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Rep. Charlie Conrad said primary election results, Trump's dominance drove him from the party

The only Oregon Republican lawmaker who supported abortion rights has left the Republican Party.

State Rep. Charlie Conrad of Dexter changed his registration to the Independent Party of Oregon after losing his May primary in a landslide over his April 2023 vote to protect access to abortion and gender-affirming care. He views his stance as consistent with traditional Republican values of protecting individual liberties.

Though his core beliefs haven’t changed, Conrad said the primary made clear his version of moderate Republican politics doesn’t represent the majority of Republican voters in his rural Lane County district. Just less than 1,400 of the more than 8,000 Republican voters who cast ballots in the 12th House District voted for him.

“If I’m not going to represent their voices as a Republican, then I’m not going to fight for it,” Conrad told the Capital Chronicle. “I’m not going to fight for Trump. I’m not going to fight to adhere to that party. As I see it, I don’t represent the party, but I still represent my district, and it’s more important that I represent the district. For me, it’s always been people come first, and then the policies and the party politics are third.”

Conrad’s term ends in January, and barring any emergencies that cause Gov. Tina Kotek to call lawmakers back in a special session, he’s unlikely to take another vote on the House floor. But he’s continuing to work with other lawmakers on task forces and committees and to help constituents experiencing problems with state agencies.

And he’s not ready to give up on politics – in 2026, voters in his district will choose a new Lane County commissioner, a state representative, and a state senator, with current Sen. Cedric Hayden, R-Fall Creek, barred from running for reelection because he participated in a quorum-denying walkout in 2023. Conrad said he’s considering those offices as he weighs whether running for another office is the best way to continue a decades-long career in public service that included work as a corrections officer and police detective.

But if he runs again, it won’t be as a Republican. Like many higher-profile conservatives who have left the party in recent years, Conrad cited former president and current Republican nominee Donald Trump as a reason to leave. He’s reminded of Trump’s influence on the party each day when he drives past the Lane County Republican headquarters on Oregon Route 58 and sees the Trump signs.

“I cannot support Trump,” Conrad said. “I mean, he is now a convicted felon, he is a rapist and he’s an insurrectionist. Regardless of what some folks think about the merits of his policies, his character is abhorrent, and he is absolutely everything that is antithetical to the Constitution – protecting liberties, protecting people, and everything that the framers fought for against the monarch. And now the MAGA folks want to go back to authoritarianism. I cannot support that at all.”

Vote for Biden

He wrote in former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley’s name on the Republican primary ballot, which only featured Trump’s name. Come November, Conrad anticipates voting for Democratic President Joe Biden – not because he’s particularly fond of Biden, but because he considers the race to be more a choice between vice presidential candidates given both front-runners’ ages. Vice President Kamala Harris or any other running mate Biden picks will be better than whoever Trump chooses, he reasoned.

“I can’t anticipate any Republican that would kiss up to Trump that would stand and be an awesome president,” Conrad said. “It turns my stomach to think of that.”

Conrad is now the only Oregon lawmaker not affiliated with the Democratic or Republican party. Sen. Brian Boquist, R-Dallas, was a registered Independent for about two years, but he switched back to the Republican Party last summer to file for reelection. He is now the Republican nominee for state treasurer.

oregoncapitalchronicle

 

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