Atiyeh: "Ideology is not a substitute for policy."

Russell Sadler

Former Oregon Gov. Vic Atiyeh, who left office in 1986, has some advice for his party following its repudiation in last month’s election.

No Republican has been elected Oregon governor for the last 20 years, despite the fact that the Republicans controlled the legislature for most of that time.

Democrats won control of the Oregon Senate in 2004. Voters gave Democrats control of the Oregon House last month and reelected a Democratic governor despite doubts about his performance. Atiyeh thinks he knows how Republicans can regain the confidence of Oregon voters.

“Focus in the center of the electorate,” advises the former governor in a recent op-ed piece in The Oregonian. Regular readers of this column know I banned the words “moderate” and “centrist” because they mean so many things to so many people that they are no longer useful terms. But Atiyeh explains what he means by the “center of the electorate.”

“Those in the political middle in Oregon cannot be defined by any single issue but, generally speaking, are fiscally conservative, socially tolerant and moderate in their approach to problem-solving,” writes Atiyeh.

That may or may not be the middle, but it is a pretty good description of the independent crossover voters that GOP statewide candidates have been unable to attract for about two decades.

“Ideology is not a substitute for policy,” warns the former governor. “Republicans need policy ideas to go along with our core principals to address the everyday economic and social concerns facing Oregonians. Too often, our candidates rely on the ideological slogans of ‘smaller government’ or ‘traditional values’ to define our answers to complex problems.”

Oregon Republicans have been trying to push national Republican ideological prescriptions down the throats of an increasingly skeptical electorate in exchange for campaign cash from the national party and ideological pressure groups. Oregon Republicans are obsessed with toll roads, privatization, contracting out, charter schools, abortion and parental notification while the everyday concerns of Oregonians like overcrowded schools, rising college tuition, health care, loss of benefits, lost manufacturing employment, agricultural food processing moving to South and Central America and protecting the environment are simply ignored.

“Build a quality team of candidates,” advises the former governor. “All too often first-time candidates for major offices make political mistakes and lack credibility with voters. Campaign and government experience make for stronger candidates and better elected officials.”

But the Republican legislative leadership does not put a premium on campaign or government experience when they recruit candidates. They demand partisan loyalty in a effort to elect lawmakers who will vote for the legislation Republican leaders have promised to various interest groups in exchange for campaign cash. The kind of independent thinking Atiyeh admires is not wanted by most Republican legislative leaders.

Republican legislators who deviate from the party line are purged from the party. A number of legislators, disgusted with this practice, quietly decided not to run again. Others, like Sen. Ben Westlund, D-Bend, very publicly quit the Republican party.

“Focus on Washington County. Republicans will never win a statewide office and won't control the Legislature if we can't win in Washington County,” Atiyeh warns. “In the last few elections, Democrats have run the tables, picking up city council, county commission and state legislative seats across Washington County.”

This is Atiyeh’s most perceptive advice to his party. Washington County is the heartland of Oregon’s high technology industry. These folks tend to be fiscal conservatives, but they also tend to be socially tolerant. The Oregon Republican Party is neither anymore.

Oregon Republicans abandoned their traditional practice of pay-as-you-go government. During the recession of the 1990s, the party leadership opposed a bipartisan temporary income tax surcharge and borrowed money to balance the budget. This reckless practice of borrow-and-spend pushes today’s costs into the next generation.

Oregon Democrats now favor the once-conservative practice of raising enough money with additional taxes to balance the state budget.

In recent years, the Oregon Republican Party has been under the influence of politically conservative fundamentalist Christians who dismissed Oregon’s traditional “you-leave-me-alone-I’ll-leave-you-alone” conservatism as “liberal permissiveness.” As long as Oregon Republicans cater to Christian conservatives, socially tolerant high-tech Republicans and crossover voters in Washington County are likely to vote for Democrats.

“Republicans will make a big mistake if we simply blame our local defeats on the Iraq war,” warns Atiyeh. “ While recognizing in every election there will always be contributing political factors outside of our control, we must also look at ourselves, learn the lessons of defeat and make the changes necessary to be competitive in the future.”

