Apparently buoyed by the victory of President Donald Trump and Oregon Secretary of State Dennis Richardson, Oregon Republicans convening in Salem last Friday and Saturday were optimistic about opportunities for the GOP in the Beaver State.
Richardson's election secured the party's first statewide elected office since 2002, resulting in something of a victory lap vibe at the annual Dorchester Conference.
While Republicans lead a solid majority of state legislatures, Oregon is one of 12 states where Democrats are in charge in both chambers, compared to 32 states where Republicans have control of both chambers.
Senate Minority Leader Ted Ferrioli, R-John Day, noted in remarks Friday night that one Oregon Senate seat flipped in the last election from Democrat to Republican. Sen. Alan DeBoer, R-Ashland, won a special election to finish the last two years of the term of the late Sen. Alan Bates, D-Medford, who died in August. DeBoer won the race by just under 400 votes, according to the Oregon Secretary of State's Office.
Rep. Julie Parrish, whose District 37 includes Tualatin, noted the diversity of those who attended this year's conference.
"I was really impressed by the number of first-time attendees who came out because they were inspired by the 2016 election here in Oregon, where they saw the first statewide elected Republican in their lifetime," she said. "Many were young college students and students of color who agree with Republicans on fiscal matters, and are worried about generational debt being incurred by their government."
She said that younger Republicans likely are motivated by different issues than longtime party members. "Next year, I'd like to see more programmatic materials geared towards younger conservatives who tend to be more socially liberal or libertarian-leaning, but who care about checkbook issues," Parrish said.
Salem physician Bud Pierce, the 2016 Republican gubernatorial candidate who lost to Democratic Gov. Kate Brown, said he was feeling optimistic about the future of the Republican party in Oregon.
Pierce, who is on the board of directors of Oregon's League of Minority Voters, moderated a panel of speakers, that included Promise King, executive director of the league, about including people of color in state politics and campaigns.
Asked by a reporter whether he sees a conflict between his party's aim to include minority groups and the rhetoric of President Trump, Pierce said he was waiting to see what action the president takes.
"Let's see if he can give a legal status to 11 million people," Pierce said. Pressed about the likelihood of such a reversal by the president, Pierce said: "Well see, you know, it was unlikely that Nixon would go to China."
Pierce points to the state's lack of affordable housing as one example of what he calls the "failures" of the Democrats' policies in Oregon that he believes could attract more voters to the right.
The Legislature is debating proposals to ban rent hikes and no-cause evictions, and many Republicans at the conference advocated instead for loosening up the state's land-use restrictions to encourage more development and housing supply.
Pierce said he believes Republicans may benefit from the growing number of voters in the state who are not affiliated with any political party.
Many new voters have been registered recently through the state's new automatic voter registration law, which registers voters as unaffiliated unless they designate a political party.
"Can we become the natural place for the unaffiliated votes?" Pierce asked. "Maybe they won't call themselves Republicans, but maybe they'll do it."
U.S. Rep Greg Walden, R-Hood River, called on Republicans to stay involved.
"You need to fight back," Walden said, when asked by an attendee if conservative groups were organizing to attend town halls. "If you believe in why we run, if you believe in the policies we're trying to implement, you have to help us fight back, you have to be there shoulder-to-shoulder with us."