With the current “battle for the soul of the Republican party” in which even the fundamentals of democracy are no longer respected, we remember the time in Oregon, only three decades ago, when a state’s GOP establishment united against discrimination.
Republicans Speak Out Against 9
At the final weekend’s No on 9 rally overflowing Portland’s Pioneer courthouse Square, The Oregonian noted, “speakers included the chairmen of both the Democratic and Republican parties in Oregon; Ken Harrison, chairman of Portland General Electric; Bob Ames, chairman of the Port of Portland; and Rabbi Emanuel Rose.”
“I am a moderate, mainstream Republican and I’ve just returned from Romania as the United States Ambassador. I’ve seen what happens when you lose your human rights. That is why I vote with you. No on 9!”Businessman Allen “Punch” Green, former ambassador to Romania, No on 9 rally speaker
At a press conference earlier in the fall, 25 prominent Republicans calling themselves “Republicans Against Prejudice” denounced Measure 9. Among them were GOP party chairman Craig Berkman and former Secretary of State Norma Paulus, at that time the elected state superintendent of public instruction. Former Governor Vic Atiyeh, a Republican, joined the current governor and the living former governors (all Democrats) in opposing Measure 9.
Most political candidates that year went on the record against Measure 9, including Republican incumbents and challengers in some rural communities. Some, like Neil Bryant, who won the first of two state senate terms in central Oregon that year, walked a line by opposing both Measure 9 and the idea of protection against discrimination: “It is one thing to say that homosexuals should be granted a protected class status in housing and employment, and quite another thing to require all forms of government to teach that a particular lifestyle is abnormal, perverse and so forth.”
Oregon’s senior U.S. Senator, moderate Republican Mark Hatfield – renowned for “challenging his party’s orthodoxy” (NPR) – said: “Through 40 years of political service, I have found myself many times in the trenches of civil rights battles, believing such rights are guaranteed by at least two basic principles: the separation of church and state and political-religious pluralism. Measure 9 violates these principles.”
Our other U.S. Senator, the pro-choice Republican Bob Packwood (who would resign three years later after a sexual harassment exposé prompted by the Congressional mistreatment of Anita Hill in Clarence Thomas’ Supreme Court nomination hearings), was slower to come out against Measure 9. Historian Pat Young notes, “He maintained that he had a policy of not getting involved with state ballot measures, but his opponents thought he was being silent because of the OCA’s threat to run someone against him. When he finally spoke out, his critics noted that the announcement came immediately after it was officially too late for the OCA to run someone against him.” (In the 1986 Republican primary, despite being a well-established incumbent, Packwood had lost 42% of the vote to Baptist minister Joe Lutz, whose campaign had launched the OCA.)
Another high-profile Republican actively campaigning for Measure 9’s defeat was former Attorney General Dave Frohnmayer, at that time Dean of the University of Oregon Law School and later, U of O President. Part of a well-respected Republican family whose father was a Southern Oregon civic leader and brother John, chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts. Having won the Republican nomination for governor as a pro-choice moderate in 1990, Dave earned 40% of the statewide vote, losing to Barbara Roberts who won 45% when Independent OCA-back Al Mobley took 13%.
In a tribute published by the Oregon State Capitol Foundation after Dave Frohnmayer’s death, his longtime assistant wrote, “I vividly recall the anti-Measure 9 television ad that he and his father, Otto, made in 1992, with their powerful statement opposing discrimination against gays and lesbians.”
Another campaign ad, Scot Nakagawa remembers, featured Dave Frohnmayer with his one-time rival Governor Barbara Roberts. In the ad, they talked about disagreeing often, but not on the question of discrimination.
A Contest for Control of the Republican Party
As The Oregonian wrote on the eve of the 1992 election, “Driven by the increasing political savvy and clout of the religious right, homosexuality has erupted as a brutal political issue across the nation. The Republican National Party adopted a platform denouncing homosexuality as a threat to families even as Democrats broadened their family definition to include homosexual couples.”
