By Paul deWitt

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The Oregon Republican Party (ORP) has undergone a significant upheaval in 2019. This was precipitated to some extent by the 2018 midterms, which included the loss of even more seats in the Oregon House and Senate and solidified the Democrat stranglehold on Salem.

As the Democrat supermajority and Gov. Kate Brown enact their tax and spend agenda, Oregon Republicans can do little more than wonder how to reverse the leftward lurch in a state that a generation ago was governed by Republicans. While we can do nothing about demographics and the far-left politics that are the driving forces behind the Democrat power base in Salem, we can do a better job pointing out the failures of the Democrat/labor union/media interests that are pushing this state further into debt and mediocrity.

Instead of focusing on unity and conveying the message that we have a better way, we Republicans seem unable to learn from our mistakes. In February, central committee members voted to reelect the incumbent ORP chair, who had served two terms even as Republicans lost seats in the state Legislature and mounted an unsuccessful bid for governor. We spurned Sam Carpenter, the candidate who promised to chart a new course for the party with his clearly enunciated conservative vision. The main argument the incumbent party chair cited for his reelection was the need for “consistent leadership.”

Exacerbating the divide in the ORP, our national committeewoman, Marylin Shannon, a 40-year veteran of Oregon Republican politics, was unceremoniously recalled in the April ORP meeting over spurious allegations that she violated party by-laws. Her sin was to support Carpenter in his bid to be party chair and in his earlier race with Knute Buehler for the Republican gubernatorial nomination.

Patti Adair, the articulate and energized conservative from Sisters, and now our newest Deschutes County commissioner, was quietly dismissed at the same time.

To make matters worse, the ORP executive committee launched an ill-advised and ultimately unsuccessful initiative to recall Kate Brown instead of channeling energy and effort into finding candidates to run for the Oregon House and Senate.

While internal party fights are not new to either party, the GOP in Oregon is reaching an inflection point. The current state party leadership insists on unwavering loyalty by party central committee members. Those who refuse are ostracized or, if necessary, recalled.

At the national level, the ORP is a joke. The Republican National Committee invests few resources in our party because of the perception that candidates for statewide or congressional and Senate races have little chance of winning.

What is needed is a clean slate, and a leadership team that can effectively convey a message of conservative principles that appeals to every-day Oregonians. Simply suggesting that we aren’t as bad as the Democrats, while true, is not the way to influence those Democrat voters who are looking for an alternative to their failed leaders and policies that are bankrupting the state or the nonaffiliated voters who represent the largest bloc of voters outside the two major parties.

Our last gubernatorial nominee, despite spending $21 million in his race against the very flawed Kate Brown, discovered that being a Republican in name only, while espousing Democrat values like abortion on demand and demonstrating his disdain for President Trump, was not a recipe for success.

As Democrat progressives in Salem continue to assert themselves without effective opposition, the citizens of Oregon will eventually realize that we have sown the seeds of destruction. The bills that were passed by the Democrat supermajority marked a significant turning point in the state, with companies and individuals adversely affected by taxes and regulations that reach down into the fabric of everyday life. Only the walkout by the 11 Republican senators prevented passage of another travesty, the carbon tax.

The ORP must rethink its priorities and arrive at a different game plan to appeal to Oregon voters. The current plan is clearly not working.

— Paul deWitt is the former chair of Deschutes County Republicans.

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