In 2019, it was a wild year in Oregon that included two GOP legislative walk outs to deny a quorum over education funding and over a climate change cap-and-trade scheme. It was the latter walkout that gained national notoriety when Republicans left the state for Idaho. Governor Kate Brown called out the state police which led to some remarks by GOP leaders, the involvement of some militia groups, and a lot of bad blood.
The climate change scheme itself mirrored the one in California on steroids. Instead of just targeting power companies, every industry in Oregon was targeted. Claiming they were fighting for taxpayers and businesses, the Republicans made a stand… and ran. Upon their return, the bill was killed in the legislature as the Democrats gave up fearing another walkout. Brown was highly critical of the walkout which made her highly hypocritical since in 2001, when she was state senate leader, she led a walkout by the Democrats over a redistricting plan.
Democrats in Salem were high on their 2018 legislative gains which further solidified their grip on both houses. Kate Brown, the embattled Democrat incumbent Governor, won her race. Then the Oregon GOP doubled down on ineptitude by reelecting their incumbent party chair to another term- their third. They had presided over two gubernatorial losses and the legislative losses. They spurned Sam Carpenter who wanted to chart a new direction for the party which was more conservative. The state GOP then recalled Marilynn Shannon, a national committeewoman, because she supported Carpenter, and Patti Adair, another conservative from Deschutes county, was quietly dismissed from leadership positions.
To makes matters worse, the state GOP then embarked on an ill-advised and costly attempt to recall Brown instead of funneling support into recruiting and funding candidates. The rejection of Carpenter coupled with the recall of Shannon and Adair was a decided slap in the face of conservatives in Oregon. Unless they are allegiant to the central committee, conservatives are ostracized, recalled and criticized.
In that gubernatorial race, Knute Buhler spent over $21 million in a losing cause against a flawed candidate for the Democrats. Buhler acted and spoke like a Democrat who espoused a disdain for President Trump and supported abortion on demand. At the national level, the RNC is reluctant to invest in races in Oregon. In effect, the message of the GOP in Oregon under its current regime is: “We’re not as bad as the Democrats.” Without effective opposition in Salem, the GOP in Oregon’s only bargaining chip is a legislative walkout in response to liberal overreach like a carbon tax. If anything, GOP dysfunction in the state has sown the seeds of their own destruction and impotence.
Oregon is a classic case of the growing chasm between coastal elites and rural America. The divide centers around their western urban areas and the rural eastern part of Oregon with most conservative anger directed at Portland and its environs, and with good reason. With only 26% of the voters registered as Republican, members of the party try to appear moderate, but that strategy is not working.
Yet, in 2016 Dennis Richardson was the only Republican to win statewide office and his strategy may be a road map for possible victory. Analysis has shown there are about 35,000 voters in Multnomah county willing to vote for a Republican. The three counties that surround Portland have a potential 80,000 voters willing to vote for a Republican. Although perhaps the most conservative legislator at the time in Oregon, he nevertheless was conservative enough to claim the more rural counties and make inroads in those western liberal ones.
Getting back to the controversy over that walkout, Kate Brown said she would use her state executive powers to achieve what could not be done legislatively, obviously channeling her best Barack Obama. As noted, the original plan was to enact a cap-and-trade system on emissions, but not just power plants, but all industries. Noting that 39% of Oregon’s emissions come from vehicles, the plan would reach that far down into the everyday lives of Oregonians. The fact is that even some Democrats opposed the plan.
Betsy Johnson is one such Democrat who represents a district home to a pulp and paper mill. She is opposed to the plan. Another- Laurie Monnes Anderson- represents a district that is home to a large Boeing facility. She too was against the plan. Boeing lobbied Anderson very hard and even though she apparently told environmentalists she was for the plan, she scrapped her support after talking to Boeing about the deep economic effects it would have on her district.
The problem is that Oregon can get away with cap-and-trade schemes (or try to) and $1 billion taxes on businesses to fund education, or seek to ban older diesel vehicles, and all sorts of things on the wet dream wish list of liberals. They can afford to look the other way when antifa anarchists take over the streets of Portland because the Republican party is so weak in the state, and has played the “moderate” game too long, and has capitulated, thrown in the towel, and doubled down on a losing strategy presided over by loser leaders. When Carpenter lost his bid for party chief, the rallying cry of the incumbent party leader was “stability.” “Stability” has brought loss and humiliation to the GOP in Oregon. This had nothing to do with Trump. Their problems preceded Trump’s rise to the top of the party.
The best hope for the GOP at this point is to hope the Democrats turn Oregon into another liberal hell hole. Unless they get their act together and stop playing games, legislative walkouts may be their only remaining weapon. Already there is talk that Democrats may move to have the state constitution changed to eliminate the two-thirds majority quorum requirement- the very requirement the Republicans took advantage of in their walkout. Of course, by then Democrats may already have a two-thirds majority all on their own.