The failure of Oregon Republicans

Russell Sadler

For most of the 41 years I’ve been in Oregon, I’ve been a registered independent who proudly splits his ticket. But I haven’t been splitting tickets lately for a very good reason. Oregon Republicans have not been nominating candidates that attract independents. Yes, that’s one man’s opinion. But it is also the verdict of Oregon voters.

Oregon Republicans have not won a partisan statewide office since Gov. Vic Atiyeh left office in 1986. Neither the Republicans nor the Democrats can elect a candidate on their own. Candidates must win the votes of independents to win a majority of votes. Republicans are not nominating candidates that independents feel will represent them.

This was not always the case. In the 1960s, 70s and into the 80s Oregon Republicans nominated candidates attractive to independent-minded voters -- Mark Hatfield, Tom McCall, Norma Paulus, Tony Meeker, Dave Frohnmayer, Clay Myers, Vic Atiyeh, to name some more familiar winners. But as Oregon grew, orthodox Republican newcomers added to the demand that Oregon Republicans reflect the National Republican Party’s move to the right. Candidates that were attractive to independents were declared RINOs -- Republicans In Name Only -- and purged from the party. A growing number of Oregon Republicans openly held the state’s maverick independent political tradition in contempt and demanded that Republican officeholders vote the Republican Party line. Those that didn’t were browbeaten and bullied until they did or were purged from the party in closed primaries.

Since 1990, Republican legislative leadership sold the state out for campaign money they needed to hold their slim majorities in the House and Senate. In exchange for the money from national conservative interest groups, Republicans in the Legislature are expected to vote the national party program into law at the state level.

This practice of representing only Republicans -- in effect, one-third of the population telling the other two-thirds how they will live -- has not gone over well. Oregon Republican candidates have not won statewide office. The party lost its majority in the Senate last election and may lose control of the House in this election.

During the dozen years Republicans have controlled the Legislature they borrowed billions of dollars to pay operating expenses so they could make phony “surplus rebates.” The interest payments on the borrowed billions are now eating up more and more tax revenue so there is less to spend on education, law enforcement and the other legitimate costs of government. The solution? Conservative Republicans demand a spending limit -- the party with the power over Oregon’s purse says it can’t control its own spending and borrowing!

After a dozen years of Republican control of the Legislature, nearly half the people polled say “Oregon is not going in the right direction.”

In a belated effort to find a candidate for governor that might attract independent voters, Oregon Republicans grudgingly nominated Portland attorney Ron Saxton over Kevin Mannix. Saxton has been campaigning like the Second Coming of Tom McCall. I covered most of Tom McCall’s political career. Ron Saxton is no Tom McCall.

A justly celebrated member of the Portland School Board, Saxton has no experience in statewide office. He has resorted to padding his political resume to make his limited accomplishments seem substantive. His scapegoating of public employees and support of Measure 41 suggest he has no real grasp of the state budget process or how bad Oregon’s fiscal situation really is. We will learn whether Saxton’s pose as a “moderate” will attract independent voters next week.

If Saxton wins, it is not clear whether the Republican legislative leadership -- obligated to national conservative groups in exchange for campaign cash -- will allow Saxton to govern if he has plans that vary from the national party line.

No matter who is elected governor and who controls the Legislature, the next session will do well just to begin cleaning up the mess that a decade of Republican fiscal recklessness has wrought upon Oregon’s financial structure.

Who would have thought that, in little more than a decade, conservative Republicans -- the party that touts fiscal responsibility -- would make such a mess of one state’s financial affairs? Oregon Republicans have reduced “fiscal responsibility” to a marketing slogan.

I promise that if any Republicans step up and take responsibility for helping clean up the mess, I will write favorably about the effort. But I don’t really hold much hope. The last Republican to criticize his party’s borrow-and-spend recklessness was Sen. Ben Westlund, R-Bend, and he was driven from the party for his candor.

  • KALKI GUAR (unverified)

    [4000 words of gibberish deleted -editor.]

  • KISS (unverified)

    WOW! all that in one Russell, I think you wrote a good piece but I've forgotten what it was...Kauki befuddled my brain.LOL

  • (Show?)

    Kalki Gaur: The Dr. Bronner of politics!