But old habits die hard. The Republican leadership is unrepentant. There is no indication the Oregon GOP will heed former Gov. Atiyeh’s perceptive advice.

  • DAN GRADY (unverified)

    But old habits die hard. The Republican leadership is unrepentant. There is no indication the Oregon GOP will heed former Gov. Atiyeh’s perceptive advice.// Russell Sadler

    Shhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh! We have a '08 election to win, and no need to enlighten them until we undo the damage they've done!!!

  • JustSumGuy (unverified)

    Neither, come to think of it, is leftist demagoguery.

    There is an increasing call by the more leftist elements of the GOP to out-democrat the democrats, as if that will fix something. It won't.

    What Gov. Atiyah and so many others in the left wing of the GOP seem to advocate is a "winning-for-the-sake-of-winning" attitude.

    If a Republican must espouse democrat ideals and platitudes to win, then what's the point? Oregon is a slow-motion trainwreck and has been for years. The massive influx of people isn't a wagon train of refugees heading from Washington into Oregon. It is, in fact, the other way around as thousands of Oregonians get fed up with the Soviet Socialist Republic just over the river and move up here to Clark County in Washington. Soon, they will join California, which has experienced 6 consecutive years of population flight.

    At some point, the people of Oregon, just like the people of Washington, will bottom out. At some point, they will realize that the keys to success are not more taxes, but fewer taxes, spent more wisely and with greater efficiency; that that government governs best... that governs least.

    Until then, the people of Oregon are welcome to suffer from those who control as inept a government at the state level as any that exist in the US today. They're welcome to support an essentially worthless school system, a DSHS childrens division that's a nightmare, traffic issues that defy any serious resolution, a total hosing on issues such as the 3 times-more-costly-then-promised tram up Pill Hill.

    If that's what the people want, then that's what they deserve. And running allegedly "Republican" candidates that sound like spokesmen and women for the Democratic Central Committee won't change anything... even if they are elected.

  • true_slicky (unverified)

    Sounds like sour grapes there, Sum. Washington has lower taxes? That's news to me! And you nitpick on issues that Oregonians get hosed on, like the frickin' tram? How's that monorail going on that the people of Seattle voted for, repeatedly, over the last decade. How is that Olympia-to-Seattle rush hour anyway?

    If, as you say, the government that governs best governs least, its amazing that other Oregonians don't subscribe to that view, and haven't for 20 years.

    Look, any state that has Tim Eyeman running the initiative game is hardly a model of a workable state.

  • Jeff (unverified)

    The Republican party is weak and divided. In Oregon, they don't have the vision to bring in good people to develop policy and bring people together. If the Republican party could get everyone moving in the same direction, they would be formidable. Fortunately they can't and won't.

  • (Show?)


    Thanks for awakening the Christmas spirit over here...that's $10 going to help replenish the Brading campaign coffers.

    Merry Christmas to you and to all!

  • (Show?)

    I think this could be coined as Atiyeh's Christmas gift to his own party. I agree, Republicans have been pushing a losing strategy (at least on a statewide level) for the last 20 years or so. Why would Republican's listen to one of their elder members (no offense meant to Governor Atiyeh)? The strategy has been working so well lately (not) I'd encourage them to keep going with the same rhetoric.

    I also tend to agree with Russell (good column by the way) about the Repubican's failing to address specific policies that could help them win elections. If it's all about tax cuts, spending caps and firing public employees what real good is that going to do?

    They have dug their hole pretty deep. As far as I'm concerned let them sit in it.

  • Abriel Lafiel (unverified)

    It'll be Atkinson.

    And the Democrats will lose everything when he wins in 2010.


  • TomCat (unverified)

    I know this is off-subject, so please forgive me for that.

    Merry Christmas, or whatever holiday you celebrate, to all here.

