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A fractious Oregon Republicans Party seeks unity, but many of the party stalwarts have moved on.

PMG FILE PHOTO - Former Oregon Gov. Victor G. Atiyeh addresses a crowd gathered at Chinook Landing Marine Park in Fairview in 2010.

When Vic Atiyeh was in the last year of his life, he was happy to accept an accolade from a former aide calling him "Oregon's last great governor."

But as his personal archive was opened in 2013 at Pacific University — where he had been a trustee — Atiyeh also said he did not want his legacy to be the last Republican governor of Oregon.

Yet voters have elected only Democrats to the governor's office since Atiyeh, formerly a state legislator from Beaverton and a businessman in Portland.

It's the longest streak for either major party in Oregon history.

Republicans dominated statewide offices when Atiyeh was governor 40 years ago. They were led by Oregon's U.S. senators of that era — Mark Hatfield and Bob Packwood, each with five victories — but also the secretary of state, state treasurer and attorney general, even though Democrats controlled the Legislature.

Republicans have become a threatened species at the statewide level. Just two Republicans have been elected to statewide office in the past two decades.

Their ranks are shrinking further.


Knute Buehler once carried the GOP banner in Oregon. Now he's left the party.

PMG PHOTO: JAIME VALDEZ - When he was a candidate for governor, Knute Buehler sat down with the editorial board of Pamplin Media Group.

In November, Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden won the race for the White House, unseating one-term incumbent Republican Donald Trump. The win was certified and recertified after several statewide recounts, and was acknowledged by states' elections officials, governors, secretaries of state, the U.S. Justice Department, an estimated 60 judges in about 100 lawsuits — often dismissed because of a lack of evidence — and the Republican-controlled U.S. Senate.

PMG FILE PHOTO: JOHN GRESS - Republican gubernatorial hopeful Ron Saxton, right, talks with Oregon Christian Coalition Executive Director Lou Beres, left, and David Tacheny, middle, during the 2001 Dorchester Conference.

But then came Jan. 6, when supporters of President Trump listened to several stirring speeches, then marched on the U.S. Capitol and invaded it by force, in an effort to overturn the will of the voters. Five people died. Many of the attackers used social media to brag about the incursion — in real time — while security cameras and the Washington press corps caught countless photos and videos of the effort to overthrow the election.

Despite all that, the executive committee of the Oregon Republican Party took a stance saying Trump actually won, and adopted a resolution {obj:52487: branding the violent breach of theCapitol as a "false-flag operation"} by parties other than the ones who bragged live on Facebook and Twitter as it was happening.

That's when Knute Buehler, the 2018 Republican nominee for Oregon governor, left the party altogether.

PMG FILE PHOTO - Kevin Mannix has run for statewide office as a Republican and once ran the state GOP.

Buehler, a physician and former state representative from Bend, says there is a route for Republicans to win again — but not by embracing "wacky conspiracy theories."

RELATED: The former chair of the Multnomah County GOP has offered a guest opinion.

"Our political system works best when there is a balance of power, and not when one party dominates, especially for such a long duration," Buehler said. "Things get unbalanced and you do not get good policy. Instead you get a lot of people who are disenchanted, who feel shut out of the process and disregarded.

"But," Buehler added, "it is a pretty hard route for a Republican right now, especially with the events in January."


Decline and Fall

PMG PHOTO: JONATHAN HOUSE - Former U.S. Sen. Bob Packwood, talking to Gov. Kate Brown in a photo shot before the pandemic.

Bob Packwood's rise to the U.S. Senate in 1968 coincided with continued Republican dominance in Oregon over a couple of decades, despite a Democratic voter registration edge dating back to 1956. "But we have no bench" of potential candidates for statewide office, Packwood said, either in the Legislature or elsewhere.

RELATED: Former Congressman Bob Packwood says Oregon Republicans have no chance of re-claiming power unless the party 'regains its moderate stances.'

COURTESY PHOTO: SAINT BARNABAS EPISCOPAL CHURCH - In March 1972, then-State Sen. Vic Atiyeh announced that the mortgage on Saint Barnabas Episcopal Church had been paid off. Seated behind Atiyeh on the altar is Bishop Gross. Atiyeh was preparing to run for Oregon governor against Democrat Bob Straub in 1974, an election that he lost.

Thousands more have left the party without fanfare.

According to the Oregon secretary of state, whose office compiles figures at the end of each month, registered Republicans statewide dropped by almost 8,500 from November to January. Republicans now constitute just 25.5% of all registered voters, compared with 36% 20 years ago.