  • (Show?)

    What a windbag and waste of space...

  • (Show?)

    Russell, spot on piece, comments from the beltway droid in D.C. notwithstanding...

  • Aubrey Russell (unverified)

    To those polled who are not willing to say that "Oregon is not going in the right direction," I would put a finer point on it by asking: Is Oregon living up to its potential? I would guess that people feel overwhelmingly that it is not.

    Mr. Sadler points out the fiscal mess that reigns in Salem after 12 years of Republican control of the House. But that is just the beginning of it. Many people do not realize how our "winner takes all" system has left the Republican House leadership in control of EVERY House commiteee chairmanship and every committee majority! Fiscal crisis has fed into the hands of the Republicans as they have used the their control of budgets to direct POLICY outcomes through either bullying agencies or directly cutting funding for programs (read: for implementation of LAW) that they do not like. While people are beginning to appreciate the role of bad House leadership in the gridlock that is state government, they may not be aware of just how central this gridlock is to the Republican strategy for achieving their "vision" for Oregon.

    Which brings me back to Oregon's "potential." Ron Saxton is right to talk about the need for "leadership" in state government. It is the spirit of engaging the public through "leadership" that is especially missing in the Oregon House. Extracting policy concessions through threats to an agency's budget is not what open, public and inspiring leadership is about. The Rubublican strategy for governing is confined to small committee rooms from which there is little public news, and where hidden arm-twisting takes the place of compelling legislative movements supported by a broad public interest.

    (As an aside, don't forget that the long (now ended) dominance of Republicans in the Senate has left us, still, with a legacy of appointments to agency directorships and commissions. Agency decisions are open and public, but ofen completely unknown to the broad "public" whom they affect.)

    So appart from getting the slogal right, Saxton has failed to indicate the direction that his "leadership" will take us, and --more importantly -- failed to reveal that the House Republican's model for "leadership" is a far cry from the open and compelling appeal to Oregonians to reach for their "potential." As someone who left the Republican party only after lobbying in Salem for two sessions, I know how desparately we hold on to our assumptions about which constitutes the "winning team." But its time to get real. The fiscal mess is only the tip of the iceberg, and "not going in the right direction" is no longer strong enough language do describe the extent of the Republican fiasco.

  • Peter Bray (unverified)

    Anyone know where I can find early voting figures? Ie., ballots received, party of ballots, and comparison to 4 years ago? Some mention on here about major Dem turnout in ballots received... where can I confirm this?

  • Chuck Butcher (unverified)

    While I agree that increasingly nationalized Republican politics is bad for Oregon, I'm afraid I must disagree that they have been unable to win statewide. We have a Republican Senator and the majority in the House, who must face election every 2 years, is Republican and that is an indicator the they have attracted those voters. Whether that holds this year is a very open question.

    Greg Walden is the epitiome of Republican National Party politics and he looks sure to win the 02 Congressional District, about 2/3 of Oregon's landmass and 1/5 of the population. The House seats in the 2nd look pretty safe for Republicans.

    This year's elections may provide a lesson to Republicans in Oregon, might. I'm not sure the holders of safe seats are going to learn much, they didn't vote on National issues that are killing US House Republicans. Tom Butler R60, doesn't seem particularly ammenable to reason.

  • (Show?)


    The figures you seek are still with each county clerk.

    They may be consolidated daily in the Secretary of State's office.

    I would start my search at the Elections Division in Salem. I suspect that's where the reporters who write these stories are getting their information.

    And thank you all for ignoring the loon who tried to hijack out thread!

  • (Show?)

    Peter, the top-line numbers are available on the Elections Division website. I don't believe they include partisan breakdowns. For that, you'll need a voter file and the ability to do voter-by-voter matchbacks.

  • Peter Bray (unverified)

    Hm... where was the post that made reference to the breakdown... like 56 to 44% Dem to GOP ratio of votes in so far? Has there been any update to that?

    Stressing out ... especially with this Hussein verdict 2 days before election. Jeeezus.

    I can't believe that Burns is even with Tester!

  • (Show?)

    Alright Peter, stay on topic. This isn't a post about Iraq or Montana.

  • David Wright (unverified)
    [N]early half the people polled say “Oregon is not going in the right direction.”

