In the formerly great state of Oregon, voters have not elected a Republican governor since likable moderate Vic Atiyeh left office in 1987. Oregon has experienced a slow, steady decline as Democrats have gradually increased their power. Now a solidly blue state, Oregon ranks near the bottom of all states in educational outcomes, fiscal health, tax burden, homelessness, crime, and a whole host of other metrics. In an interesting bit of timing, the radical but ineffectual Democratic governor, Kate Brown, leaves due to term limits in a year, coinciding with a massive Republican voter backlash across the nation.
Will that wave hit Oregon? If the controlled opposition of the moderate Republican establishment repeats its history, probably not. It appears the lobbyist class may be doing just that in the race for governor by fixing polls to keep solid conservative candidates out of the debate cycle in a crowded Republican primary.
Republicans have few victories to show for their efforts over the past couple of decades. Gordon Smith, a moderate, was the last Republican senator, defeated by Ron Wyden in 2002. The Tea Party wave of 2010 produced a 30-30 split in the state House and a 14-16 deficit in the Senate. Instead of blocking radical expansion of Medicaid under Obamacare, the moderates of the party collaborated with Democrats to give them basically everything they wanted, over the wide protests from constituents and Tea Party activists. The last statewide victory by a Republican came with Dennis Richardson winning the race for Secretary of State in 2016 when he faced off against one of the worst Democratic candidates Oregon had ever seen. Sadly, Richardson died of a brain tumor while in office.
Moderate candidates for governor, Congress, Senate, and all sorts of other offices have come and gone over the years. Sometimes they raise a ton of money. Sometimes they raise none at all. They all have a similar track record, while strongly conservative candidates more often than not get shut out of the process.
So what happens in 2022? A race for governor without an incumbent to defeat has brought all sorts of candidates out of the woodwork. A total of 19 Republicans have filed to run. Most of them are also-rans or perennial candidates or have significant baggage, but a few have some chops. It’s been almost impossible to handicap the race, but a few frontrunners have emerged.
And that’s where the establishment, country club, lobby class has started to put its thumb on the scales. Oregon has a relatively tiny media ecosystem, dominated by TV and radio in Portland, Eugene, Medford, and Bend. One TV station, KOIN in Portland, holds a gubernatorial debate tonight, April 21. In order to streamline the debate, KOIN has limited participation only to viable candidates, which it has determined to be anyone with more than 5% in a poll released last week.
The candidates who qualified for the debate were former House minority leader Christine Drazan and Salem oncologist Bud Pierce. KOIN then added the “leans” numbers to allow former legislator and Oregon Republican Party Chair Bob Tiernan and Stan Pulliam, mayor of the town of Sandy. Drazan entered the race late with backing from lobbying and business interests. Pierce, a moderate, is self-funding with a couple of million dollars of his own money and has probably the best name recognition after running unsuccessfully in 2016. Tiernan has conservative bona fides but has burned many bridges over the years. Pulliam has run on his conservative track record as mayor and has rallied against Oregon’s draconian mask mandates.
One candidate left out of the debate, who appears to be the strongest conservative in the field, is Kerry McQuisten. The first-term mayor of Baker City, in remote eastern Oregon, McQuisten has positioned herself to the right of the other candidates. Despite a relative lack of experience, the first-time candidate has gained traction with activists and party regulars and has established herself as a real threat to the moderate establishment. She recently met with Eric Trump and General Michael Flynn at a rally held in Salem, which drew 4,000 conservative activists.
Questions have emerged as to the legitimacy of the poll used to determine participants in the only televised debate among Republican primary candidates. The poll, released on April 14, sampled only 520 respondents in one day of polling. Almost 68% said they remained undecided, meaning that only 160 expressed a preference.
