An uncompromising conservative former candidate for governor is vying for control of the Oregon Republican Party — foreshadowing whether the state GOP will move to the right in the wake of the last election.
Bend businessman Sam Carpenter calls himself a "Forever Trumper" and makes no secret of his opposition to mainstay Democratic policies like access to abortion and same-sex marriage.
The second-place finisher in the 2018 Republican primary blames ruling class elites for the failed gubernatorial bid of former State Rep. Knute Buehler, who was largely viewed as a moderate inside the party.
"The Democrats ended up laughing at him, and the Republicans ended up sneering at him," Carpenter said of Buehler during an interview. "Of course he lost."
Carpenter is gunning for the seat occupied by Bill Currier, a Benton County Republican running for his third two-year term as chair of the state party. Currier owns an IT business and is mayor of Adair Village, a city of less than 1,000.
Currier alleges that bills currently mulled by the Democratic supermajority in Salem will confiscate guns in violation of the U.S. Constitution and warns that some Oregonians are falling in love with socialism.
"It's going to become our fatal attraction if they take us down with it," he said.
The direction of the Oregon Republican Party won't be decided at the ballot box, but by local precinct committee persons who elect countywide representatives. Those county chairs and vice chairs will gather Feb. 16 in Keizer to select a state chair and fill other positions.
Currier and Carpenter made their pitch to some of the faithful during the ninth-annual Western Liberty Network leadership and training conference, held this year at the Crowne Plaza Hotel, 14811 Kruse Oaks Dr., in Lake Oswego on Saturday, Feb. 2.
Both candidates were asked to speak on nonpartisan issues, because the Liberty Network is a nonprofit that can't legally engage in political activity such as endorsing candidates. (The interviews with both men were conducted separately from the conference).
Currier, for one, is hoping the delegates see the value in continuity after decades of frequently changing party management.
"We can start over again from scratch, or we can build on the good," he told the Tribune. "People are able to accomplish things by working together. There's nothing more important than having trust."
Contrast that to Carpenter: "If I'm going to cross the aisle it's probably to slap somebody."
To bolster his campaign, Carpenter has published a new 284-page book, "Making Oregon Great Again." The 69-year-old stresses that he is not running for the Republican Party chair in order to mount another gamble for the governorship.
The Democratic Party of Oregon is also set to elect a new chair after Jeanne Atkins announced she would not seek reelection in January.
"I've got to make space, as I cross into my 70s, to commit to my family and to myself," Atkins wrote in an open letter to party members, according to a report in the Bend Bulletin.
The Democrats will make their leadership decisions March 17 in Polk County.