A time for learning the lessons of defeat
Thursday, December 14, 2006
As a lifelong Republican -- as well as the last Republican to be elected as Oregon's governor -- I was disappointed in the outcome of last month's election. But I'm also 83 years old, so I've seen lots of ups and downs for the Grand Old Party, and I'm not ready to write its obituary just yet.
What's important is to learn lessons from defeat. From my own experience, I learned far more from my losses than from my victories -- but only when I looked at them honestly and openly. So, perhaps I can start the conversation with a few observations and suggestions for Republicans here in Oregon as we regroup and plan.
First, we need to focus on the center of the electorate. The candidate closest to the center wins most elections. And those in the political middle in Oregon cannot be defined by any single issue but, generally speaking, are fiscally conservative, socially tolerant and moderate in their approach to problem-solving. Most Oregonians tend to shy away from radical ideas -- left or right -- and the people who advocate them. People with radical ideas have the state's initiative process to pursue their ideas -- and they usually fail there, too.
Second, ideology is not a substitute for policy. Republicans need policy ideas to go along with our core principals to address the everyday economic and social concerns facing Oregonians. Too often, our candidates rely on the ideological slogans of "smaller government" or "traditional values" to define our answers to complex problems. The New York Times columnist David Brooks recently wrote that the GOP is like a company with a great mission statement but not enough products to sell. I agree. At the state level, our policy ideas are our products, and we need to invest more in the research and development of those ideas.
Third, Republicans must invest more in building a quality team of candidates. There is no shortage of quality people who could make excellent public servants. But identifying and supporting good candidates should be a long-term, multi-year effort focused first on getting people involved in politics and later on getting them to run for local and then state offices. All too often first-time candidates for major offices make political mistakes and lack credibility with voters. Campaign and government experience make for stronger candidates and better elected officials.
Fourth, focus on Washington County. Republicans will never win a statewide office and won't control the Legislature if we can't win in Washington County. In the last few elections, Democrats have run the tables, picking up city council, county commission and state legislative seats across Washington County. Nowhere is it more important for the GOP to recruit quality candidates from the center of the electorate who have practical solutions to the challenges of education, health care and the environment than in Washington County.
Republicans will make a big mistake if we simply blame our local defeats on the Iraq war. While recognizing in every election there will always be contributing political factors outside of our control, we must also look at ourselves, learn the lessons of defeat and make the changes necessary to be competitive in the future.
Vic Atiyeh was governor of Oregon from 1979 to 1986.