More importantly, a significant conflict of interest appears to exist between the polling firm and Drazan, who has relied on her relationships inside the Salem political scene to force her way onto the debate stage. The poll found only 2.5% of respondents favoring McQuisten. Drazan abruptly became a front-runner and was placed in the media spotlight, becoming the only candidate to benefit from the poll, despite her late entry and relative lack of name ID. Further, nearly all candidates polled within the 4.3% margin of error, rendering the poll useless to begin with.
The poll was conducted by Public Affairs Counsel, a lobbying firm whose principal, J.L. Wilson, also owns Nelson Research, based in Salem.
According to the About page at Nelson Research:
J.L. Wilson serves as Principal of Nelson Research. J.L joined the firm in 2014 with a 20-year history in public affairs including serving as Senior Vice President of Government Affairs for Associated Oregon Industries, the state’s largest and most influential business organization. Says Wilson, “For 22 years I have been a prolific consumer of polling and survey research services, and for 22 years, Nelson Research consistently delivered a superior product.” Wilson leads Nelson Research business and works with clients on survey development, project management and presentation of results.
Wilson’s Oregon PACs donated heavily to—you guessed it—Christine Drazan.
In addition to owning Nelson Research, J.L. Wilson is or was the registered lobbyist for the following organizations and companies from 2018-present, during the time Christine Drazan was in office as an Oregon State Representative and House minority leader.
1. 7-Eleven, Inc.
2. Abbott Laboratories
3. Alliance of Western Energy Consumers
4. Allstate Insurance Company
5. American Staffing Association
6. Anheuser Busch Companies
7. Associated Oregon Hazelnut Industries
8. Aurora Airport Improvement Association
9. City of Ontario
10. Confederated Tribes of Siletz Indians of Oregon
11. County of Linn
12. Daimler Trucks North America
13. Dick’s Sporting Goods
14. Dig Deep Research on behalf of the City of Newport
15. Family Justice Center
16. Food Northwest
17. Fur Commission USA
18. Jake’s Fireworks
19. Koch Companies Public Sector, LLC and Affiliates
20. MedChoice RRG
21. Natural Fibers Alliance
22. Oregon Airport Management Association
23. Oregon Business and Industry
24. Oregon Christian Education Coalition
25. Oregon Dermatology Society
26. Oregon Fairs Association
27. Oregon Farm Bureau Federation
28. Oregon Head Start Association
29. Oregon Housing Alliance
30. Oregon Independent Mental Health Professionals
31. Oregon Justices of the Peace Association
32. Oregon Metals Industry Council
33. Oregon Metals Initiative, INC.
34 Oregon Municipal Judges Association
35. Oregon PERS Retirees, INC
36. Oregon State Chambers of Commerce
37. Oregon Wild
38. Otsuka America Pharmaceutical, Inc.
39. Physicians Insurance A Mutual Company
40. Public Consulting Group LLC c/o MultiState Associates Inc.
41. Reynolds American
42. Salem Health
43. The Doctors Company
44. Tusk Philanthropies
45. U.S. Off-Track, LLC.
46. Willamette Education Service District
47. Willamette Greenway Alliance
A review of the Secretary of State’s reporting website shows that Wilson’s organizations and business clients donated heavily to Christine Drazan — and only Drazan — among the GOP gubernatorial candidates, creating a huge conflict of interest with the poll.
Drazan has lost significant support among the Republican base after she failed in 2020, as House minority leader, to lead a walkout of the Republican House members to deny quorum and block the radical Democratic agenda, a tactic that had worked very well in the previous session. In addition, she has collaborated with the gun control lobby in Salem, according to Oregon Firearms Federation:
Drazan sold out gun owners and all Oregonians by greasing the skids for the far left’s assault on gun rights, self defense, traditional values and common sense. Not only did she enable the Democrats mad dash to collapse by refusing to stand in the way, she actually voted for many of their worst ideas.
This then begs the question: why are the lobby class and the Salem swamp putting forth Drazan as their preferred candidate and putting their thumb on the scales in polls and televised debates? Is it because they think she can actually defeat the heavily favored Democrat in the general election?
Or is it because they believe she can’t win?