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A hotter frying pan?


The tenor of articles in the Oregonian after the Oregon Republican Party’s change in leadership, which was made last weekend, was that the action was “putting an end to a months-long controversy over party leadership.”

That an extent at least, it did that. Suzanne Gallagher’s tenure as chair was much criticized (money management seemed to be a core issue), and she backed away from the job in the face of a recall effort that looked likely to succeed, So there’s that.

But you can’t help thinking that, over the months to come into the tenure of newly-elected Chair Art Robinson, a lot of Republicans will be pining for the good old days.

It’s worth noting here what a party chair, in any state or even on the national level, does and doesn’t do. Often they get too much blame or credit (depending on how the elections go) for whatever the voters do, when in fact they have relatively little to do with it. Party chairs oversee their party’s organization, watch how its money is spent and how people are hired and fired. It’s partly grunt work organizational, keeping the county operations running and the state organization active and at least somewhat visible. The chair is the party’s face to the world. The chair is also expected to help out with fundraising, the unglamorous but essential work of persuading people to fork over.

The skill set you want for a party chair becomes clear when you look at that job description: Someone who’s a good manager, skilled at public relations and smooth, diplomatic, cooperative and persuasive on a personal level. Perhaps above all, you want someone who won’t damage the organization by dividing it or by saying or doing things that damage its image with the voters.

Art Robinson, even his strongest supporters would have to admit if they’re being honest, ain’t that kind of guy.

You could say of him that there’s a certain fearlessness in saying what he thinks, and anyone willing to put themselves out there to run for Congress – as he did, twice – has shown a level of civic commitment.

But this is a guy who has mostly pulled away from society, and probably as a logical reaction to his own nature (and that of other people). He is known as fierce (in a public context), undiplomatic, uncompromising. And he likes to say his piece. If he turns out to be a quiet behind the scenes party mechanic, he would surprise a lot of people.

His long-published views on many things are enough to leave most Oregonians – including, almost certainly, most Republicans – shaking their heads in near disbelief. His congressional opponent, incumbent Democrat Peter DeFazio, still has a live web page with a mass of quotes from Robinson, like these: “The whole public school system is child abuse.” “I think the public schools should be abolished.” “But what I see in this [Wall Street] reform program right now is a government using a problem as an excuse to grow itself and greatly increase its power and I don’t think that should be done.” “All we need do with nuclear waste is dilute it to a low radiation level and sprinkle it over the ocean – or even over America.” On Social Security: “It is a Ponzi Scheme. … These entitlement programs need to be ended.”

Yes, it’s an oppo campaign web site, and yes, the quotes are not in context (though, after reading the context for most of them, I can tell you that doesn’t help much). But whatever else, those quotes (which are accurate) do give a clear impression of what Oregonians are going to learn soon about the head, and the public face, of their state’s Republican Party.

The Oregon Republican Party has a large number of office holders (including legislators) who, to say the least, don’t subscribe the world view quotes like that would suggest. The dissonance between them and their party’s new leader is apt to be great.

Worst case for the Republicans, with Robinson as chair, is still probably not exactly horrific: Remember, party chairs normally get both much more credit and blame than they should.

But you could say that Oregon’s Republicans now have an unusually dramatic challenge in front of them.

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