Press "Enter" to skip to content

Posts published in “Day: May 19, 2024”

Few common threads

Republican primary contests this year in many states – Washington and Idaho for two –  have evolved into battles between traditional conservatives and more uncompromising activist and often Trumpist groups.

Oregon is mostly an exception.

The state has no lack of Republican primary contests, five in the state Senate and 10 in the House, with about four times as many House seats are up for election. While some candidates identify themselves along the lines of former President Donald Trump, few do so very explicitly.

The reasons why aren’t clear. The state’s late presidential primary, which will feature only Trump on the Republican side, may have lowered the attention level a little in Oregon at the local level. Maybe, too, Oregon’s nature is more inclined to focus on local concerns and individual personalities.

Oregon’s Republican contests seem at least to have evolved that way.

That holds true for the statewide and ideologically-oriented Republican Unity Caucus PAC, which has become involved in Republican primary contests, one of the few state organizations to do so. Its finances are not massive, with it reporting so far less than $17,000 in either contributions or spending for the primary. It describes itself as “uniting activists and legislators to empower the Freedom Movement in Oregon,” and does not get much more specific from there, freeing it to act in the primaries however seems desirable.

Its most visible activity concerns incumbent Republican Sen. David Brock Smith of Port Orford, who is facing three primary opponents for his southern coastal seat, with logger Todd Vaughn winning RUC backing. The PAC’s blasts at Brock Smith led to cease-and-desist letters from Brock Smith’s attorney with indications that he might sue over what he described as false campaign statements. The complaints against Brock Smith are hard to parse, but seem to argue that he was too supportive of Democratic initiatives and might have been helping a Chinese businessman.

Brock Smith describes himself as a staunch conservative, and RUC leader Ben Edtl said his group is “bound by America First values.” The group’s core complaint against Brock Smith remains unclear.

RUC also weighed in on the Republican primary in House District 51 in Clackamas County. With no Democrats filing, the seat will go to Christine Drazan, who represented the area before resigning when she ran for governor in 2022, or James Hieb, who was appointed to replace her and now is the incumbent. The PAC described Drazan, the Republican governor nominee two years ago, as “supported by special interest groups who want to continue their agenda of socializing housing and health care and continue to undermine election integrity and local democratic control of our school districts.” Hieb, it said, had begun his legislative term similarly but then “he began an assent to fearlessly representing his voters.” The reasons for involvement never get much more specific.

The Unity Caucus seems to be about as large a group as has become involved in the many Republican primaries.

In only one case among the 15 Republican primary contests was a significant policy difference between two candidates clearly central. That is in House District 12 in rural Lane County where incumbent Rep. Charlie Conrad of Dexter faces a challenge by Darin Harbick over Conrad’s  vote in 2023 for a Democratic-backed reproductive health care bill. Conrad went against his party on the bill, which sparked a Republican Senate walkout that lasted for six weeks. Harbick told the Capital Chronicle: “When I found out that my state representative (was) the only Republican in Oregon who voted with the rest of the Democrats on that bill, I was outraged because I do not believe that is what House District 12 represents,” Harbick said. “That was kind of a catalyst that put me into running a primary against Representative Conrad.”

Most of the candidate differences, however, relate more to approach to the job than to policy or even personality differences.

In Senate District 2, which includes Josephine and parts of Douglas and Jackson counties, incumbent Art Robinson was legally barred from running again, so his son Noah Robinson has filed to replace him. He is opposed by current Rep. Christine Goodwin of Canyon City. She told the Capital Chronicle:  “I filed because the threat of another Robinson was frightening to me.” She said the elder Robinson only opposed bills while she said she would compromise, when necessary, to find solutions. The thread of practical legislating against an uncompromising edge runs through several races. In the coastal House District 32, where incumbent Cyrus Javadi of Tillamook is rematched against Glenn Gaither of Seaside, Javadi talks about working across the aisle, while Gaither’s message does have clear echoes of a Trump-like view but in the context of being uncompromising.

At least one other House race is specifically shaped around the background of the incumbent, in this case the longest-serving House Republican, Greg Smith of Heppner in eastern Oregon. Challenger Raymond Akers drew on headlines about Smith’s extensive private-sector but government-related contracts, chronicled by Malheur Enterprise, and said on his Facebook page that “while Greg is out and about telling about all of his corporate endorsements (voters should) hold his feet to the fire (since) you may not see him again for many years.”

On the day after primary election day, Oregon Republicans – and political analysts – may have a hard time drawing any sweeping conclusions about what the party’s voters want. Whatever it is, apart from liking or disliking their incumbents, they won’t have a lot of room to express it on the ballot.

This column originally appeared in the Oregon Capital Chronicle.