Oregon's share of registered Democrats also declined during those decades, even as their totals surged past the 1 million mark, from 39.4% in 2001 to 35.5% in 2021. The share of voters not affiliated with any party grew from 21.7% to 31.8%.


The number of registered voters in Oregons drop for the state's traditional parties

GOP in 2001: 36%

GOP today: 25.5%


Democrats in 2001: 39.4%

Democrats today: 35.5%


Non-affiliated in 2001: 21.7%

Non-affiliated today: 31.8%

In those two decades, voters have elected Republicans statewide only twice.

One was Gordon Smith, who won a second term in the U.S. Senate in 2002 but lost six years later. He became president of the National Association of Broadcasters. He maintains a home in Pendleton, but has said he will not seek public office again.

The other was Dennis Richardson, a former state representative who lost to Democratic Gov. John Kitzhaber in 2014, but was elected secretary of state two years later. Richardson died of cancer in 2019.

One of Richardson's early endorsers for governor in 2013 was Atiyeh, who knew about second chances. He was elected governor on his second try in 1978 (he lost four years earlier) and was re-elected in 1982.

He endorsed most of the subsequent GOP nominees, with the likely exception in 1998 of Bill Sizemore, who won just 30% in a landslide loss to Kitzhaber.

But Atiyeh never endorsed his party's rightward drift and focus on social issues.

"I never left my party," he said in 2012. "My party left me."

The party lions

Here is what Republicans, all current or former officeholders and statewide candidates, had to say:

PMG PHOTO: JAIME VALDEZ - State Rep. Knute Buehler, at lectern, watches in 2018 as early returns showed Gov. Kate Brown retaining her seat.

Knute Buehler

Buehler, 56, made two losing statewide runs — one for secretary of state in 2012, the other for governor in 2018, both against Democratic incumbent Kate Brown — and a third loss for the 2nd District congressional seat last year.

"I think there may be an opportunity for an independent with prior name recognition and the ability to fund a campaign independently," he said. But Buehler says he will not be that independent candidate in 2022, when Brown cannot run again because of term limits.

He says it may take someone like Jesse Ventura, the former pro wrestler who, as a third-party candidate, beat better-known Democrats and Republicans for governor of Minnesota in 1998. Or Arnold Schwarzenegger, the bodybuilder and actor who won a multiple-candidate race for governor of California in 2003. (Schwarzenegger is a Republican, but prevailed in a winner-take-all recall election.)

Buehler said, if there is one thing he would have done differently in 2018, it would have been to pursue the Independent Party nomination, which went to Patrick Starnes. Buehler said a winning coalition could be built around small-business supporters — 98% of Oregon businesses have fewer than 100 employees — private-sector workers including union members, and legal immigrants not limited to Hispanics.

"A lot of them have seen problems with big government. They are not naturally inclined to go in that direction," he said. "But when Republicans do not give them a viable option, they are left to vote Democratic."


PMG FILE PHOTO - Republican Bev Clarno, whose term in office ended in 2020.

Bev Clarno

Clarno, 84, was secretary of state for almost two years by appointment after the death of Dennis Richardson. She had been a county commissioner, a federal agency representative and just one of two people — and the only woman — to lead Republicans in both chambers of the Oregon Legislature.

She had made her own statewide run in 1996, passing up one more try for the Oregon House in a term-limits era, but lost to Democratic state Treasurer Jim Hill.

Some people urged her to seek a full term as secretary of state — Clarno said Gov. Kate Brown, who sought an interim appointee, never asked her directly whether she would run — but she said she did not want to go through another statewide campaign.

Clarno was a prominent defender of rural interests as a legislator, but also was a pragmatist.

When she returned to the Legislature as a senator in 2001, Clarno said she heard Atiyeh speak at the annual Dorchester Conference and endorsed his approach.

"He said we will not win statewide until we stop making the social issues a litmus test," she recalled. "I was impressed by his speech, and he so wanted Republicans to understand the importance of winning and having the opportunity to govern. He realized they were not going to do so if they were to continue the way they were."


PMG FILE PHOTO - From left, 2016's Republican statewide office nominees, Jeff Gudman, Bud Pierce and Dennis Richardson, enjoy a moment on stage during an election night party at the Salem Convention Center.

Jeff Gudman

Gudman, 66, was the GOP's two-time nominee for state treasurer, losing a three-way race to Democrat Tobias Read in 2016 when Chris Telfer, a former Republican state senator from Bend, was the Independent Party nominee. Gudman lost again to Read last year.

Gudman said he aligned himself with the one-time middle of the Republican Party and its Oregon officeholders of the past.

