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Delegate works to change GOP from within

OPB PHOTO: JULIE SABATIER - Xander Almeida says the GOP has strayed from its roots, but is committed to fighting for the party in Oregon.Portlander Xander Almeida stood out at the Republican National Convention in Cleveland last week.

He wears a meticulously waxed mustache and a suit covered with buttons for politicians like Ronald Reagan and Richard Nixon. He’s also Hispanic, pro gay rights and 31 years old. He told Oregon Public Broadcasting’s “Think Out Loud” that he went to the convention with the mission to shape the party for his generation.

Almeida wasn’t always a Republican. Ten years ago, when he moved to Portland, he was a member of the Green Party.

“I thought it would be really great to live in a liberal Mecca utopia,” he said. “But after four years it completely changed my idea for the type of politics I wanted governing.”

He said he grew disenchanted when he saw regulations hindering business and decided it was time for a change. “In 2008 as I volunteered at the Pink Pistols booth at the Gay Pride Festival, I went to the Multnomah County Democrat booth and registered as a Republican.”

But this year, he has some problems with the GOP presidential nominee, Donald Trump.

“I don’t know the man personally, so I can’t attest to his character,” he said. “All I can judge him on is what has come out of his mouth into the microphone. And those types of things disturb me greatly.”

Almeida’s Hispanic heritage shapes his views of Trump’s pronouncements. “To say that [Latinos] have never done anything good for this country is absolute nonsense,” he said, noting that his Mexican immigrant grandfather fought for the United States in World War II.

He said the millennials who are active in party politics are “a lot more socially liberal than our older counterparts.” In fact, he and a group of friends attended the Oregon Platform Party Convention to fight against anti-LGBTQ language.

Instead of watching the national stage, Almeida said he’s focused on the home front. “I feel like local politicians have much more control over my life, so I’m looking at those right now,” he said.

One issue that caught his attention is reform of drug laws. “We’re much more concerned with making sure our jail isn’t full of petty drug offenders,” he said. “I’m really happy the state of Oregon legalized marijuana.”

He plans to vote for Republican candidate Bud Pierce in the Oregon gubernatorial election and says it’s essential for Oregon to develop a stronger Republican voice.

“If you have a one-party rule in the state, there is no accountability. There is none,” he said. “There is no freedom of ideas because any idea a Republican brings up is shot down, even if it’s a good one.”

Despite his disagreements with some of the Republican platform, Almeida plans to stick with the GOP. “The only way you can affect the party is by being a part of the party,” he said. “If you leave the party you have no say in the party anymore.”

He will continue to go to these conventions in the future, he said.

“I’m going to start having these conversations with more people,” he said. “The Republican party was built on small government and it was built on equality. That’s what the party was founded upon. Just because the party has drifted away from that doesn’t mean that I’m not going to fight for the party I believed in.”

OPB radio sent a team to the Republican National Convention in Cleveland last week and is covering the Democratic convention in Philadelphia this week. You can follow their coverage at: www.opb.org/news