By editorial board • 

Republicans dividing party in ideologically-driven races

The mission of a political party’s local apparatus would typically be to back general election bids of party officeholders — to raise funds, pound pavement, stuff envelopes, stage rallies and staff phone banks on their behalf.

But not in Polk County, where Mike Nearman, who recently staged a GOP takeover, is challenging state Rep. Jim Thompson of Dallas in the GOP primary. And not in Marion County, where David Darnell, who cut his political teeth by winning the GOP helm, is challenging state Rep. Vic Gilliam of Silverton in a like primary.

Nevada’s Loren Parks and Oregon’s Stimson Lumber have pumped an eye-popping $100,000 into Darnell’s bid. But Nearman’s largely self-financed challenge hits closer to home, as Thompson’s House District 23 encompasses Amity, Dayton and Willamina, and circles the edges of McMinnville, Sheridan and Lafayette.

In the eyes of their challengers, often called tea party Republicans, Thompson’s sin lies in grudging acceptance of same-sex marriage, Gilliam’s in grudging acceptance of driver privileges for undocumented immigrants. Monied supporters of the challengers don’t think the Republican tent is expansive enough to encompass such departures from party orthodoxy.

A recent exchange between Thompson and Nearman, who believes the 10th amendment gives states the power to defy federal authority, cuts straight to the heart of the matter. The Statesman Journal captured it this way in a story reprinted in the News-Register:

“Nearman told the crowd he’s running because he’s tired of the ‘go along, get along’ mentality of Oregon’s minority party. He promised to be the kind of Republican that ‘flips over the tables of the money-changers’ ... .”

“’You don’t change what the majority party does,’ Thompson said. ‘You just make yourself irrelevant when you stand in the corner yelling your head off. You can scream all you want, and nobody cares.’”

On the race’s pivotal issue, Thompson said, “Marriage is a right for any couple who wants it. We are going to lose this battle, my friends, because it is a constitutional issue. It doesn’t matter how we feel about the social side of it.”

The two incumbents share long records of conservatism on social as well as fiscal issues. But they also share a pragmatic streak. Like Senate colleagues Larry George and Brian Boquist, Thompson knows how to work the levers of power in a body under opposition control. And that’s a quality you can build around in a quest to restore lost relevance.

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