Oregon Republicans convened for three days starting March 8 at Seaside, for their annual Dorchester conference. (photo/Randy Stapilus)
In his opening remarks at the 49th Dorchester conference, the organization's president remarked that, since former Governor Vic Atiyeh was unable to attend this year's event, it marked the first time in at least three decades that no current or former governor of Oregon had attended the signature Republican event.
That was as useful a factoid as any to underscore the point and usefulness of the conference: Trying to figure out what the future of the Oregon Republican Party ought to be, and how to make it successful. That was much of the point in 1965, when future Senator Robert Packwood helped organize the first one. It has taken on some urgency now, with Republicans out of power in the legislature and holding but one major office (the 2nd U.S. House seat) in the whole state.
Dorchester is known for blunt talk, a willingness to face up to the problems. So it was on the main event on opening night Friday, when Kerry Tymchuk, formerly of Senator Gordon Smith's staff and now of the state historical society, moderated and posed questions to a panel of three, selected in part by differing ages, a college student at Portland State University (Tymchuk quipped that her role with the college Republicans would be like heading up college Democrats at Brigham Young University), an ex-urbanite father living in rural Washington County, and a veteran of Oregon Republican politics with background in the 60s of leftist radicalism.
If they didn't come up with definitive answers on a path forward, they did illuminate some of the obstacles and at least a number of ideas.
Asked why they were Republicans, the answers emerged unsurprisingly: It was the party of personal responsibility, work ethics and limited government and non-reliance on handouts. It did not apologize for the country, they said; one remarked, "it's the patriotic party, not the pity party."
Asked what was, in their view, the major issue of the day, "fiscal responsibility" was the prevailing choice. The former 60s radical remarked that "I'm not so much worried about protecting my social security as protecting my freedom," and she warned, "Communists are out there."
Following up on some of that, the college student suggested, "If we fall, the world falls."
Tymchuck asked for some cross-generational commentary, and he got some. The exurban father said of the millennials that they seem not to have a sense of where the money is coming from the pay for all the enormous bills (college costs, presumably, among them) that are being run up. And there was a comment about some younger voters being "brainwashed."
But the college student had some suggestions too: Older generations, she suggested, are sometimes "obsessed" with social issues (not spelled out, but presumably including abortion and gay rights) that are turning into big electoral losers for the Republican Party.
"I'm so sick of losing," she said. (Tymchuck pointed out that Oregon hasn't had a Republican governor since before she was born.)
That led to a Tymchuk question about whether compromise was, or ought to be, a dirty word among Republicans.
The responses were uneasy and actually somewhat nuanced. There was some acknowledgement that Republicans are increasingly being tagged as uncompromising, and that they're increasingly getting nothing rather than the half a loaf they otherwise might get. But the 60's veteran drew cheers from the crowd when she said, "I don't personally want to compromise with the Democrats ... They're liars."
Added up, there was certainly recognition that the Oregon Republican Party has some big problems. Solutions? Well, they had the rest of the weekend to continue searching for those.