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GOP's Allen Alley remains hopeful against long odds

Candidate knows he faces uphill race for Oregon governor

PAMPLIN MEDIA GROUP PHOTO: JONATHAN HOUSE - Lake Oswego businessman Allen Alley ran for state treasurer in 2008 and for the Republican gubernatorial nomination in 2010. He's generally considered to be the GOP front-runner for Oregon's top office on the May 17 primary ballot. Allen Alley entered the GOP gubernatorial race knowing he faces long odds against Democratic Gov. Kate Brown.

Alley, a former deputy chief of staff under Gov. Ted Kulongoski, has twice had the daunting experience of running for office as a Republican in the liberal stronghold state. And twice he has come up short, making an unsuccessful bid for state treasurer in 2008 and for governor in 2010.

The Lake Oswego engineer and tech executive still remembers hundreds of young Portlanders booing him when he was introduced as the Republican candidate for state treasurer at Willamette Week’s Candidates Gone Wild talent show in October 2008.

The hostile reception failed to deter Alley from performing his talent — a “full-throated Tarzan yell like Johnny Weissmuller, pounding my chest.”

“It was so funny because I could see the faces. They’re all booing,” Alley said. “I start this Tarzan yell, and it goes on for 15 seconds or so. They all get quiet, and then all of a sudden, some start clapping. Then by the time I get to the crescendo, everyone is clapping and cheering and yelling, and I just took a bow and walked off stage.”

The Republican gubernatorial front-runner hopes his business and political background and unconventional policy proposals will hold the same power as his Tarzan yell, this time, over Oregon voters in the governor’s race.

“Allen Alley, on paper, is the type of Republican who does well in Oregon — a moderate with lots of experience in the private sector,” said Jim Moore, political science professor and director of the Tom McCall Center for Policy Innovation at Pacific University.

Moore said Alley is the clear frontrunner in the May 17 primary against Salem oncologist Bud Pierce and three other Republicans. But, Moore said, Alley would face two daunting challenges in the general election: Typically greater turnout among Democratic voters in a presidential year and a lack of name recognition.

“As of today, there is no mass-media campaign for Alley,” Moore said. “I do not think he has reintroduced himself to voters. His policy proposals are also not getting out to the large group of Republican primary voters.”PAMPLIN MEDIA GROUP PHOTO: VANCE TONG - Allen Alley says he may be the only state Republican chairman in the nation who regularly drives a Smart Car. He's also one of the most active politicians on social media.

Alley has proposed some creative solutions to reining in big government. For instance, he said he wants to require that all bills come with an automatic sunset provision.

“It’s like term limits for bills,” he said. “Good bills they would get rubber stamped again. Bad bills, they would go.”

He also has promised to crowd source for feedback on the state budget by making budget documents available on the internet.

Born in Michigan, Alley, 61, grew up in various places around the country, including Delaware, Pennsylvania, Indiana and Washington. His father was an engineer who worked his way through college by singing in a nightclub, and his mother was an actress who started her own local talk show in Michigan.

Alley’s mother was a staunch Republican and worked for Richard Christiansen when he ran against Daniel Evans in 1963 for the Republican nomination for Washington governor.

So, at 9 years old he was putting up lawn signs and doing other campaign work.

JIM MOORE“It left a positive impression,” he said. “I don’t think I would be doing this without a little bit of exposure to that, where I saw it was a civic responsibility.”

Alley started building small tech companies in the mid-1980s. In 1997, Alley and four friends started Pixelworks with only $10,000.

Three years later, the fabless semiconductor business went public. During the first 10 years, when Alley was chief executive officer, the company sold about $1 billion worth of semiconductor products, Alley said.

When he stepped down as CEO in 2007, he started looking around for a position in public service.

“Gov. Kulongoski called me almost immediately and said, ‘Hey, I would like you to consider coming in and being on my staff,’” Alley said.

Alley warned the Democratic governor that he was a Republican, but Kulongoski made it clear wanted the best people on his staff, regardless of their political affiliation.

“I chose Allen because he did have a business background, and it was in tech,” Kulongoski said. “There were times when we were looking at a business to relocate or trying to attract a business. He actually went out and looked at those companies and called his friends about them.”

There was one company in particular that Kulongoski was interested in. After some investigation, Alley told the governor “very clearly stay away from them,” Kulongoski recalled.

“And I did,” Kulongoski said. “I was very happy when the company went to another state, and a couple of years later went into bankruptcy, so I’m glad he told me not to do that. He is very smart.”

Alley said his 14 months working in the governor’s office demonstrated his ability to work across party lines.

“I’m not a hyper-partisan person,” Alley said. “I collaborate on everything. You have to be to be a businessperson and work all over the world.”

GOV. TED KULONGOSKITim Nesbitt, a pro-labor Democrat who worked alongside Alley in Kulongoski’s administration, said Alley was more pragmatic than ideological and brought business acumen to an administration with strong union ties.

“What struck me right away was his ability to scrutinize different proposals by the Office of Economic and Community Development, now Business Oregon, for state-backed loans and tax credits,” Nesbitt said. “I don’t recall the specific projects, but he put a very sharp pencil on things and sent the proposals back to the agency to make a stronger case.”

Alley left the governor’s office to run for state treasurer. He won the Republican nomination but lost to Democrat Ben Westlund in the general election. He also made a failed bid against former NBA star Chris Dudley for the Republican nomination for governor in 2010. He went on to serve as chairman of the Oregon Republican Party from January 2011 to January 2013, while continuing to invest in small tech companies.

On top of his business smarts, Alley has some of the quirks of a fictional politician in the Independent Film Channel sitcom “Portlandia,” which has made Portland and its stereotypes iconic around the world.

He claims he is the only state Republican chairman in the nation who regularly drives a Smart Car and has the Twitter persona to rival that of younger generations. He shares photographs of his food and recently engaged in a backslapping Twitter dialogue with singer/songwriter Storm Large over his Tarzan yell at the Candidates Gone Wild talent show, where Large played emcee.