Guest Commentary: MAGA Tilt in Southern Oregon Could be Shifting

Conservative southern Oregon, often an afterthought for many other Oregonians, may be the most politically dynamic large area in Oregon.

Few other areas show as much potential for political change.

Consider a couple of large Medford-area events just a few miles apart and on the same day, June 22.

The Jackson County Fairgrounds was dominated by the Republican political rally called MOGA 2024, the acronym standing for “Make Oregon Great Again.” Its headliners included national figures, including Mike Lindell, the MyPillow founder and advocate for Donald Trump. This may be the only really large-scale Oregon event on this year’s Republican calendar, presented as “Come help us take back southern Oregon.” It was heavily promoted by the local Republican organization, by other groups around the region, and around the dial on area radio stations.

From a pro-Trump perspective, you might wonder if there’s much to take back in the southern Oregon area. Most of this large sector of the state already votes Republican.

But it may not be as locked-down some may think. The Jackson-Josephine counties seem to be on the cusp of something subtle that events like MOGA could be critical in influencing: Deciding if the area becomes MAGA-dominated enough that other points of view are swamped, which hasn’t happened yet.

One piece of evidence in that argument is the second event held only a few miles from the MOGA event, over in Pear Blossom Park in Medford, where organizers were holding the well-attended 3rd annual Medford Pride event. One participant said, “It gives a space for young people to be free to express themselves however they want. And an opportunity in an area that’s not always the most accepting to really give an opportunity for our community to be queer.”

These two events may fit into the larger picture of conservative southern Oregon as pieces of a puzzle shifting and developing.

The two big counties in the area are Jackson (where Medford is the county seat) and Josephine (Grants Pass).

Jackson leans Republican, but not by a great deal. In the last two decades, it has voted Democratic for president just once, in 2008, but no one has won its presidential vote by as much as 51% since 2004. Its legislative delegation has included mostly Republicans, and Republicans hold county government, but Democrats as well, including state Sen.Jeff Golden and state Rep. Pam Marsh, who represent a large share of the county’s voters. There are some indicators it has been moving gently away from hard right positions. It is one of 11 counties in Oregon to legalize therapeutic psilocybin. Hard-line positions on property taxes seem to have eased a little in recent years. Jackson shows no signs of becoming a blue county, but its tint seems to be shading gradually purple.

Josephine County is more solidly Republican. No Democrat has won its vote for the presidency since 1936, the longest such run of any Oregon county, and Trump just cleared 60% in both of his runs. Its state and local officials are Republicans, and there are no indications that will change in the near future.

Still, there are indicators of attitude shifts. Josephine has been one of the most rigorous anti-tax counties in Oregon, along with neighbors such as Curry and Douglas. Having experienced some deep austerity in local services, however, voters seem to have recentered on the subject.

Libraries are a good example. All libraries in the county were closed in May 2007 for lack of county funding, but since then libraries have been reopened, and a library funding measure was passed in 2017 with 53% of the vote. Law enforcement is another useful case study. Severely crunched funding during several years for the sheriff’s office was addressed in this decade with creation of a law enforcement taxing district, also approved by voters.

Both counties seem to have developed stronger tourism, recreation and wine industry sectors, which over time usually lead to a moderation in politics, and some of that seems to be playing out. That’s especially true in the well-known cultural and tourism centers at Ashland and Jacksonville, both growing and prospering, but also to a degree in both Medford and Grants Pass and several smaller communities.

Most of the more rural areas remain hard-right conservative, and the traditional “Don’t Tread on Me” and other similar signage is not hard to find outside the cities. These areas are a MAGA redoubt, and few people outside their tribe make themselves visible. That absence of a contrary culture allows for more sweeping adoption of the MAGA message.

But increasingly, alternative messages are becoming visible in some of the cities. They are not near changing the partisan lean of the area. But they may be enough to slow an overwhelming adoption in the region of support for Trump and his allies. Much depends on whether people are exposed more to one message or the other.

The margins are close. That is why events like the MOGA event and the Medford Pride activity, in their different ways, may have some real rippling effects.

by Randy Stapilus, Oregon Capital Chronicle

Randy Stapilus has researched and written about Northwest politics and issues since 1976 for a long list of newspapers and other publications. A former newspaper reporter and editor, and more recently an author and book publisher, he lives in Carlton.

This guest commentary may or may not reflect the views of The Corvallis Advocate, or its management, staff, supporters and advertisers. 

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