    There is a danger in assuming that all those who believe Oregon is going in the wrong direction think the Democrats would take the state in the right direction.

    I guarantee that some portion (though I don't know how many) of those people think that taxes should be lower still, that government should be smaller still, that "values" should be legislated, etc. In other words, that the Republican leadership has so far not done enough for these people.

    Until recently I was a Republican -- but unfortunately my own "RINO" status ultimately became too much and I am now registered NAV. I agree that the Oregon Republican party (leadership in particular) has become openly hostile to moderation. Moderates in leadership are forced out. Rank-and-file like myself... well, we just know when we aren't wanted.

    Having said that, though, the real problem I have is that while I don't much care for the candidates from the right, I don't much agree with the candidates from the left either. Am I happy with the fiscal irresponsibility of the Republicans? No way.

    But would I be happy instead with the agenda of the Democrats?

    No way.

    Perhaps apathy from the "lean-Republicans" will help the Democrats this election. But with ballot measures to vote on as well as candidates, I expect that a lot of people who otherwise wouldn't bother voting for Republicans will go ahead and do so anyway when they vote for the measures.

    Which is why I wouldn't be too encouraged by the numerous polls that indicate approval of Republicans is so low -- a substantial number of people who don't approve of them are going to vote for them anyway.

  • Peter Bray (unverified)

    We need open threads! :)

  • Harry (unverified)

    Chuck nailed the first thing I thought of when reading the comment "Oregon Republicans have not won a partisan statewide office since Gov. Vic Atiyeh left office in 1986." Sen. Smith was the example I thought of also.

    So, even though there is an exception (Sen. Smith), I would have to agree with the general observation that Republicans just are not as attractive to Indies as the Democrats are.

    The thing that I find very interesting is to be able to compare the 2002 Governor race to the 2006 race. From a comparison standpoint, I would expect that the more moderate Republican candidate would do better against the very same Democrat than the more conservative Republican. I would have expected that Saxton would have done better against Kulo than Mannix did, if only because I would expect that the Indies would have found Saxton more appealing than Mannix. Polls do not share my expectations...we will see if the polls are close to the mark, or off the mark.

  • (Show?)


    Jack Roberts won Labor Commissioner in the mid-90s, but Oregn Labor Commission, renamed by Republicans as Commissioner of Labor and Industries, is technically a non-partisan office so the effects of closed primaries to not necessarily affect that office.

    When this column refers to "statewide office" it refers to state government ofices. There are many things that affect voters decisions in federal office that simply don't exist in state office, so I consider comparing the dynamics of both as comparing cheese and chalk.

  • LT (unverified)

    As someone who actively campaigned for a 3rd party candidate in the fall of 1996 knowing full well it could lead to Gordon Smith (a guy with a voting record who had actually talked about the issues) winning, I would add that the issue is general candidate quality.

    Russell is right about Republican candidate quality. But there are those of us who never quite had as much faith in the Democratic Party (federal level esp.) after Bruggere bought the 1996 US Senate primary by outspending his nearest opponent 10-1 and the next nearest 100-1. There were 3 high quality gentlemen in that field, but no one wanted to talk about their issues because DSCC wanted Bruggere as part of their Kerrey Millionaire strategy--which didn't elect any of those target candidates in 1996.

    The lesson should be this: candidate quality matters. As mentioned on another topic, Carol Voisin is obviously a quality candidate. There have been quality candidates running for 2nd District in the past. But not at a time where there was a potential Democratic tide like this year.

    This year also marks the best crop of legislative candidates in very many years. But has been discussed in many venues, there have been target candidates and forgotten candidates. Not exactly Howard Dean's "show up everywhere, contest everything" philosophy.

    Based on what I have heard from personal conversations, if there are "forgotten" candidates who lose close elections, that may spell problems for Dems. in 2008. People who worked their hearts out for such candidates may wonder whether another go-around is worthwhile. If the candidates who lose close ones say they won't run again unless assured of party support, or if potential candidates ask the 2006 candidates and activists if running would be worthwhile, the answer might not be what some people want to hear.

    On the other hand, if Sal Peralta wins, that should permanently blow the "sorry we can't help you--lousy R to D ratio" nonsense forever.