“There is a religious war going on in this country. It is a culture war as critical to the kind of nation we will be as the cold war itself, for this is for the soul of America. Bill Clinton and Al Gore represent the most pro-lesbian and pro-gay ticket in history!”Pat Buchanan, 1992 Republican National Convention
OCA Chairman Lon Mabon was giddy about the Republican National Convention that year, bragging that it “was like an OCA convention. We couldn’t have written some of the speeches better if I’d done it myself.” He told supporters, “Vice President Quayle, and Pat Buchanan and Pat Robertson are not wrong. It is a war, and it has to be fought like a war.”
It was a war being fought inside the Oregon Republican party as well, long defined by its moderation. After religious-right candidate Joe Lutz had come close to ousting Packwood in the 1986 primary, “a few moderate Republicans began to speculate that perhaps the conservatives were maneuvering to take over the state Republican Party,” historian Pat Young noted. “In addition to accusations of a takeover, moderate Republicans accused the conservatives of having a ‘purity test’ that determined a candidate’s view on certain moral and conservative issues. Conservatives would support candidates only if they passed the test.”
In response to the OCA’s first statewide ballot measure in 1988, GOP leader Norma Paulus said, optimistically, “I believe most Oregonians are concerned about fairness, and will vote for civil rights and will vote for equality and will vote for justice.” Having learned the hard way that such a vote could not be taken for granted, the moderate wing of the party realized they had to do more to prevent the passage of Ballot Measure 9.
“Some Republican leaders stepped up on their own,” No on 9 field organizer Scot Nakagawa remembers. Others were recruited by the campaign manager or their business or political colleagues. Many came forward in response to pleas from family members, local organizing by constituents, or when put on the spot by the media or in candidate forums.
What accounts for the level of No on 9 support from Republican Oregonians? Scot says, “It seemed to me to be an expression of a number of things:
“First of all, LGBTQ people are everywhere. We appear in every class, race, gender, religion, nationality, ability, age, profession, neighborhood, and so on. We might be the waiter at your favorite restaurant, the dentist you see for a toothache, or the janitor or security guard who greets you every morning in the office building where you work. By coming after us, the OCA awakened a sleeping giant of ally support. Pushed to action, those allies came out swinging.
“It was a lesson in never, ever underestimating the importance of being everywhere and building relationships with everyone possible. The networks this kind of relationship-building creates are the single greatest form of social security we can have, both individually and collectively. And it was a demonstration of the catalytic, transformative power of friendship, kinship, and love.
“Secondly, the LGBTQ community organized opposition to Measure 9 in the wake of organizing efforts around reproductive freedom and ending domestic and sexual violence, through which bipartisan coalitions had been built. The contacts were already there, and the presence of so many LGBTQ people in those related movements made reaching out pretty easy. Some of the relationships were built through work that was done by the Oregon chapter of the National Organization of Women, a group in which the No on 9 campaign manager was a leader.
“And finally, those were less polarized times. Today, social identity polarization is so extreme that choosing sides on an issue of this sort can have serious, even career-ending political consequences, as well as the possibility of harassment and violence. As a result, freedom of choice, when it comes to ideology and associations, has been much eroded – with serious political and cultural consequences.”
As we remember No on 9 today, in 2022, the phrase “battle for the soul of the Republican party” refers most often to the dominance of Trump’s Big Lie and the willingness of so many in the party to cosign even the most extreme anti-democratic scenario, an attempted Presidential coup.
Even the GOP old standard, being “the party of business,” is in question. As historian Heather Cox Richardson wrote in April, 2022 of the tolerance shown to the “culture war” agenda by those who aren’t true believers, “While pro-business Republicans could live with these ideas in the past if it meant getting the economic legislation they wanted, Florida governor Ron DeSantis and Texas governor Greg Abbott have illustrated that the Trump wing of the party has abandoned Republicans’ traditional support for business.” She cited DeSantis’ legal attack on the Walt Disney Company and Abbott’s shutdown of trade to and from Mexico that “cost the U.S. an estimated $9 billion in gross domestic product while turning up no drugs or immigrants.”
