…but will the Oregon GOP base be willing to open it.
All studies show that the Republican Party has moved further to the ideological right over the past several decades. However Oregon is a moderate State, though geographically and politically segregated. Unless the Oregon Republican Party can attract a wider base of support within moderate and blue geographic regions the Oregon GOP will continue to drift rightwards as moderates leave and younger voters don’t consider it a viable option.
Independents, and non affiliated moderates who are more conservative than the Democratic mainstream (And even many Democrats who are fed up with the Public Employee Unions power within the DPO) often talk about supporting a “McCall / Hatfield” type Republican*.
To give you an idea of what a “Hatfield / McCall” wing would stand for, here are a few of the memorable and even historic policies they were remembered for.
Tom McCall policies
- The Oregon Beach Bill is landmark legislation that was passed by the 1967 Oregon legislature. It established public ownership of land along the Oregon Coast
- The Oregon Bottle Bill is drink-container-deposit legislation passed in Oregon in 1971
- Oregon’s Bicycle Bill was adopted in 1971 and requires that pedestrian and bicycle facilities be added whenever a highway, road or street is constructed, reconstructed or relocated.
- Created the Land Conservation and Development Commission (LCDC). Oregon’s Land Use Laws are intended to protect Oregon’s farm and forest lands from development, so that agricultural soils are preserved for growing crops and timber.
- Tom McCall Waterfront Park: In May, 1974, the state of Oregon closed Harbor Drive in downtown Portland so it could use the land to build a park.
- Clean Air and Water: strengthened state-wide water and air pollution regulations. In 1969 the legislature passed a comprehensive program to curb pollution that included the creation of the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality.
- Abortion: In 1969 Tom McCall spoke out against banning abortions and later that year Oregon decriminalized abortion.
- Immigrant rights: 1958 he led a meeting in Portland as chairman of the Steering Committee for the Oregon Committee on Migrant Affairs. This eventually led to groundbreaking migrant civil rights legislation passed by the Oregon Legislature in 1959
- Civil Rights Leader: In 1953, he introduced and passed legislation in the House that prohibited discrimination based on race in public accommodations before federal legislation and court decisions did so on a national level.
- Opposed extremism. 1964: He advocated a moderate approach for the party and opposed the extreme conservatism associated with Goldwater and his supporters.
- Against Viet Nam War, Supporter Troops: He also was the only governor to vote against a resolution by the National Governors’ Conference supporting the Johnson Administration’s policy on the Vietnam War, as Hatfield opposed the war, but pledged “unqualified and complete support” for the troops.
- Supported natural resource industry: Supported Oregon’s traditional industries of timber and agriculture,
- Economic Diversification through incentives: While governor he worked to begin the diversification of the state’s economy, such as recruiting industrial development and holding trade missions.
- Supported higher education. Helped found the Oregon Graduate Center in what is now the Silicon Forest in Washington County in 1963.
- Non partisan redistricting: Hatfield supported legislation that broke the partisan gridlock on redistricting
Many of these positions would be viewed by most Republicans as more liberal than they are moderate. It is fair to say that a Hatfield / McCall wing of the Oregon Republican Party would represent a new Liberal-Moderate wing of the Party. To rebuild a viable “wing” within the GOP it needs two things. Leaders and members.
The Current State of Hatfield / McCall Republicans
There are a handful Republican politicians who could be categorized as Hatfield / McCall Republicans. They’re in swing districts and keep their views sub rosa until the general elections. And even then, they don’t feature their Hatfield / McCall views to Republican voters. The bottom line is, there is simply is no coordinated and outspoken leadership to lead a “Hatfield / McCall wing” of the Oregon GOP.
The two most obvious potential leaders are Rep. Knute Buehler and Rep. Julie Parrish. They have both cautiously worked and coordinated with i/Independents who are Hatfield / McCall type voters. But they have done so outside the structures of the Republican Party itself and have not sought to publicly build a Hatfield / McCall power base within their Party.
Given the Democratic dominance in Oregon, the GOP has to find a source where they can not just compete, but out-compete the Democrats.
Newer voters: Many millennials and Gen Xs are fiscally moderate and even lean libertarian on government. But they strongly lean socially liberal, they are for immigration reform, and are environmentalist. Some in this cohort will be attracted to a Hatfield / McCall GOP wing, but Democrats still have an edge in recruiting these voters overall. So while this cohort needs to be wooed it may not create a net gain vis a vis the Democratic Party.
Libertarians/Libertarians leaning independents: There are some possibilities here. But the (oddly IMO) socially conservative Libertarians already vote Republican. The socially liberal Libertarians also disagree with mainstream GOP policies on drugs, much monetary policy and immigration. Libertarians make up a very small percent of overall voters and few would be attracted to a Hatfield / McCall agenda in any event. Not much help here.
i/Independents: The Independent Party membership is 5% of all voters and Non affiliated voters make up (prior to Motor Voter) about 22%. That’s a lot of voters. Surveys have shown that about 8% of voters identify with or support the Independent Party, and about 7% of new voters who select a political party are joining the Independent Party. Surveys also show that the majority of Independent Party membership seems to track Hatfield/McCall policies. Other surveys seem to show that many of not most non affiliated voters closely track Independent Party positions and populations. This is clearly good prospecting for a Hatfield / McCall wing of new GOP voters.
The OR GOP is now at 29% of the electorate. Re-constituting and officially recognizing an independent/Republican wing, or Hatfield/McCall wing of the GOP, could attract some millennials/Gen Xs and i/Independents. It has the potential of increasing the Oregon GOP voter share to perhaps 35-37%. That’s spitting distance to the Democratic voter share.
Ideally current Republican leaders would create and support a Hatfield / McCall wing by acting as outspoken leaders for a liberal/moderate Republican agenda. Over time, this could attract some support within their Party and convince i/Independents to join the GOP.
But absent more bold leadership from current OR GOP politicians, the GOP should recruit a handful of Hatfield / McCall or Liberal Republican candidates in solid blue districts where Republicans have a hard time competing and fund these candidates adequately. This would be a proof of concept for a Hatfield / McCall wing of the GOP, would be a way for current officeholders to avoid risking their positions, and be a revolutionary rather than evolutionary process. And if there’s anything that has proved successful recently in politics, it’s thinking in revolutionary rather than evolutionary ways.
The Path Could be Blocked by the GOP Base
The challenge will be to get current Republican leadership and a very conservative base to accept that the moderate/liberal wing isn’t a “less conservative” part of their party as it exists today. It’s a wing that embraces traditional Oregon Liberal Republican ideas and policies. Fiscal responsibility sure. But also significantly more centrist on government involvement in business and property ownership regulation, resource extraction and higher education, and downright liberal on civil liberties and social issues.
To the current Republican Base that simply sounds like a Democratic party. And as odd as it sounds to me and many others, a lot of Republican leaders I’ve talked to insist that “the people” really agree with them on social and fiscal issues, and it’s just a matter of time until the voters realize that. But historically, the Democratic and Republican Parties have had a significant overlap in ideology. It’s no coincidence that the disappearance of that overlap and of Hatfield / McCall Republicans coincided with the growth of the Independent Party and of non affiliated voters.
Those voters are here to be had. The Democratic Party doesn’t care about them and doesn’t need them. The Republican Party doesn’t yet care about them, but they sure need them.