    Party organizations are run by humans--and sometimes they go overboard in their zeal to have ideologically pure candidates, or try to make picking winners before the start of the election year a science instead of an art.

    And although there are those here who won't like this statement, Russell had a good concluding statement. Oregon could use more candid, maverick candidates in both parties who were closer to Ben Westlund than to the core of their party leadership (caucus, state party, or whoever). Legislators who put constitutents and problem solving as higher priority than the wishes of their party are what this state needs.

  • (Show?)

    Peter, email me off line and I'll send you the data that I have for returns from the competitive house races. As of last night, we're looking at 4-6% higher turnout for Democrats across the board.

    However, don't read too much into it. The Republicans have a very strong get out the vote campaign, which always picks up the last few days, and most voters don't identify as strongly with their political party as citizen activists and consultants tend to believe.

    I've just gotten back from an afternoon of canvassing with Congressman Wu and will be making phone calls all evening. I'd encourage all readers of this blog to turn off the computer and start making some phone calls.

    I'll send you lists and a script if you have cellphone minutes to burn and want to help my campaign tonight.

    info at

    Just email me with a contact number.

    • Sal
  • IndependentAndy (unverified)

    spot on, Russell, as usual. What is funny is that the Ds are trying the same thing, selectively, (see Lamont, Ned), but at the same time are actually nominating a pro-life D (see Lee, Chuck), a type that is pretty much an endangered species in this state. I think both parties have been captured by the extremes of their parties to a great degree...the R's just more so in this state. I just read an amazing article about how is supporting Heath Shuler in NC... he's a pro-life, pro-gun Democrat. I didn't think those left wingers were capable of that, but I was wrong. This election season has some great glimmers of hope for those of us in the radical middle. It would be great to see moderates like Shuler, Steele in MD, and others elected for a change, instead of worthless hacks like Delay and Pelosi. I'm voting for Ted for Governor...for most of the reasons you noted I'm not voting for Saxson. I hope the Ds take back the US House, although I can't bring myself to vote for Hooley... what a waste of a Congressional seat. Too bad I can't vote for Earl or Peter, both excellent Ds...sadly ofset by people like Wu and Hooley.

    Let's hope the Ds don't repeat the Rs pattern of ethnic-cleansing their moderates if they win this time around.

  • t.a. barnhart (unverified)

    about the time Oregon Rs were going into decline, Californians were beginning their mass exodus north. how much of the neoconization of the GOP in OR is due to these Prop13 surrendar monkeys? remember, OR Republicans used to be moderate: that's why they could win statewise office. the active Rs stopped being moderate long ago, and with luck, we'll see them reap the fruits of that shift to the right with a loss of their last hold on any power.

  • (Show?)

    Peter, Anyone can buy a list of the ballots that have been processed by any particular day. A friend of mine working for the Guv has already bugged me because I haven't yet turned in my ballot.
    It's ain't cheap, however, and you have to buy at each county. That may change by 2008. I agree with Sal, though. I wouldn't read too much into it, unless you know the turnout trends in recent elections and how this election fits into that model.

    My read of turnout in 2006 is posted at It's in line with what Tim Hibbits said recently and 2% lower than Bradbury is projecting.

  • luke (unverified)

    If Mr. Sadler is as "independent" as he would like us to believe (political research has shown that most independents vote as if they were in one party or the other), I assume he will be voting for "RINO's" such as Saxton and Tom Cox. Tom Cox goes so far as to decry what he calls the "republican taliban." Can you imagine voting for a pro-life Ted Kulongoski? Or another D that enjoyed refering to "democratic marxists?" Yeah right.

    The republicans are fielding more moderate candidates then the democrats this term. Period. In any other election cycle this race would be over by now. Good grief, even democrats generally don't like Kulongoski. Lesser of two weavils cough evils usually doesn't make for the strongest of campaigns.

  • (Show?)

    Uhhh, Luke, since you're new around here, I'd suggest you read a bit more of Russell's writings.

    You should also know that his column is syndicated in over a dozen Oregon newspapers.

  • (Show?)

    Russ says: "Oregon Republicans have not won a partisan statewide office since Gov. Vic Atiyeh left office in 1986."

