Suzanne Gallagher is second woman to lead Oregon Republican Party

GallagherMeet the new face of the Republican Party of Oregon: Tigard’s Suzanne Gallagher.

The Tigard activist and small business owner has taken the reins of the Oregon Republican Party, in the hopes of making the party’s presence more pronounced in Salem.

Gallagher was elected Saturday to the post by the party’s state Central Committee, beating Clackamas County GOP Chairman John Lee Jr. on a second round of balloting.

Gallagher replaces the former chairman, Allen Alley, who did not seek re-election.

The 65-year-old grandmother is the first to admit Republicans face an uphill battle in the state, where Democrats hold the power in the Legislature, in statewide office and in registered voters — Democrats outnumber registered Republicans by more than 20 percent.

“This is not rocket science, we need people and bodies in the Republican Party,” Gallagher said. “We need people to register as Republican and recruit the most passionate into their local county organizations. It’s not hard to figure out.”

Gallagher said she wants to get more diversity in the party by using targeted marketing to attract women, youth and minorities.

“How do we get the women’s vote back? Well, it’s helpful to have a woman motivating people and building the relationships,” she said. “We’re going to do it.”

Gallagher is the second woman to serve as the head of the state’s GOP.

An interior designer, Gallagher said what the party has lacked in recent years is someone who is able to work with volunteers and energize people.

“We have had had some very skilled people who have come from management positions in large corporations, but their strength hasn’t necessarily been working with volunteers,” she said. “That’s what I bring to the organization.”

Gallagher, a Tigard resident since 1976, first got involved in local politics, advocating for values-oriented curriculum in the Tigard-Tualatin School District.

“That was what got me involved,” she said. That, in turn, led to other issues.

“I submitted so many soapboxes to the Tigard Times over the years that people thought I worked there,” she joked.

Gallagher has run two unsuccessful campaigns for the Legislature. In 2004, she ran for House Dist. 35, which represents Tigard, Metzger and parts of Portland and Beaverton. In 2012, she lost a challenge against incumbent Ginny Burdick for the Oregon Senate.

Both districts are heavily Democratic, and Gallagher said her experience on the campaign trail has given her an insight into what the party needs to do to stay relevant.

“Most people don’t follow politics much,” she said. “They are just trying to survive, and I appreciate that. We would talk about their circumstance, and in most cases, we found a lot of commonality and I found that we agreed more than we disagreed. They would bring up issues to me that were top on my list, they were bringing up the very issues that are Republican issues.”

Gallagher said Republicans have taken a bad rap in recent years, and she plans to be more vocal about what the party believes in to help motivate the base.

“We need to help people see where Republicans stand,” she said. “(People think we aren’t for education), we are for education, who would be against education?

“I have run for office twice. Democrats attack our character and are pretty tough in elections, and they have succeeded in mischaracterizing what Republicans stand for.”

Gallagher said educating the public and getting people involved can’t wait until the next election.

“I think, to a degree, we have failed to implement our conversation every year and every day of the year,” she said. “Instead, we waited until we had candidates in the field and depended on them to do the messaging. One of the goals of our organization is to frame the argument, and we need to do it now, not later.”

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