  • DAN GRADY (unverified)


    Clark County seems to be developing not as a city of citizens, but as a suburbia meant for citizen kings each with their own kingdom complete with defenses, and motes and barriers between its citizens. Like a Sunbelt dessert community with no consideration of services in the context of one developments effect on the city as a whole. A development sprawl where everyone must have the resources to travel miles for groceries or for simple daily shopping or entertainment is a community that is unsustainable over time. This sort of city planning’s seems to promotes division, and disparity of community, and Portland seems to be getting it to a greater degree. Portland is by far a more citizen friendly city that promotes its neighborhood communities.

    If I remember the birth of the tram from Pill Hill, as you put it was for the developers and private investment. A Republican aberration of Democratic leadership. This project was ill advised, and has its strongest detractors among the Democratic leadership. A Vera Katz legacy of the city’s DINO’s that you turn around as an example of liberal leadership. I would prefer the Trimet and neighborhoods as better examples, as well as the overall quality of life.

    I notice you argue about the new resident’s adverse effect on the city while complaining about the “slow train wreck” into a California exodus? I recognize this method of proselytizing as truly Republican/Libertarian as they speak from both sides of an argument which inevitably results in reality trumping ideological dogma used as policy decisions!

    Portland is among the fastest growing, economically sustainable cities in the country because of the community’s investment in the public transit, neighborhood planning, and community development. These issues are always perverted by politics, but yet the city has seen the benefits of these investments and its citizens seem invested in the ideal of a community development for a community of citizens.

    “At some point, they will realize that the keys to success are not more taxes, but fewer taxes, spent more wisely and with greater efficiency; that that government governs best... that governs least.” // Posted by: JustSumGuy | Dec 24, 2006 10:20:02 AM

    We handed government to those whom openly did not believe in government. They lead as badly as possible until the realities of their incompetence became impossible to hide, and then told the world: “See how government is incompetent; free enterprise is the best way for these services to be delivered to the people.” When they privatized the services or responsibilities of government, they just padded political ally’s pockets until they gorged on our tax dollars resulting in loss of those services altogether and an inevitable return of government control but with far less resources than when they started.

    To accept these arguments is to ignore our present circumstances of failed government lead by those whom don’t believe in government, and to dismiss our history of these types of leaders who make their case by dismantling effective governance to show their failures as evidence of government failure!!

    I’ll help you, “JustSumGuy.” Sincere governance produces effective governance! Political will result in sincere governance in a sound democracy!! I dare say this is the reason for the Republican’s continually eroding our form of democracy!

    Merry Christmas to All from an Agnostic;

    Dan Grady

  • Suburbs (unverified)

    If Jason Atkinson is the best the R's can put forward, D's will be the majority party in Oregon for a long time. I bet you cannot name a single legislative accomplishment of Jason Atkinson -- and he's been in the majority for most of his time in Salem. A true lightweight.

  • Silence Dogood (unverified)

    Joblessness used to matter to progressives, but not anymore.

    Oregon's unemployment rate is the 7th highest among the states ... but you hear no Salem-centric partisan hacks or high-and-mighty social perfectionists (whether or not they buy ink by the barrel) concerned about this at all.

    Oregon's u/e rate is about double that of the most productive states. Who cares?

    Portland's unemployment rate is in the 37th percentile among U.S. metropolitan areas (up from 29th the prior 2 months - woo-hoo.) Again, not a word from Bluesters. Is this the mark of an "economically sustainable city"?

    Where is the examination of why we are so jobless? All the self-congratulatory cheerleading from Blue Ds and Blue Rs can't make up for their utter ignorance and carelessness.

    The GOP experience is useful in that it reveals that we've really only had one party all along - The Government Party.

    Progressives already know that "God is dead" but may not exactly recall what Nietzsche meant, apart from the fact that prayers alone will not solve our Leviathan problem.

  • (Show?)

    Silence Troll,

    it would be nice if you actually cited the statistics you used, therefore I'm assuming whatever source your using is outdated.

    The current figures as of Nov 2006 have Oregon at 5.3%. Your claiming it is the 7th highest among the states, according to the latest data it is actually 8th.

    In terms of your suggestion that Portland is among the highest of the metro cities, again I'd question your sources. Note that the Labor Department lists Medford and Bend as metropolitan cities. Portland is tied at 230 with Medford and several other cities at a 4.4% unemployment rate.