    True, but 2 of the last 4 Democratic victories in the race for Governor were likely the result of right-wing third party candidates. But for Al Mobley's 13% of the vote in 1990, it is likely that Dave Frohnmayer would have been elected (instead of losing by 6%). In 2002, Ted K beat Mannix by 2.8%, while Libertarian Tom Cox drew 4.5% (mostly from Mannix, probably).

    And this year it appears somewhat likely that Ted K will beat Saxton by fewer votes than go to Mary Starrett.

    Solution? Instant Runoff Voting, as has been urged by the Pacific Green Party and others for many years.

  • Tom Civiletti (unverified)


    That argument for IRV is not going to win many converts on this site. Folks here [including me] like it when Republicans lose.

    Of course, the shoe may shift to the other foot some day, with Green candidates siphoning votes from the Democrats, putting Republicans in office. On balance, I agree that IRV is a good idea, but not because it would help Saxton.

  • luke (unverified)


    lol, looks like I have my work cut out for me.

  • grammar check (unverified)


    I went to your Early Voting website, found nothing of substance and decided to check out your pdf on Oregon's ballot returns. Man, you must find someone to grammar check your writing. Examples abound, like; "It's been", "there is currently", "comparing ballot returns this far", "In Oregon in 2006, A lot more" "there are not many" (as opposed to 'there are fewer'), "this turnout accords with" - all in only two pages!

    If you use a written medium to convey ideas, then you must abide by the rules of written work. How could we ever take your research seriously if you can't even bother to write it up so that a fifth grader would be at peace with the syntax and usage?

  • (Show?)

    Dan wrote And this year it appears somewhat likely that Ted K will beat Saxton by fewer votes than go to Mary Starrett.

    C'mon, Dan, do the Punditology challenge and put that prognostication to work!

    Grammar Check... Are you sure you went to the right website? Because the one I found was quite interesting - and with good grammar. (dot-net, not dot-com.)

  • (Show?)
    Oregon Republicans have not won a partisan statewide office since Gov. Vic Atiyeh left office in 1986.

    Gordon Smith 1996 and again in 2002.

  • (Show?)
    Posted by: KALKI GUAR | Nov 5, 2006 8:26:07 AM [4000 words of gibberish deleted -editor.]

    Damn. Makes me sad that I am late to the party and missed the fun and frivolity of someone's head exploding onto a blog.

  • Larry Mac (unverified)

    Is there any topic that t.a. barnhart can't turn into an opportunity to foam at the mouth about the Californians? Oh, yeah! He hasn't blamed us yet for the fact that he thinks that NPR sucks... but I'm guessing that somewhere in the dimmer recesses of his mind the thought is bubbling to the surface that NPR's decline coincided with the arrival of all us "Prop 13 surrendar(sic) monkeys" in Oregon.

  • captured shadow (unverified)

    Question for Russell: Does the divided executive branch (separate offices for Attorney General, State Treasurer, etc elected independent of the Governor) hamper the leadership role that the voters expect from the Governor? It seems to me that people are generally disappointed with the leadership of the Governor, no matter who is in office. They expect the Governor to have more influence over the legislature and policies, and I wonder if this is due to expectations raised in the campaigns, or the government structure, or is just my bias in observation?

  • LT (unverified)


    The governor can exert leadership under the current system if the governor talks with legislators regularly, is open with the public, explains actions concretely, stands up for open government (why wasn't this current one as outspoken as Kitzhaber about the actions of legislative leadership?) says "If you write the bill this way I will veto it" and then carries through, inspires ordinary citizens, explains nominations "this nominee is better for Oregon than the person now on the board because...", and does what federal Democrats have been doing in the last several hours, "Here are the specific things we hope to accomplish shortly after taking office".

    But if a governor just talks to friendly people in closed rooms, it doesn't matter about the structure of government.

    My grandfather was in politics in the 1930s in another state before primaries. The Gov. was nominated at state convention, and then usually chose "running mates"---AG, State Treasurer, etc. My grandfather became the AG nominee because the convention wanted him although he was the Gov. nominee's second choice.

    I prefer the current system where we can vote for individuals we trust instead of some mechanism telling us we don't have that right.

connect with blueoregon