It is probably one of the bigger unreported stories of the year. It is the steady “drip, drip, drip” of defections of traditional Republicans from their party.
The news of these Republican defections is being reported largely in local newspapers and circulated in the “blogosphere” -- that growing collection of websites that recirculates newspaper stories to a small, but growing national audience.
Last week, the Eugene Register-Guard published a column by James Chaney, a Eugene attorney and Republican stalwart, who declared, “As of today, after 25 years, I am no longer a Republican.” Registration figures suggest Chaney is not the only Republican who has reached this conclusion, but Chaney is notable for the way he said it. The man is a wordsmith.
“We’re poisoning our planet through gluttony and ignorance. We’re teetering in the brink of self-inflicted insolvency. We’re selfishly and needlessly sacrificing the best of a generation. And we’re lying about it,” wrote Chaney.
“While it has compiled this record of failure and deception, the party which I'm leaving today has spent its time, energy and political capital trying to save Terri Schiavo, battling the threat of single-sex unions, fighting medical marijuana and physician-assisted suicide, manufacturing political crises over presidential nominees, and selling privatized Social Security to an America that isn't buying. We fiddle while Rome burns.”
“Enough is enough,” wrote Chaney. “I quit.”
By the end of the week, Chaney’s remarks were being discussed all over the country. Editors at the Register-Guard tell me no newspapers have asked to reprint Chaney’s column. Its notoriety is all a function of the “blogosphere.” Chaney’s column was published on dozens of these websites from the political right to the political left: crooksandliars.com; ThomasMc.com; andrewtobias.com; libertypost.org; afterthefuture.net are just a sample.
The word is out and is getting around. Oregon’s traditional Republicans are restless with the company their party is keeping.
This has happened once before -- after World War II. The Oregon Republican Party was controlled by ossified leaders still loyal to the party and principles of isolationist Ohio Sen. Robert Taft, defeated for the Republican nomination in 1952 by military hero Dwight Eisenhower. Eisenhower went on to win the presidency and the Oregon Republican Party lost control of the Legislature and Democrats began winning the governor’s office that had belonged to Oregon Republicans since the Great Depression.
A young Republican legislator named Bob Packwood decided to bring a younger generation of new blood to the party by creating an annual meeting that started at the Dorchester House in Lincoln City in 1965. The annual Dorchester Conference shortly eclipsed the Oregon Republican Party as the fountainhead of new ideas and recruiting ground for new political talent. The political careers of some of the best Republican statewide officeholders were enhanced or began at the Dorchester conference.
Oregon Democrats felt threatened enough by the Dorchester Republicans to form their own group independent of the Oregon Democratic Party -- Demoforum.
Competition between Dorchester and Demoforum spawned a generation of political competition that hammered out some of the most durable legislation of the 1960s and 70s -- from the Bottle Bill and the Beach Bill to the Homeowners and Renters Property Tax Relief Program to key tax credits that helped polluting industries afford the equipment to clean up the Willamette River.
The proper response to James Chaney’s lament is, “What are you Oregon Republicans going to do about it?” The next response is “Where are Oregon’s Democrats?”
Oregon’s Democrats are moribund. Like their national counterparts, they betrayed the industrial manufacturing workers in the name of “free trade” and lost the core of their political base.
Leaders of the Oregon Republicans accept money from national conservative groups in exchange for enacting the national Republican ideological agenda at the state level -- Oregon Republicans will not be allowed their maverick, independent way of solving the state’s problems -- the ways developed by Dorchester Republicans that produced so many Republican statewide office holders in the 1960s, 70s and 80s. It is a Faustian bargain. Today’s Oregon Republicans are so ideologically rigid they have anger much of their “base,” and nominate candidates that cannot get elected. No Oregon Republican has held an important statewide office since the late 1980s.
Many Oregon Republicans share James Chaney’s sense of betrayal. Many Oregon Democrats feel unrepresented and betrayed. Many Independents feel unrepresented and bewildered.
James Chaney’s complaint is more evidence of the discontent brewing below the surface of Oregon’s civic life. Solutions may come, but only of Oregonians return to their roots and reclaim their maverick, independent political life and find their own ways of solving Oregon’s problems. I suspect such people will find the “blogosphere” as their way of communicating. That’s how James Chaney’s manifesto is being circulated -- after it was published in a newspaper.