Editor's note: Gudman elaborated on that topic in a Jan. 6 op-ed column for the Portland Tribune.

Gudman said one way for the party to return to relevancy, as he tried to do in his campaign last year, is to focus on accountability for the failures of state programs under Democratic governors and legislatures. Among them were major projects such as the Employment Department's computer modernization — a contract with a vendor is being negotiated more than a decade after Oregon received $89 million for it — and the botched Cover Oregon rollout that promised a one-stop website for health insurance coverage back in 2013.

"There is not a single elected official who has paid the penalty for continued mismanagement," he said. "It is about governance and delivering services to the people who need it. It's about staying focused on local issues. But apparently we have not reached the tipping point."

Gudman says Republicans should seize a chance to campaign on balancing economic opportunity with a government safety net that works for people.

"It's a future we can win on," he said. "The way to that is to focus on competence and the old phrase: Had enough?"


PMG FILE PHOTO - Then-head of the Oregon Republican Party, Kevin Mannix, warms up a 2004 crowd prior to Vice President Dick Cheney speech at a fundraiser for President Bush's re-election campaign.

Kevin Mannix

Mannix, 71, has been a four-time candidate for attorney general and governor — the Republican nominee for each office once — and also was the state party chairman.

Mannix, a former Democrat, says there is an opening for Republicans to capitalize on what he sees are Democrats' failings on their handling of the pandemic, the economic downturn, violent protests and persistent homelessness, whose effects reach beyond Portland.

"I think Republican candidates who approach these issues — not in a nasty, but in a straightforward way — would have an opportunity to reach out to nonaffiliated voters, who are fed up," he said. "But they are not going to want to hear doctrinaire answers. They want to hear how you identify the problem and address it."

Mannix said a different approach by Republicans could hold down their losses, or even gain support, in the three Portland area counties that determine statewide elections.

Homelessness, he said, cannot be dealt with only by sending police to clear out camps. He said a long-lasting solution must take into account inadequate and unaffordable housing, a lack of mental health and drug addiction services, and other factors.

But Mannix also was critical of Democratic Gov. Kate Brown for not calling up the National Guard to quell violent protests last year in Portland. Brown did put the Oregon State Police in charge of response to threatened violence in the city.

Mannix leads a group, Common Sense for Oregon, which joined a lawsuit seeking to overturn all of Brown's pandemic orders. The Supreme Court ultimately upheld her authority to issue them.

Although restrictions are easing in many counties as infection rates and new cases decline, Mannix said, "Lockdowns have been more severe than necessary.


PMG PHOTO: JAIME VALDEZ - Former US Sen. Bob Packwood sits down with reporter Peter Wong for a 2017 interview after the Legislative Old-Timers Luncheon at Oswego Lake Country Club.

Bob Packwood

Aside from Mark Hatfield, who won eight times, Bob Packwood, 88, is the leader among modern-day Republicans with five statewide victories.

As a 32-year-old state representative, Packwood led a successful effort to win a Republican majority in the Oregon House in 1964, even as presidential nominee Barry Goldwater lost Oregon and all but six states. The next year, he founded the Dorchester Conference as a gathering for Republicans, excluding "far right-wingers."

"All the politicians of any consequence were invited to come, and they came," Packwood said. "The resolutions they passed basically became the resolutions of the Republican Party. Our advantage was having all the officials there be committed to what was done."

The network helped Packwood unseat Democratic Sen. Wayne Morse in 1968.

Years before he resigned under pressure in 1995 amid accusations of sexual misconduct, Packwood was challenged from the right when Joe Lutz, an anti-abortion minister, won 42% against him in the 1986 GOP primary. At the time, Packwood said narrow social issues and a failure to support women's rights would doom the Republican Party someday.

"They are going to have to come back to the middle. They cannot be the party of the right," he said. "A small minority can often capture a primary, but that is not a test of electability."

Packwood also said George W. Bush was right — and Donald Trump wrong — in their stances on minorities and immigrants, particularly Hispanics and Asians.

"By and large they are hard-working and have conservative values, but not radically conservative," Packwood said. "They fit the profile of what the party ought to be."


PMG FILE PHOTO - Gubernatorial candidate Jack Roberts speaks to a group of real estate professionls at a luncheon at the Benson Hotel in 2002.

Jack Roberts

"If I knew any secrets about how Republicans could win, I would have tried to share them lately," Roberts said with a laugh. "It hasn't been working that way."

Roberts, 68, was a nonpartisan Lane County commissioner and the Republican nominee who unseated four-term Democrat Mary Wendy Roberts (no relation) as state labor commissioner in 1994. He won re-election four years later, after lawmakers made his office nonpartisan.

