but not narrow.” 30 years on, it seems a majority of America has caught onto that.

      • gratuitous

        Yup, “Thank you, Lon” is still a shibboleth in some circles (thanks, that is, for spawning a resilient and active opposition to his brand of bigotry). What’s depressing though, that as far gone as Mr. Mabon is, his trusty lieutenant, Scott Lively, continues the scam to this day, popping up all over the globe to further the cause of Hate Your Neighbor in Jesus’ Name.

  • Jordan

    They still seem better off than the Idaho Democrats. The last major office they held was by a guy who worked for Nixon. The only reason he was a Democrat, really, was that he was pro-choice and couldn’t win a Republican primary election. The only reason he won was because the Republicans nominated a terrible, horrible person who was personally detested by virtually every Republican higher-up, and the Republican managed to barely come up on top in a six-way primary. The Democrat has since lost.

    But … we also had Cecil B. Andrus and Larry Echohawk as recently as 20 years ago!

    • Stan Gable

      I assume Idaho politics trend pretty closely with WA and OR, basically pretty liberal urban areas offset by reactionary rural areas. Boise metro just isn’t large enough to offset the rest of the state in the same way that Portland & Seattle do.

      • Chris Mealy

        Idaho is also a 25% Mormon.

        • Stan Gable

          Huh – I didn’t realize it was that high.

          • BruceJ

            Yep lots of them. The kid across the street was shipped off to a pris^h^h^h ‘ranch’ up there by his parents when he was too much of a delinquent for them to handle.

            Now he DID slide his ’69 roadrunner (one of these! ) sideways at 50 or 60 through a gas station, drunk*, but they were the ones who GAVE an 18 year old a ’69 roadrunner in the first place.

            *And had the astonishing luck to take out nothing but a sign!

          • Jordan

            Yeah, Eastern Idaho is, in a lot of ways, Northern Utah.

      • Jordan

        I don’t know about pretty liberal. Boise itself has had a (non-partisan) Democratic mayor for a while. But Nampa, Caldwell, Meridian, non-incorporated Ada County and the rest of the urban area are still pretty conservative.

        My guess is Boise is a lot more like Spokane than it is Seattle or Portland.

  • NewishLawyer

    You can say the same thing about the Californian Republican Party. California used to be a bastion of the Republican Party and would elect them to state-wide positions pretty frequently.

    Now it looks like the governator might be the last person in a while to win a state-wide office and have an R next to their name.

    I guess you can never tell with these things but California remained a Democratic sandbar in 2010 as well.

    The issue I think works on the district level as you described above. The red districts in California seem to have more of an affinity with Texas and Alabama than they do with the Bay Area and LA. I don’t think this was always the case even back in the 1980s and 1990s.

    • Another Holocene Human

      Times were good before the Great Hollowing Out. Now they are showing their true colors.

      OC was settled by Okies, pretty much explains Rick Warren, the anti-intellectualism, the love of money over the love of man, the racism, the whole nine yards.

      • burritoboy

        The red districts (Fresno, Bakersfield, Modesto) were primarily settled by Okies, so it’s not exactly surprising that their politics look more like Oklahoma.

        • NewishLawyer

          You would think this would change after a few generations though. The Dust Ball was almost 80 years ago.

          San Francisco used to be a fairly Republican town until the 1960s.

          • The Dark Avenger

            The power structures are still run by the white oligarchs who own most of the farmland in the San Joaquin Valley. That isn’t going to change for a long time.

            • burritoboy

              Precisely. The population of Fresno, for example, is actually majority minority, but it’s still Republican due to low participation from immigrant groups (and Fresno has a massive number of Hispanics, Asians, Persians and Armenians). And it’s current mayor is a Republican who’s actually from Texas. The previous mayor was a Republican actor, radio show host and pro football player who was from Louisiana. (I.E. I believe both are members of the Okie diaspora.)

          • DocAmazing

            Very different kind of Republican, though. Oakland was quite Republican in my early childhood, but it was a kind of a noblesse oblige bunch–nothing like the current Rs.

    • The Dark Avenger

      A lot of the interior of California has been red for a long time. About 30 years ago we elected a Congressman, Democrat, who managed to save the Mineral King area of the Sequoia National Forest from the Walt Disney company. For his pains he was voted out of office in the next election.

      It was true in the 80s and 1990s, despite the occasional conservative Democrat, Tony Coehlo and Gary Condit both blowing up their future in public service over issues unrelated to being a Democrat.

  • NewishLawyer

    I don’t know much about Bob Packwood except that he went down in a sexual harassment scandal but

    Would it be fair to say that he could no longer be elected in today’s Republican Party? He strikes me as being a more old-school and somewhat moderate Republican. Is that accurate? Like a Jacob Javits for the Pacific Northwest.

    • jim, some guy in iowa

      I think that’s just generally true, that Republicans who got started in the 60s through maybe the mid-80s would get nowhere fast in today’s GOP. At least it’s still possible to be a ‘conservative’ Democrat, though I’m never quite sure that’s a good thing, especially in the absence of ‘liberal’ Republicans

    • redrob64

      I heard Packwood address a room of political scientists shortly after the 2000 election and he lamented back then that he would no longer be able to win nomination as a Republican in OR. He also predicted that the GOP would soon be unable to compete in statewide elections, much less win, in OR or WA due to the loons taking over the party.

  • JustRuss

    Robinson is a piece of work. Owns a publishing company peddling materials for home schoolers. Has a PhD from UC San Diego, co-founded the Linus Pauling Institute, and was eventually forced out by Pauling. He was battling with Oregon State University(Pauling’s alma mater, coincidentally) a couple years ago, claiming they were punishing his kids, who were students there, because of his politics.

    He’s clearly very smart, but something about him just ain’t right. Soooo glad we still have DeFazio.

  • JustRuss

    Also too, I should point out that Tom McCall was responsible for most of our laws curbing urban sprawl. He’d probably be too Left for today’s Democratic party.

  • Nathanael

    This isn’t as weird as what happened in New York, where the Republican Party followed the same trajectory as in Oregon, to the point of nominating Carl Palladino for Governor, who emailed *bestiality porn* to unwilling business associates…

    but the Republican Party still controls the State Senate due to the most egregious gerrymandering in the US, and multiple corrupt deals with corrupt Democratic politicians.

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