    Again, Republicans can talk numbers and quote statistics all they want, but it's simply hot air coming out their backends.

    What are the solutions?

  • Silence Dogood (unverified)

    Yes Oregon's jobless rate is 5.3% -- more than 1 in 20 who can work, aren't. And the Bush Administration has cooked the definition of "jobless" to make it look better than it actually is.

    5.3% ranks 8th highest among the states only if you count Washington, D.C. as a state. That's a little premature. Oregon was indeed the 7th worst state for joblessness in November. The data is from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The metro area stats are from the same BLS URL you cite.

    Maybe the BLS is Republican if you consider the entire federal government is Republican due to the current administration. But will the BLS be Democrat under Pres. HRC after '08? I don't think so.

    But I'm not a Republican, so shoot this messenger and you miss, David. Shooting at messengers amounts to denial and distraction ... ignoring the problem ... that makes my point.

    Our public policy leaders have a plan for most everything else. It's not that big a project to look at the states that are more work-friendly and borrow ideas from them. Unless of course, work itself is too Republican a concept for Blue Oregon.

  • lin qiao (unverified)

    Per Silence Dogood's comments about unemployment, I'm not terribly upset about what he had to say or about massaging statistics. I'm more troubled that in this (and every?) capitalist economy, having some amount of unemployment is considered a good thing by economic policy makers. And of course from the political perspective, recall Marx's comment about the usefulness of "the reserve army of the unemployed" for capitalists. It's not necessary to be a Marxist to recognize that the man had some useful insights.

    But onward. What the evil did Dogood mean by "our Leviathan problem"? Yes, I do have some general idea what Hobbes what writing about; he was arguably a good friend of autocracy, which he saw as the guarantor of social order, and no friend of democracy. He was also writing just about the time that the English Civil War ended, a fact that may have colored his perspective.

  • urbanplanningoverlord (unverified)

    while the everyday concerns of Oregonians like overcrowded schools, rising college tuition, health care, loss of benefits, lost manufacturing employment, agricultural food processing moving to South and Central America and protecting the environment are simply ignored.

    A pretty good list, with one glaring exception - Mr. Sadler had to throw left-wing anti-globalization protectionist nonsense into the list with the "agricultural food processing" rant straight from a Peter DeFazio stump speech.

  • Kevin (unverified)

    As long as Oregon Republicans cater to Christian conservatives, socially tolerant high-tech Republicans and crossover voters in Washington County are likely to vote for Democrats.

    As a 30 year resident of Western Washington County who reached voting age as a resident here, I would say that there is a great deal of truth to that assertion. But it's more than just the whack-job so-called "Christian" conservatives that first pushed me out of the GOP and have steadily pushed me towards voting for an increasingly higher precentage of Democrats, culminating in my running the board for Dems this year. It's also the hardcore ideology trumping everything else as well as the blatently hypocritical situational ethics practiced by the GOP leadership both here in Oregon and nationally that has really soured me on Republicans.

    The last truly great Republican Oregon had in office was Senator Mark Hatfield, whom I admired and respected more than words can express. I didn't always agree with him politically, but he had the kind of rock-steady personal ethics and absolute dedication to honesty which I find so incredibly sorely lacking in other Republicans and indeed in politicians in general. But most particularly in Republicans over the last 10 years.

  • Gerry (unverified)

    Thanks, Russell. Your comments about Gov. Atiyeh are so right! Another thing - Vic was a Governor for "all of Oregonians." I was his chief of staff. He did not want party affiliation listed on any form to be filled out by any of the public. Previous adminsitrations had party affiliation check boxes on everything. Governor always reminded us - sex, race, religion, party affiliation made no difference in his administration. No wonder he got along so well with the Democrats and Republicans alike. He accomplished alot for Oregon in some very "tough" times and has never received the full credit he deserves for the way he managed state government and kept Oregon moving forward in some of the most difficult times Oregon has seen. And he was able to do this as a Republican Governor and a democrat controlled legislature.

    Thank you for interviewing him and letting us all once again hear his wisdom.


connect with blueoregon