Conservative leaders, angry, to skip GOP meeting

SALEM — Three conservative leaders in Oregon say they'll skip the annual Republican retreat on the coast this year because organizers have planned a debate over same-sex marriage and have circulated a video in which the conference founder reminisces about his “favorite moment” — when attendees voted to oppose a ban on abortion.

“We've pretty much been punched in the nose and poked in the eye,” said Gayle Atteberry, executive director of Oregon Right to Life.

She and two other prominent conservatives have sent a letter to organizers of the Dorchester Conference, saying they'll hold an alternative “freedom rally” in Clackamas the same weekend as the annual gathering in Seaside, The Oregonian reports.

The Dorchester Conference is scheduled the weekend of March 7. It was founded 50 years ago by former U.S. Sen. Bob Packwood, featured in the video that conference organizers sent in a newsletter advertising this year's event.

The letter was signed by Atteberry, Jack Louman of the Oregon Family Council and Kevin Mannix of Common Sense for Oregon.

Their letter cites “the unveiled agenda to promote and celebrate liberal causes like abortion-on-demand, pet campaign projects like ‘republicanizing’ same-sex marriage and the attack on people of faith and their religious liberties ...”

The letter comes as Oregon Republicans look for ways to end a long string of losses in high-profile elections.

The Dorchester gathering typically features a debate on an issue or combination of issues that divide Republicans, said its president, Jonathan Thompson. The idea is to air the best arguments, pro and con, he said.

Thompson said he knew gay marriage would be an edgy topic, but the conference has never shied from controversy. He said he expects between 500 and 600 attendees — about average.

“We seem to be taking a lot of time shooting at each other rather than debating issues and moving forward as a group,” Thompson said.

Atteberry said the agenda was a provocation.

“If Republicans want a big tent, you don't go punching the other people in the tent in the nose.”


Information from: The Oregonian, http://www.oregonlive.com

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