Bill Currier was elected Saturday to a third term as chairman of the Oregon Republican Party, fending off a challenge by conservative Bend businessman Sam Carpenter.
Currier won 82-39 in the vote by more than 120 delegates to the Republicans’ 2019 organizational meeting in Keizer, just north of Salem.
The delegates endorsed Currier’s leadership in spite of major GOP losses in the 2018 election. Carpenter sought to oust Currier, saying the election results were proof that the leadership was ineffective. He promised to mold an even more conservative, pro-Donald Trump state party.
Currier said after the vote that his win showed delegates wanted continuity despite last year’s disappointment.
“They want to build on the party, instead of starting from scratch,” Currier said.
Currier said he understood a portion of the party is discontented and rallied around Carpenter’s firebrand approach.
“Anytime you have opposition, there is another viewpoint to be considered,” Currier said.
Still, Currier said he believes the party needed to be a “big tent” that can create winning coalitions with unaffiliated voters and disenchanted Democrats.
“We need to be more focused on issues rather than trying to decide whether some given candidate meets some litmus test,” Currier said.
Carpenter could not be reached for comment.
Some of his supporters said they hoped to see Currier embrace a more consistently conservative agenda and cultivate candidates to match.
“I thought Sam made a good case for change,” said Deschutes County Republican chairman Paul deWitt. “It seems the majority of the party wants business as usual. We’ll see how that goes.”
Many Carpenter supporters were upset former Rep. Knute Buehler, R-Bend — a moderate — was the GOP nominee for governor. Buehler was pro-choice, advocated for LGBTQ rights, and said he didn’t vote for President Trump in 2016.
“For 30 years or more, there’s been this theory that the future of the party is by becoming more moderate,” said Phil Henderson, Deschutes County Commissioner and a delegate to the convention. “Last year, it didn’t seem like playing to the other side won us much. Buehler spent a lot of money and see what happened.”
Rep. Bill Post, R-Keizer, who was a “legislative guest” at the vote, has called for the party to shift to a more openly conservative stance. Post said after the vote that he believes Currier is the right choice for the party moving forward.
“He’s a humble, hard-working person who doesn’t want the spotlight,” Post said. “He leads a great team. He is not a ‘personality.’ He is a true leader and I think the 82-39 vote count confirmed that today.”
The backdrop of the vote was the Republicans’ poor showing in the 2018 elections and their declining portion of the state’s registered voters.
Democrats came out of last November’s election with a record-tying 38-22 supermajority in the House and a 18-12 supermajority in the Senate.
Four initiatives backed by large segments of the Republican party went down in defeat.
A January report from the Secretary of State said Republicans accounted for 706,393 of Oregon’s 2.76 million registered voters, putting them in third place behind Democrats at 976,260 and non-affiliated voters at 892,138.
Carpenter was especially critical of Currier’s handling of the 2018 GOP primary for governor, which Buehler won by splitting the vote of two conservatives, Carpenter and retired Navy pilot Greg Wooldridge of Portland.
Carpenter said the party’s candidates should promote conservative viewpoints and back President Trump. Currier countered that voters decide who wins a primary, not the party.
Adding to the intrigue over the chair race were reports last month from Politico that Trump aides Bill Stepien and Justin Clark have been given the job of working to ensure pro-Trump factions control state parties in 2020.
“We are monitoring, tracking and ensuring the president’s allies are sitting at the top of state parties,” Stepien told Politico.
Currier confirmed last month that he has had discussions with the Trump team about the 2020 election.
Though the 2020 election is relatively far off, Currier said that he and new state GOP vice-chairwoman Tracy Honl will begin working immediately with county-level Republican leaders, GOP lawmakers and prospect candidates.
The goal? More wins in 2020.
Currier, an information technology consultant from Adair Village in Benton County, became party chairman in Febuary 2015. He served as state party vice chairman and treasurer. Honl is the chair of the Washington County Republican Party.
In addition to his bid for governor last year, Carpenter was an unsuccessful Republican primary candidate in the 2016 U.S. Senate race.
According to the Oregon Republican Party’s official website, the chairperson “is responsible for general oversight of ORP operations, fundraising and partner relations, presiding over the Executive Committee and Central Committee meetings, and developing programs to ensure that the Party achieves its goals.”
— Reporter: 541-640-2750, gwarner@bendbulletin