Back in 1992 in Oregon, the business case against Measure 9 was one of the primary motivators for Republicans.
The Business Case Against Measure 9
Printed in black ink on grey card stock, the outside of the invitation read, “If You’re Concerned About Oregon’s Business Future….” On the inside: “You Must Attend The ‘No on 9’ Ballot Measure Business Breakfast.” A message appearing below the general information read, “This measure would make Oregon the first state to mandate discrimination. Don’t Let That Happen.”“The Business Community: Constituency Organizing,” from the 1993 NGLTF Fight the Right Action Kit
In her Action Kit description of the Business Breakfast, campaign fundraiser Linda Lee Welch noted, “We recruited a host committee and included people we thought would receive the most positive response from their peers in the business community. Members included a rabbi and his wife, a former governor, a large urban property owner, the vice-president of a large grocery chain, the owner of a nationally known book store, a business owner and philanthropist for whom a concert hall is named, and the owner of a very visible real estate firm.”
The Oregon business community feared an outcome like the one Colorado would experience when a majority of its voters passed a Measure 9-like Amendment 2 the same year Oregonians defeated Measure 9.
“Discrimination Costs: The Boycott Strategy,” the Fight the Right Action Kit article by Boycott Colorado Director Terry Schleder, described what happened there, and the implications of a business boycott strategy for fights over rights around the country.
“On November 3, 1992, Colorado became the first state to legalize discrimination against gays, lesbians & bisexuals at the ballot box. Colorado’s Amendment 2 is part of a nationwide attack by the religious right on civil rights everywhere. At least ten states will face petition drives in fall 1993 which, if sufficient signatures are gathered, will thrust those states into the divisive and expensive struggles that cost Colorado and Oregon millions of dollars and great political divisions in 1992.
“Since the passage of Amendment 2, hate crimes against gay men and lesbians have jumped by more than 400%. Five gay men have been stabbed. Lesbians wearing ‘No on 2’ buttons have been physically attacked. Colorado Springs is headquarters to more than 55 religious right organizations. Many gay activists have left the state. There has even been an Amendment 2-related suicide.
“In the seven months since Amendment 2’s passage, the Colorado Boycott has garnered national attention and support. As of June 1993, more than 60 companies have canceled conventions or meetings in Colorado, and more than 110 groups have called for a boycott of Colorado to protest Amendment 2. Some 20 U.S. municipalities have severed ties with Colorado because of the anti-gay initiative. New York City has divested its stock holdings in any Colorado companies, and canceled a contract for new municipal buses. Ziff-Davis Publishing had planned to relocate their operations to Colorado; in the wake of Amendment 2, they reconsidered, costing the state $1 billion dollars in revenue over a five-year period had they chosen to operate in the state.”
“What does this mean for other states, particularly those targeted for initiatives by the religious right? The Colorado example serves as a warning to voters, businesses, and political leaders in the other 49 states, attesting to the strength of the determination of activists and citizens to oppose discrimination and ballot-box bigotry.”
“I believe a Colorado-type amendment would have a negative impact if adopted in Michigan. Such an Amendment could lead to tourists and convention planners boycotting our state, which would obviously have an adverse effect on our economy. Michigan does not need an amendment of this nature.”Michigan Governor John Engler , a conservative Republican, 1993
In 1996, Colorado’s Amendment 2 was declared unconstitutional by the Supreme Court of the United States in Romer v. Evans.
Read Oregon G.O.P. Faces Schism Over Agenda of Christian Right, published by The New York Times 10 days after the election which defeated Measure 9, which begins: “In a political civil war that presages a battle for the soul of the national Republican Party, the chairman of the Republican Party of Oregon has threatened to form an independent state branch free of the religious right.”
As they say on The Moth Radio Hour, “Moth stories are true as remembered and affirmed by the storyteller.” Read more about the benefits and challenges of historical memory.