Roberts was one of the few Republicans who publicly supported the candidacy of Bill Sizemore, who won just 30% of the vote in a landslide loss to Democratic Gov. John Kitzhaber in 1998. Roberts himself ran for governor in 2002 and came in second in the GOP primary to Kevin Mannix, who later lost to Democrat Ted Kulongoski. Roberts split the moderate vote with Ron Saxton, who finished third; each got more than 90,000 votes. (Mannix got 117,000.)

Roberts traces the split in the Oregon Republican Party back to 1990, when a third-party anti-abortion candidate drew a record 13% and Democrat Barbara Roberts prevailed over Attorney General Dave Frohnmayer. Four years later, Democrat John Kitzhaber beat former U.S. Rep. Denny Smith, a staunch conservative, and in 1998, Kitzhaber beat Sizemore.

"We lost the far-right conservative part of the party, which we used to be able to draw from," he said. "We had more moderate people in office. That is where we are missing out in Oregon. I do not know how we reverse that."


PMG PHOTO: JONATHAN HOUSE - Oregon State Sen. Kim Thatcher during the ceremonial opening day of the 2021 legislative session.

Kim Thatcher

Thatcher, 56, was elected to the Oregon House in 2004, when she unseated a Republican incumbent who voted for a budget-balancing tax increase. Ten years later, she was elected to an open seat in the Oregon Senate, and has maintained a conservative record on economic and social issues.

She said the Republican Party must offer clear alternatives to the policies and programs advocated by Democrats.

"Republicans have an opportunity to offer reforms to the system to make it truly work for our kids and families," she said. "With the way things are going, maybe these reforms will get a second look from the traditional Democrats and independents."

Thatcher was in midterm last year when she won the Republican nomination for secretary of state. She lost to Democrat Shemia Fagan of Portland, another state senator whose primary victory against two rivals was largely bankrolled by public employee unions.

Public employee unions contributed more than $350,000 to Fagan's general-election campaign, and Thatcher said they hold too much sway over Democratic officeholders.

"For example, the inability of our schools to reopen is largely because of the teacher's unions' refusal to do so," she said. "It is not because they needed to be put at the front of the line ahead of the elderly for COVID vaccinations."


The players

ATIYEHVic Atiyeh, died in 2014 at age 91, Beaverton.

• Governor, 1979-87;

• Nominee for governor in 1974;

• Oregon Senate, 1965-79

• Senate Republican leader, 1973-79;

• Oregon House, 1959-65.


BUEHLERKnute Buehler, 56, Bend.

• Candidate for 2nd District congressional seat, 2020;

• Nominee for governor, 2018;

• Oregon House, 2015-19;

• Nominee for secretary of state, 2012.



CLARNOBev Clarno, 84, Redmond.

• Secretary of state by appointment, 2019-21;

• Deschutes County commissioner by appointment, 2005-07;

• Oregon Senate, 2001-03,

• Republican leader, 2003;

• Oregon House, 1989-97,

• House Majority leader, 1993-94;

• House speaker, 1995-97;

• Nominee for state treasurer, 1996.


GUDMAN

Jeff Gudman, 66, Lake Oswego.

• Nominee for state treasurer, 2016 and 2020;

• Lake Oswego City Council, 2011-19.




MANNIXKevin Mannix, 71, Salem.

• Candidate for 5th District congressional seat, 2008;

• Candidate for governor, 2006;

• Oregon Republican Party chair, 2003-05;

• Nominee for governor, 2002;

• Nominee for attorney general, 2000;

• Oregon House, 1999-2001, elected as a Republican;

• Oregon Senate by appointment, 1998;

• Democratic candidate for attorney general, 1996;

• Oregon House, 1989-97, elected as a Democrat; he switched parties in 1997.


PACKWOODBob Packwood, 88, Portland.

• U.S. Senate, 1969-95;

• Oregon House, 1963-69.





ROBERTSJack Roberts, 68, Eugene.

• Director, Oregon Lottery, 2013-16;

• Candidate for Oregon Supreme Court (nonpartisan), 2006;

• Candidate for governor, 2002; commissioner,

• Oregon Bureau of Labor and Industries, 1995-2003 (first elected in 1994 as a Republican, second time in 1998 in a nonpartisan race);

• Lane County commissioner, initially by appointment, 1989-95.


THATCHERKim Thatcher, 56, Keizer.

• Nominee for secretary of state, 2020;

• Oregon Senate, since 2015;

• Oregon House, 2005-15.


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