Summit sets tone for GOP election strategy

Conservatives debated Tuesday how to help charter schools and how to ward off unfunded environmental mandates in education during an Oregon Conservative Policy Summit in Medford.

"Everything we do here today will be for naught if we don't pass our beliefs on to our children," said Holly Swanson, local author of "Set Up and Sold Out."

She warned against what she and other conservatives view as the embedding of environmental studies in education.

"Get green politics out of our schools," she urged.

Education was one of many topics that drew heated discussion among conservatives at the two-day policy summit sponsored by Jackson County Republicans and Freedom Works.

Almost 40 different planks were voted on, which will in turn be passed on to legislators, the Oregon Republican Party and could serve as the basis for talking points in political campaigns.

"These planks will set a trend," said Greg Leo, chief of staff for the Oregon Republican Party. "They will set a tone."

He said conservatives want these policies to create a framework that makes Oregon more attractive to business development and job growth.

"We want to give a reason for business to invest," he said.

About 60 people turned out Tuesday and more than 100 attended the event on Monday.

The five main topics included boosting the economy and promoting business, state government fiscal reform, natural resources, election law reform and education reform.

Ruth Brodman, president of Jackson County Republican Women, said she was encouraged by the conversation and interest in the event.

"We want to do this again and again and again," she said.

Dave Dotterrer, who worked with Rep. Dennis Richardson on budget issues in the legislative session, said conservatives agreed to push the Legislature to create long-range goals for the state and to clearly spell out the core functions of government.

"How do we make the budget development process for the state of Oregon more rational for conservatives," he said.

Dotterrer, who chairs the fiscal reform committee for the policy summit, said conservatives want to create better legislative oversight of budgets in state departments.

The summit voted specifically to create a 5-percent ending fund balance, or rainy day fund, for the state's general fund. "That's the kind of cushion we're talking about," he said.

The summit voted down a suggestion that the state's kicker dollars be set aside for the rainy day fund.

Dotterrer said conservatives didn't like the idea of the state keeping kicker dollars instead of returning them to taxpayers.

Conservatives took a stance in support of greater use of Oregon's natural resources, while pushing to set aside regulations that harm business by the state Department of Environmental Quality, which they said is often more stringent than federal regulations.

Rep. Sal Esquivel, R-Medford, said land-use regulations are standing in the way of development in Oregon, slowing down economic recovery for businesses.

"Stop using this as a tool to tie you up," he said.

Some suggestions that survived committees were defeated or changed in open session.

Rob Kremer, chair of the education reform committee, proposed the creation of a scholarship grant program to benefit low-income children. Under the idea, a tax break would be given to businesses and organizations that donate money for the grant program, which would then be disbursed to help low-income students who want to go to charter schools.

However, after some debate, the low-income idea was dropped in favor keeping the program available for all children without the need for income qualification.

Kremer said charter schools still face strong resistance in Oregon.

"School districts are getting more and more hostile to charters," he said.

However, Jan Esquivel, past president of Jackson County Republican Women, pointed out that Medford schools have shown reasonable support for a local charter.

Esquivel said the grant program would help promote alternative education.

"This is a piece of the puzzle to extend school choice in Oregon," she said.

Another suggestion that was shot down was to turn over collective bargaining from the school district level to the state level.

Jonathan Bilden said that when he was on the Eagle Point School Board, the increases to unions remained flat over a three-year period because the school board could clearly show there was no more money in its budget.

He said that the board was able to hold the line on salary increases — something he doubts the state could do if it controlled collective bargaining.

"I have no faith watching the governor and the state doing the same thing," he said.

The policy summit conducted a straw poll to determine how conservatives stand on presidential candidates, and attendees overwhelmingly picked Texas Gov. Rick Perry, followed by business leader Herman Cain.

For vice president, the poll had a tie between U.S. Rep. Michelle Bachmann and Cain.

Reach reporter Damian Mann at 541-776-4476, or email

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